Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: Tazria

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Purity of Spirit

By Michael Chessen

     This Torah reading of Tazria deals primarily with the oft misunderstood concept of ritual purity and its converse, ritual "uncleanliness". The Hebrew term, "tamei" has nothing to do with sanitation, and is used to describe only the spiritual ramifications for those individuals (or even houses) that have undergone some form of spiritual transformation.

     The first such transformation which the Torah describes is that of a woman who has been blessed with the holy honor of bringing a child into the world. Her ensuing post-natal bleeding is compared to that of her monthly menstrual flow; in either case the woman must undergo a period of refraining from having physical relations with her husband. We should, therefore, properly view a woman's blood-flow as a condition which temporarily prevents marital relations, rather than a factor which renders a woman individually "impure". For whereas the proper service of God fully includes physical relations between man and woman within the proper spiritual context, as the Torah suggests, men are actually in greater need of assistance in order to harness their physical drives in order that they not lead them towards transgression.

     In the context of this discussion of conditions which either allow or prohibit marital relations, the Torah chooses to reiterate the commandment of circumcision, originally given to the patriarch Abraham. It is recounted in the book of Genesis that Abraham apparently had failed to fully "notice" his wife's beauty until they were en route to Egypt and he had to consider how the local residents would view her. His later dutiful fulfillment of God's commandment to circumcise himself at the age of ninety-nine was primarily a test of faith.

     In our opening portion of Tazria, Nachmanonides views the repetition of this commandment as serving to present circumcision as a reminder of holiness and possible "last line of defense" to prevent a man from going astray for a fleeting moment of transient but potentially tragically costly pleasure. This is because no man is capable of fully ignoring the physical testament of the covenant which God made with Abraham.

     The Torah continues discussion of ritual impurity by focusing on what is translated as leprosy. However, whereas the individual inflicted with this condition is to be isolated from his community, this has nothing to do with the reasons that modern lepers are quarantined. Rather,Torah leprosy is a "measure for measure" punishment. It results from an individual's attempt to slander his fellow. Since the intention of slander is to somehow separate and isolate another individual, the necessary remedy for this is to have the slanderer himself undergo a prescribed period of isolation.

     Whereas King Solomon prescribed a happy heart as good and perhaps very timely medicine, those who fail to heed this advice are liable to require considerably less pleasant means of spiritual healing.

Spiritual Purity

by Avi Lazerson

It may seem backwards, but in this week's Torah portion, the laws of a "leper" are discussed. We are all familiar with the leper, an outcast due to the lesions on his body. He is sent out of the camp to dwell alone.

Modern science has told us that leprosy is really a disease and if properly treated can be cured. Many medical personel work on this problem today in Africa.

But the sages tell us that what is described in the Torah is not the same leprosy as is found in Africa. The leprosy of the Bible is no longer around. What is called leprosy today is an affliction that possesses perhaps some similarity, but is not the same.

Why does the leprosy mentioned in the Bible not exist today?

Our sages taught us that the affliction that we call leprosy existed only durring the time that the Jewish people left Egypt until the destruction of the Temple. Why? Because the disease was a spiritually generated disease.

There are many causes of illnesses. Obviously there is the physical cause: germs, chills, poor diet, etc. But there is also a spiritualy caused illness. A person who trespasses on the laws of the Creator must realize that there is a price to pay. Sometimes this comes in the form of a sickness.

This was the case of the Jewish people. The Jewish people, who left Egypt were at the highest levels of divine revelation. They saw the Ten Commandments being given at Mount Sinai (as opposed to seeing it at a movie theater). They lived with daily miracles, the miraculous "manna", the spliting of the Dead Sea, water coming out of a rock, etc.

For people of this spiritual dimension to sin, was a terrible thing, much worse that of someone who never had any divine revelation. These people who were on such a lofty spiritual level egaged in a sin called Lashon HaRa, nasty gossip and slander about their fellow Jew. Instead of judging their friends action in a favorable manner, they enjoyed speaking lowly about him. For this generation, this was a terrible sin.

They were punished by having leprosy. A spiritual incurred disease. Today, we are not even close to the spiritual level of our ancestors. When we sin, we are not always capable of knowing what we are doing. For this reason, this disease has disappeared.

However, the lesson to be learnt from this is that lack of attention to spiritual matters can cause physical maladies.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

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