TIME COUNTS Baltimore Jewish Times April 28, 2006 Commentary of Parshat Metzora-Tazria
We are coming to a window of time in the Jewish calendar that is filled with religious, historical and emotional significance. We have just begun the counting of the Omer, the seven weeks between Pesach, the time of the Exodus, to Shavuot, the granting of the Torah on Mount Sinai. This Shabbat, on which we bless the new Hebrew month of Iyar, we find ourselves between Yom HaShoah(Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day).
This is a time of great personal impact. If we understand the message of this week’s Torah portion, we can effect positive change both in ourselves and in the world around us.
This week’s biblical chapter, Tazria-Metzora, tells us about the laws pertaining to a person, known as a Metzora, who has a skin condition called Tzara’at (often loosely translated as "leprosy"). On the surface, the value of this parsha for us as modern Jews is not immediately clear. Ancient laws about dermatology and physiology do not seem to be overtly relevant to us. Yet we know that the Torah always gives us practical insights that we can apply to our own lives. Since that is the case, what do the laws of the Metzorahave to say to us?
First of all, Tzara’at was a physical disease that had a spiritual connection to lashon Hara, speaking negatively about others. Since G-d intended the gift of speech to be used mainly for good, using offensive language could bring about harmful consequences. In the Bible, the inner effects of this transgression manifested externally—first on a person’s house, then on one’s clothes, and eventually on one’s own body.
When this happened, the person was obligated to spend time outside the walls of the city. This physical isolation, like a quarantine, halted the spread of Tzara’at to other people. Separating from the community was also a chance to rectify the spiritual ramifications of talking ill of others—a kind of "time out" from daily life to chart a fresh start.
Any parent knows that when a child breaks a rule, there needs to be a fitting consequence. Many parents use "time-outs" in order to give a child a chance to quietly reflect on his or her behavior before calmly returning to the company of the rest of the family. TheMetzora was similarly given this opportunity to think about his actions and how he should correct and improve himself. Once a kohen Gadol (high priest) declared him to be pure again, he was then welcomed back into the community.
G-d, like a parent, makes rules that require people to deal respectfully with each other and that promote the development of higher morals, so that we will enjoy healthier and more meaningful lives. G-d establishes guidelines and boundaries—and also provides consequences when these lines are crossed or overlooked. Yet, the Almighty in his infinite wisdom provides a path open to us for doing Teshuva and returning to the good.
In Parshat Tazria-Metzora, we also find the basis for the ritual of mikvah, which is a time honored foundation of Jewish marriages. Interestingly, the laws of mikvah (also known as family purity) center on the theme of treating others with dignity, and provide another type of "time-out" that helps to foster intimate behavior.
The benefits of mikvah can be an essential key to peace in the home. Husbands and wives are given times to be romantically close, as well as "time out" to reflect on their relationship and connect as platonic friends. This cycle of separation and reunion may help to keep passion alive and strengthen the bond. Based on Torah teachings, mikvah immersion in water is considered like a "spiritual spa". It can purify the soul and add to the continuity of future generations. For these reasons, after thousands of years, mikvah remains a valuable ritual of Jewish life everywhere.
The wisdom of our heritage helps us to reach our spiritual potential. That which is positive—conducive to a purer mind, body, and spirit—is associated with the force of life, and is recommended. We are given clear advice to help us relate to ourselves, to others, and to G-d in a unique way.
When we respect the boundaries G-d has given us as a guide for a life of good deeds, we create trusting friendships and harmonious families. Hopefully, this holiness and peace will ultimately extend to the rest of humanity. Shabbat Shalom.