Friday, April 16, 2010

Parshiot Tazria Metzora – פרשיות תזריע ומצורע

This week we have a double-reading of the Torah, when both Parshat Tazria and Parshat Metzora shall be read. I subscribe to a D'var Torah group on Facebook called "Inspiring weekly parsha" which sometimes helps fuel me with and leads me to find a specific D'var Torah that speaks to me. In this week's D'var Torah, a question is brought from the Lubavitch Rebbe's teachings: How is it that the majority of these two readings deal with impurity and the supernatural disease we call "Tzara'at," but the name of the first Parsha, "Tazria", (meaning "when a woman conceives,") is connected to conception and childbirth. These would appear to be two rather distant topics; how are they related?

This question seems especially relevant given that we learn in Masechet Nedarim that one "who suffers from Tzara'at is akin to a dead person." While this may be true, it serves only to highlight the seeming gap between the two subjects.

The truth is though, that the Tzara'at is not a punishment in the way that we are used to punishments. One of my favourite lines I heard during my time in Yeshiva was "You hate God? You don't believe in God? Don't worry, I don't believe in the God you don't believe in, either!" I'm afraid to say that I can't remember who said it, but the point remains with me nonetheless; the Jewish concept of God is notably different to other conceptions of a supernatural power reigning over us mortals. Whereas others see their god's actions towards the wicked as damning and punishing, the Jewish perspective is that all punishments are part of a process of correction.

God is not vengeful. No vengeful God would allow transgressors to be "rewarded", but that seems precisely what happens when one whose Tzara'at affliction spread to his house found out. We learn from Rashi's commentary that the previous tenants of the land, the Emorites, often hid treasure in the walls of the houses. Once Jews moved into these houses, markings appeared on the walls. In complying with the directive to destroy their houses in order to be rid of this affliction, the Kohen would smash the walls down and the caches of money hidden within the walls were revealed.

It was only through the affliction of the Tzar'at that the Jews received an indication of the presence of such treasure. The understanding here must be clear; the completion of the healing process is what we are to concentrate on, not the process itself. The punishments of the Torah are not intended to harm a person in return for the harm they caused. The reason that these punishments are "inflicted" upon sinners is actually for the benefit of the transgressor themselves.

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, in his work "Be'er Yosef", makes an important and highly relevant observation. Of all the creatures in this world, only humans have the capacity to transcend various spiritual realms. Whereas the beasts, birds, fish and insects of the world are pre-defined as either falling into the category of pure or into the category of impure, humans have the capability to change.

With all this in mind, we may now understand why it is that this first Parsha was called Tazria. The themes of conception and birth are extremely pertinent to the case of Tzara'at, and all the punishments in the Torah, as these punishments are only given so to help us start afresh and enjoy a spiritual rebirth.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

No comments:

Post a Comment