This week’s portion, M’tzora, which is often paired with Tazria in certain years, talks about the proper purification ritual for leprosy, both for the afflicted person and their home. It also talks about the emission of bodily fluids.
Hmmmm…..this doesn’t seem like a very pleasant lesson to be learning on what is supposed to be our day of rest and relaxation, does it? But if we concede that much of the Torah is metaphor, then it becomes easier for us to look at this parasha in modern-day terms. The leprosy (which rarely exists in society today, thankfully) represents the selfishness, destruction, bigotry, and xenophobia which have sadly become a prevalent part of our society, particularly in the last three years. It represents bondage to many of the things we as a society believe we are entitled to have access to.
M’tzora tells us that when God inflicts a person with leprosy, before they are allowed back into their community (which is referred to as a camp), the priest has to offer a sacrifice with two living birds. One has to be killed, while the other is set free. When the person is healed, they must shave every single bodily hair and scrub their clothes and body clean. Then, on the eighth day, the priest must make yet another sacrifice, this time waving the blood of two lambs all over the place as an offering of expiation at the tent of meeting. This doesn’t exactly sound pleasant. I would be willing to bet that people today would certainly be more able to part with their guns, violence, and bigotry if the consequence was being splattered in lamb’s blood.
In Sefer Torat Ha Maggid (the Torah according to the 18th Century Chassidic teacher, Rabbi Dov Ber), we learn that on the Shabbat preceding Passover (Shabbat HaGadol), the Israelites were commanded to bring a lamb into their homes and keep vigil over it until Erev Passover, when they would sacrifice it for their first Seder. Consider the magnanimity of this: the lamb was worshipped by Egyptians and was therefore by extension, an object of their oppression. Yet in the end, it became a symbol of their liberation. The same holds true for the lamb in M’tzora, where the blood of two lambs is a metaphor of a leper’s freedom from the bondage of the disease.
Later in our parasha, God instructs Aaron and the Priests about how to make clean the home of a leper. The Torah specifically states that God says, “When I inflict leprosy on a house.” As clergy, I am often asked the question as to why God allows, and often seems to create, so much suffering. Perhaps it is because we must learn how to take apart, do away with, and rebuild our lives, much in the same way that we are called to repair and rebuild the world in preparation for the Messianic Age—an age when, as our Aleinu prayer states, “All who are created in God’s image will become one in spirit and friendship, forever united in the service of making good.”
In my opinion, it is always important to remember that that the Torah is indeed written by human beings who at that time were interpreting it as we are today. I believe the book of Bereishit, where we learn that God created all human beings in God’s image and are therefore sons and daughters of God with free will. But this cuts both ways. As we see God’s greatness in the Torah, we see the greatness of human beings who partner with God to make it. Conversely, God has allowed humans the freedom of utter destruction, as we also see in Torah and as we see in our society today, with the numerous mass shootings and people in power who refuse to fix this problem.
But it is up to us to turn these violent symbols of bondage, violence, and oppression into our liberation. And we do so every time we practice our “modern day sacrifices.” We get out to vote, feed the hungry, go to rallies, or write to a congressperson. Even things so seemingly small, such as breaking a chain of dysfunction we may have experienced as children by making better parenting choices,sSaying a kind word to someone, or even just offering a kind or warm smile to a stranger can make our world better, moving us just a little bit closer to repairing it. It is up to us to make clean the impure, which in our society today means bigotry, hatred, and selfishness, to tear down the parts of these homes which contain it, and to rebuild for the good. May we all work together because we are sons and daughters of Adonai.
Here is a link for a brand-new prayer that I wrote, which contains the text on the left side of the page of our Aleinu prayer entitled “L’Takein Olam b’malchut Shaddai.” It is intended for us to sing after we recite the Alienu, with the “L’takein” refrain being the part most frequently sung, which we can all grab onto and sing along with. I welcome your thoughts about this song. May it help you to understand the Aleinu prayer in a deeper, more meaningful way, and be inspired to help heal the world in your own way.