Thoughts on Tazria-Metzora 5769

Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33)

This is such a challenging and strange portion.  Most women recoil at the idea of being “impure” because they gave birth.  The entire passage deals with what is and isn’t “tamei” and how to deal with a variety of afflictions called “tzaraat.”  One of the first things I always think of when reading this passage is the two other memorable passages where someone is afflicted with tzaraat:  Exodus 4:6 (Moses) and Numbers 12:10 (Miriam).

When we studied the idea of “tamei” at one of the Kohenet training intensives, we explored the idea that maybe “impure” is a bad translation.  Maybe “tamei” means “liminal.”

Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective, conscious state of being on the “threshold” of or between two different existential planes… (wikipedia)

This seems to make a LOT of sense to me.  Child birth is a moment between worlds.  A women who has just given birth might need time to return to this world fully — hence the 33 and 66 day time to return from a state of liminality.

The fact that a house can be afflicted by tzaraat just seemed completely odd to me.  I guess it’s referring to mold.

In Lev 14 there is a ritual outlined for the final step of healing for those who have been afflicted by tzaraat and have become “impure” or been in a liminal space.  The ritual involves anointing the afflicted person, first with blood (from a dove) and then with oil.  What struck me here, is that the sick person is anointed in the same manner that the priests were annointed during their installation ritual.

One other thing really struck me in this passage was around 14:21 and repeated again at 14:32.  It states that you cannot be denied this cleansing ritual because you are poor.  The wording in the Everett Fox edition of the Five Books of Moses, which I use, has the most wonderful translation of this phrase:

“This is the Instruction fo rthe one who has an affliction of tzaraat, whose hand cannot reach (means) for his purification.” (Leviticus 14:32)

It is stated twice that you will do this ritual, the same ritual, for those who can reach out for the resources and those who cannot. The entire ritual is restated, which to me says — “get this straight — you WILL heal the poor in the same way you heal the rich.”

This passage, about sickness and healing, seems so appropriate for Rosh Chodesh Iyyar.  The month of Iyyar is a month of healing, so it’s wonderful to begin the month with a passage that clearly states that all deserve the same health care.

I also want to mention two amazing D’var Torah on this passage, which approach it it two very different ways that I found to be very inspiring and enlightening.


4 Replies to “Thoughts on Tazria-Metzora 5769”

  1. i adore your work. this particular bit about liminality very much spoke to me. thank you.

  2. Aaron

    To your question about impurity and food, I would say that it is a totally different animal. (pun semi-intended)

    The tamei of the Torah is like many things, greatly expanded in the Talmud. The Torah says nothing about separate dishes. That's a much later interpretation of Torah kashrus.

    I think the idea of liminality could still work here, though, because it's about mixing life and death (milk and meat).

    Off to read your blog post!

  3. Impure is absolutely a bad translation. Even the most traditional sources would agree. Your view on it is wonderful.

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