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Parashat Tazria-Metzora

May 3, 2017

The double parshiyot of this week’s Torah reading, Tazria-Metzora, are for many commentators a challenge. Many parshiyot in the Book of Leviticus are challenging, but much of this week’s Torah reading reads like a zombie apocalypse in which people are still concerned whether they are pure or impure.

One theme that keeps returning throughout the reading is that of isolation and loneliness. Law after law describes how people were to be isolated from the rest of the Israelite encampment and whose entry into the sanctuary was forbidden.

She shall remain in a state of blood purification for thirty-three days: she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until her period of purification is completed. (Lev. 12:4)

But if it is a white discoloration on the skin of his body which does not appear to be deeper than the skin and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest shall isolate the affected person for seven days. (Lev. 13:4)

He shall be unclean as long as the disease is on him. Being unclean, he shall dwell apart; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Lev. 13:46)

People were designated as being impure and isolated. Depending on what had happened to them, they might be checked by the priest to determine if they were healed and if the the answer was negative, they were potentially isolated again until they were considered fit to return to the encampment.

Today we understand the severity and detrimental effects of isolation and loneliness. Some have even identified isolation and loneliness as maybe the most challenging illnesses that are affecting our interconnected society. It may seem that we can’t ever escape anything or anyone, but in the midst of our connectedness there seems to be a lot of disconnectedness.

Rabbi Meir Simcha Hacohen of Dvinsk (19th/20th c., Eastern Europe) in his commentary on the Torah, the Meshekh Hokhmah, noticed an interesting change in terminology between some of the verses in our Torah reading. Rabbi Meir Simcha pointed out that depending on the law being discussed, there is a different addressee. The three verses below are all found in this week’s Torah reading but they are all addressed to different audiences.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying. This shall be the ritual for a leper at the time that he is to be cleansed…
(Lev. 14:1-2)

The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess… (Lev. 14:33-34)

The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When any man has a discharge issuing from his [flesh] he is unclean. (Lev. 15:1-2)

Rabbi Meir Simcha found a connection between the specificity of the audience being addressed and the degree of isolation that the person was potentially required to accept. When only Moses or both Moses and Aaron were addressed this signified the potential disconnect between the person and the rest of the Children of Israel. When the Children of Israel were also being addressed the person would never be totally isolated from the encampment and the rest of Israel.

Bringing Jews who may be isolated or on the outer edges of our communities closer is one of the fundamental values of the education that students receive at the Academy for Jewish Religion. Today the Academy for Jewish Religion is ordaining six new rabbis who have already demonstrated that they are able to bring people closer to both the sanctuary and the encampment. They realize the importance of speaking to all of the Children of Israel wherever they may be found. We wish them all hatzlahah on their future rabbinates and have no doubt that they will make both AJR and the Jewish people proud.


Rabbi Michael Pitkowsky is the Rabbinics Curriculum Coordinator at AJR.