WMany of you know I have a passion for redeeming irredeemable texts. While I wouldn't exactly classify parashat Metzora as irredeemable, it is certainly a difficult one to try and relate to from our modern perspective. It's a particularly earthy text. As I have argued in some recent musings, Torah's "earthiness" in parts can serve to remind us to that have a relationship with Gd we sometimes have to roll our sleeves up and get dirty. We have to think about bodily functions.
This is certainly no less the case in parashat Metzora. While we may wonder why the Torah devotes quite so much text to the subject of leprosy, nocturnal emissions and menstruation, it does serve as the kind of reminder I suggest.
This week, that just wasn't enough for me. While searching the parasha for something useful, I was struck by this verse near the end:
"You shall alert the children of Israel regarding their impurity so they will not die through their impurity when they defile my Tabernacle that is among them" (Lev. 15:31. Translation from Richard Elliot Friedman's Commentary.)
Now there's a practical and useful idea. A call to prophecy. A call to vigilance. A call for all Israel to care enough for one another. A call to Israel to follow Gd's laws. A call to Israel to not defile that which is holy. A reminder to Israel that people can do things which can render them unfit to encounter the holy in our midst.
It's enough (for some) to validate the whole parasha.
One can render (through exegesis and eisegesis) some rather interesting interpretations of this verse. It would certainly seem to discourage the donation of tainted money to a synagogue. It could support those who feel that even liberal synagogues ought to have kosher kitchens. Fans of "appropriate dress" might seek to eisegete some support for their position from this verse. Some traditional Jews might use this verse as license to support their efforts to call attention to Jews they view as less observant in order to call them to greater observance.
(*-in simplistic terms, exegesis is the process of interpreting text by drawing meaning out of it. Eisegesis is the process of interpreting of text by putting meaning into it.)
As a side note, it might have been handy had Gd related this particular bit of instruction BEFORE Nadav and Avihu went on their little bender and wound up as toast on the altar.
Yet all of these stretch the meaning somewhat, and render the ideas of tamei (impure) and tahor (pure) in more abstract terms than the context of the parasha.
And there is yet another important lesson to be learned from parashat Metzora. It is the all important idea that what is or has become impure can be made pure again. Sometimes with a sacrifice. Sometimes simply with the passage of time.
Whether or not you accept the rabbinic definitions of what is pure and what is impure, I think it's still fairly easy to agree that when one is in an impure state, that interaction with the holy and sacred is probably not a good idea. Parashat Metzora calls upon us to recognize for ourselves, and to inform others when a state of impurity exists, so that we do not unintentionally defile the holy and sacred. And, lest we languish in self-despair and depression, the parasha also reminds us that we can become pure again, and enjoy the birthright that is ours to connect with Gd through the holy spaces that have been created for us to do so.
Not so irredeemable or irrelevant at all.
© 2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some Other Musings on the same parasha
Lepers Bring Good News
Tazria 5760-Preventing Spiritual Rot
Tazria-Metzora 5761-Lessons For Our Stuents
Tazria-Metzora 5762-Sing a Song of Leprosy
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