Linking the Generations - Tazria-M’tzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33)
Tazria - M’tzora (Bearing Seed / A Leper)
The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak to the Israelite people thus: When a woman at childbirth bears a male, she shall be impure seven days;" - Leviticus 12:1-2
The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: "This shall be the ritual for a leper at the time of being purified ..." - Leviticus 14:1-2
Sacredness, Purity, and Separation
Separation is a big theme for schools. As much as togetherness and community are goals, we deal every day with those who need to be separate – and those who are separated from the group against their desire. Sometimes being separated happens as a result of a group and their peer pressure. Sometimes it is because of a bully or a group of bullies. But sometimes it is a subtle separation that can happen through insensitivity in the form of careless words, physical distancing, and sometimes physical or psychological harassment.
Much of our dual Parashah this week is about medical conditions. But much more of it is connected to conceptions of purity, holiness, and communal separation. While there is some credence to the risks associated with menstruation – for those living at the time of the Biblical narrative - we know that today, we do not have that same practice of separation for most cultures and for most in the Jewish community. That is not to say that cleanliness is not important. It is simply that we have found ways to address cleanliness without ritual separation or fear of menstruation.
As for leprosy, the term that has been imprecisely translated for centuries, studies have shown that what we know of today as leprosy may not have existed until the middle of the first century CE. The origins in the text come from Miriam’s punishment for spreading rumors – or committing lashon harrah. Did Miriam really come down with an immediate illness that required her to be separated or is "leprosy” about being ostracized for perceived violations of community norms. And if that is the case, as many scholars have claimed, this Parashah is incredibly relevant beyond the illness we read about on the surface.
In speaking with students this week about this Parashah, the focus was on this idea of communal or group norms, and the way groups sometime separate from those who do not conform. In the spring, sometimes thoughts of summer break down a student’s focus both on school work and our communal values. Sometimes their judgment lapses and their choices are not their best. Sometimes their patience for those who are "different” is not as it could or should be and this is what we discussed - on a global level.
The history of communal separation – for many reasons – can be seen in many tragic episodes. I asked our students questions about how a community begins to target people who are different, unwanted, or thought of as evil and asked them to think back to just last week when we had our incredibly powerful Yom Hashoah program for 3rd through 5th graders. The idea that ostracizing an entire people could begin with small acts of bullying, discrimination, or jokes, was an incredibly relevant connection for them and one we hope they took to heart as they reflect on the Chesed week that also just passed.
The tools to combat communal targeting of scapegoats are core values like B’tselem Elohim and Chesed. If we are commanded to be kind. If we are told that every person should be treated as a holy vessel since we all have that spark of the divine inside of us. Then to treat people as jokes or as less than human is going against what we teach here at Shlenker and what our values tell us is the right and good thing to do. These are lessons we said, that can have our students be the guardians of their own communities and the only protection we have to prevent things like the Holocaust from ever happening again.