Shabbat Message from Cantor Eichaker
Tazria – Metzora has been, in my opinion, often mistreated in study and application in today’s world. While the two parashiot are devoted to the subject of ritual purity, they are a window into our core existence, reason for living. Tazria-Metzora can be viewed as a metaphor for our soul existence and purpose in life. On its face the topics in the parashiot are off-putting and difficult to discuss with children and adolescents (of any age). I see the real topics broached by these parashiot are concerned with ethical and monotheistic religion and the relationship between the person’s being, actions and the Source of life. That female menstruation and child birth are viewed as causes of ritual impurity, it makes sense that novice readers would see this as negatives hence objectionable. If one sees the reproductive system, breathing cycle, nutritional cycle and circadian cycle as natural and “normal” occurrences in the human body, then one must accept the unclean as well as the clean; a natural process that takes us from intake to output; from the welcome addition to the excretion of spent energy; from cycling down to renewal, reassignment and rebooting to rebirth.
Some causes of ritual impurity were and are part of normal, everyday living. Contact with the dead body of a non-kosher animal causes ritual impurity and in the ancient agrarian societies this was common place. A farmer’s cow, goat or donkey dies and the farmer needs to dispose of the body; BOOM, ritually impure. The parashiot, and Leviticus for that matter, doesn’t restrict us from getting rid of a dead donkey or a member of the family or a neighbor’s animal assets or relatives, nor does it restrict women from normal bodily functions. Ritual impurity is a normal state that is permissible, and I contend necessary, in biblical law.
What the Torah does forbid was entering the Tabernacle or the Mishkan in a state of ritual impurity. Because the Torah regards ritual impurity as contagious, it was, therefor, possible to “accidentally” share one’s ritual impurity with others. So, in order to protect others who did not know another was ritually impure into the Temple, Leviticus requires people who are ritually impure to undergo a period of isolation, cleansing and assessment.
The obvious question at this point could be; “Why, then, is something that is morally neutral, physically natural and, at times, morally positive, incompatible with God’s presence?”
First, please understand that Biblical Monotheism is NOT that there is only one god. The TANACH makes many references to “heavenly creatures” (gods), angels and the councils of “holy ones”. It is Adonai’s uniqueness, as written by Professor Benjamin Sommer, Professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages, “rather than God’s oneness that is the essential content of monotheism”. The TANACH does not deny the existence of other gods, but poses the narrative that the God of Israel is qualitatively different, unique form all other gods. Further the God of Israel is more powerful, ubiquitous and is the harbor of all human attributes, known and unknown. The God of Israel is, therefore, above all other gods. Other gods, then, were seen as similar to human beings and animals is their core aspects. Other gods were relatable because they were “born” of superior beings or derived from the melding of two different species. Adonai, on the other hand, “neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalm 121), never has sexual intercourse, never gives birth and never dies. The question of Adonai’s birth is subject to interpretation that requires another course at another time.
What does this all have to do with the arcane and even obsolete details of ritual impurity as it relates to the Tabernacle and sacrifices, neither of which exist today?
All of the scenarios that are identified in the above points about what Adonai doesn’t espouse are prevalent in the human existence. It is part of our natural, unique function
in the world. Our uniqueness along with Adonai’s uniqueness are essential to create the true One in the universe. We are dependent upon each other. That interdependence gives us the imprimatur to move this world forward toward a better tomorrow. Our impurity is necessary to balance the Super-Holiness that Adonai houses. The first chapter in the Book of Genesis tells us that we are created in the image of Adonai. It does not say that we are created to be an exact replication of Adonai. We are born to pursue Godliness through holiness. We are not born to either impersonate Adonai or replace Adonai with our own image. Adonai needs us for our uniqueness as much as we need Adonai’s uniqueness to encourage us to work together to make our lives and this world better.
Life, to an extent, is about conflict and resolution. How we identify and clarify conflict will guide us in designing and employing remedies.
“Adonai li, v’lo ira!” – “Adonai is with me, I will not fear!”
The more we study, the more we learn. The more we learn, the more we grow. The more we grow the more seeds we spread. The more seeds we spread, the more we can potentially harvest. The more we can potentially harvest the stronger we become. The stronger we become the less we fear. The less we fear, the closer we come to peace.
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