Tazria-M’tzorah: A Challenging Portion With A Modern Twist

"A New Normal?" by Randy Heinitz, via Flickr.com (Creative Commons License)
"A New Normal?" by Randy Heinitz, via Flickr.com (Creative Commons License)

Leviticus 13 begins this very famous double portion. Tazria-M’tzorah has, for years, been the bane of Bat and Bat Mitzvah students. The challenge: how to craft a Dvar Torah from a passage that speaks almost totally of skin eruptions, infestations and unwanted bodily discharges. The years of commentaries on this portion have suggested many interpretations. Some have dealt with the examination of the treatment of the person dealing with these afflictions and their exclusion from the camp. It is not too much of a stretch to see parallels in history where people who seem different from us or who are said to be different from what some would consider the “norm”; are perceived to be “the other” and thus, a cause for exclusion or worse. Certainly, any causal reading of Jewish history proves this and, and as many students will affirm, even a casual reading of the current news will also affirm this. We often exclude, or try to, those people or groups that seem to be a threat, or have been determined by people in power to be a threat. We sometimes seek to exclude or remove from the community those who are dealing with illnesses or situations that raise fears within us.
Another classic interpretation of this passage has to do with equating gossip or “lashon ha’ra” with these outbreaks that can destroy. As we get older, we are certainly more aware of how serious words are. They can shame, harm and even kill; both literally and figuratively. We are all familiar with these classic
texts that speak of gossip as a vehicle of harming people. A modern twist to this classic look was included in a recent book of Torah interpretations by Rabbi Jonathan Saks. In his “Essays on Ethics”, he writes of this portion and the fact that people who were guilty of gossip were excluded from the camp. This “tzara’at” of “lashon ha’ra”, says Saks, “no longer exists in the form described in the Torah. But the use of the Internet and social media as instruments of public shaming illustrates both the power and the danger of a culture of shame”…Malicious gossip, lashon ha’ra, undermines relationships, erodes the social bond and damages trust. It deserves to be exposed and shamed.”
Thus this very interesting and challenging portion can be seen to speak to us today. As so many of us live to be on-line, this portion reminds us that social media is now part of the accepted currency of conversation and thus, be careful of what you post and how you post it.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Richard F Address

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