D’var Torah for Parashat Tazria-Metzora
by Leah Faupel (2019-2020 Regional RCVP) and Noah DeYoung (2020-2021 Regional RCVP)
Delivered Saturday, April 25th during NFTY-SAR’s Virtual Spring Kallah
Boker tov NFTY SAR! I hope you all enjoyed your breakout services, and were able to connect with your Judaism in unique and engaging ways. To conclude these Saturday morning services, Leah and I will be providing a D’var Torah we wrote together for this week’s Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora.
In this portion, G-d tells Moses a variety of rules relating to one’s body, including circumcision and menstruation, but what it’s most focused on is how to diagnose a person with Tzara’ath, which is characterized by an infectious lesion that forms on one’s flesh. And it’s clear that Tzara’ath was a significant deal for the ancient Isaraelites, as the Torah goes into great specifics explaining how to tell if someone has the disease. The passage goes on to explain what happens if someone does end up having Tzara’ath. Once the disease is confirmed by a Kohen, or a priest, the infected is now deemed as “unclean”, and the only way to regain cleanliness is for them to quarantine themselves outside the city for seven days until the lesion has healed.
For obvious reasons, this practice of quarantining is especially relevant today as COVID-19 rages throughout the country while we all remain indoors. Yet, what makes Tzara’ath different from modern Coronavirus is the fact that Tzara’ath isn’t exactly a medical condition, but rather spiritual. This can first be seen by the fact that the Torah asks for those infected to see a Kohen rather than a doctor. And although the Torah does list out specific physical symptoms of the so called disease, it becomes increasingly clear that Tzara’ath shouldn’t be viewed as a literal physical condition. In fact, the portion even goes on to detail how both articles of clothing and buildings can contract the “disease” and how to quarantine and cleanse them if needed.
This of course raises the question of why should these Israelites be forced to isolate themselves, if all they’re sick with is within them? Surely there would be some Rabbinical teaching that would tell those affected how to effectively cleanse themselves without the need to separate themselves from society for a week. But when really looking in depth at this portion, it becomes clear that this isn’t teaching those with internal struggles how to get better, but rather how we ourselves can help them get back up.
Rabbis have commented that while there are many instances of using the word tzara’at for the physical disease, it is actually supposed to be read as “tzarot,” or trouble and distress. If you read between the lines through the portion, you understand that a lot of the theme of having tza’arat is the feeling of loneliness and marginalization from the community.
Now these people were miserable, both physically and emotionally, and that’s when the Kohen would step up, do something no one else would do, and visit the afflicted individual. He would understand the power of physical contact, put his hands on them, and through his actions, convey the message of “Let’s figure this out together. We will fight this together. Return to our community. We need you here. Come back to us.”
Now here’s where things get interesting: the portion does not simply describe the Kohen and his actions, but INVITES us to BE the Kohen. The portion INVITES us to be the one to rescue those living on the brink of society, those living with physical or emotional distress. And in this strange new time, it is so important that we answer the call.
No, we may not be able to go over to someone who is sick and hold them and tell them to come back. But we can continue to reach out to those who need to hear a similar message. Those who are sick, those who are scared, and even those who ignore it all. Make sure they are educated, they are welcomed, and that they know they aren’t in this alone.
Be the Kohen. Be the one who makes someone else feel like they belong, that they have a fighting chance in this crazy world we’re living in.
Shabbat Shalom NFTY-SAR.