This week we arrive at the double portion Tazria-M’tzorah. This is the challenge for e very Bar or Bat Mitzvah who, by the luck of birth or assignment, draws this portion. No sweeping drama here. Rather, laws and regulations regarding when one has a skin eruption or when one discovers an infection within one’s house. As many of you who have studied this portion know, the symbolism of what infects people or homes can be quite meaningful. Indeed, if we just read the papers or watch the news, we could make the case that our society is infected with a type of tzara’at that seems almost incurable.
The portion, however, can lead us to a variety of discussions that flow from the text. When a person discovers these lesions, we see the primary role of the priest. In today’s world, for most of us, that priestly role of diagnostician and treater of the sick falls to the doctor, and Jewish tradition is rich in the role of the physician in our life.
There is a particular verse that can relate to some of this. In 13:45, there is the scene where the infected person is called upon to go about the camp and shout “unclean, unclean” so that no one else should come in contact and thus risk infection. In his interpretation of this verse, Rabbi Twerski (z’l) says that by changing one aspect of punctuation the verse would read “And he who is unclean calls-everyone else-unclean.” Twerski notes that this interpretation “supports the Talmudic statement that a person who insults others generally projects his own defects unto them”. Thus, says Twerski, “Torah thus anticipated the discovery of the psychological mechanism of projection by thousands of years”. (Living Each Week: Abraham Twerski. 229) This idea of “mirroring” what we feel and think of ourselves onto others can explain a lot of today’s challenges.
A further, and more positive in a way, thought in this verse was brought forth this week in a column by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer of Hadar.He looks at this verse as an opening for a call for healing. By calling out “unclean, unclean”, the infected person makes this public and thus implores the community to pray for them. Kaunfer cites a Talmudic passage that underscores this idea that we can see in this verse a call on the part of the person who is ill to ask for the community to pray for them. The community, then, becomes part of a healing process, just as when we pray as a community the m’sheberach prayer for healing. We may not know each of the people we pray for, but, we hope they know that a community is united in praying for them. In this way, we “pray it forward” in a sense, and all become part of fulfilling this mitzvah.
Rabbi Richard F. Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.