Robert Alter notes than in the book of Leviticus “there is a single verb that focuses the major themes of Leviticus – “divide” (hivdil). This week’s double Torah portion Tazria/Metzora is all about that which is considered pure and that which is not.
We human beings like to be able to create order out of chaos. We try to put things in order. We divide things into categories. Once we categorize, we feel that we are in more control.
This week for me, as a rabbi, I was reminded over and over again, that control is an illusion and life is anything but tidy. There were a number of crises that came my way this week, along with a significant loss for a member of our community. Some demanded action, but most demanded that I simply stop, listen and be present. All of the things that presented themselves to me this week could not be put in neat little boxes. Each was unique, special.
Maybe this idea of dividing that which is holy/pure from that which is not, is a way to see the holiness that we often fail to recognize. By that I mean that which is holy in our honest interactions with one another, the way we consciously behave. We have a hard time with the way those with leprosy/skin disease are treated in this Torah portion. They are set aside – put outside of the camp. Maybe, that’s why this week’s haftorah has the lepers’ function as the heroes of the piece. Someone recognized that this separation of the healthy from apparently unhealthy was not a good thing.
However, the truth is that is what we do. We do not understand the land of the ill until we too have entered that territory. Once we have entered, we are forever transformed. We like to judge ourselves as superior to those who had so little understanding about the skin diseases and the mold described with great detail in these Torah portions. But we really aren’t. We still judge by appearances, by how things seem, allowing our prejudices to guide us. We have been hearing a great deal about unconscious bias of late, – our task is to address those areas and have the courage to change them.
This Torah portion is a stark reminder that our task is not to judge the lives of others but to work to perfect our own. A goal never to be achieved, but one which allows us to engage in the work of accessing our best selves.
Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn