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Tazria 5782 ~ April 1, 2022

Life has its eruptions, both wonderful moments and debilitating ones. That is a simple fact, too. Not everything in life is beautiful.  Hopefully, we do everything in our power to overcome the moments in life that seem to be less than beautiful.  Skin discoloration, loss of hair due to a health condition, infirmity, all can be either beautified and sanctified or they can be vilified and bring a person down. 

Such is the case in our Torah reading for this Shabbat both in the instance of the one who has a change in skin hue, color, or even a mole that simply appears in view to the entire world.  And in such an instance, the Torah requires that individual to present him/herself at the doorpost of the kohen, the priest. Why the kohen? It was the kohen who was trained to identify the ailment, its cause, and the treatment or perhaps the cure.  Such is the case of the leper who must present the ailment before the kohen. And it is the priest who not only had to diagnose, but also offer a compassionate word to that individual.

The rituals of our Torah reading for this Shabbat, Tazria, are ones that not only identify the series of eruptions that are a part of life and their cause, but how we can compassionately guide the afflicted through the painful reality.  That is how we would like to perceive this Torah portion. Yet, if one reads the actual verses, in many ways it seems anything but compassionate. It requires the leper to make his or her way through the camp to the priest advising people in the path that they may have an eruption or affliction that may be contagious. One might say that was important in protecting the camp from an outbreak.  At the same time imagine the pain of the individual having to pronounce to those who are in the path, “Please be mindful of my affliction.” Should one be required to announce every minute or monumental affliction to the world?

What makes our reading profound, despite what appears to be less than compassionate, is that our tradition has always declared the one with the skin affliction known as metzora, as the one who openly commented and tormented another individual. Since they were so callous, their skin turned to the color of snow and were declared a metzora.  The rabbis break down the word to mean metzo, the one who looks for the negative, the rah, in others. As such, that individual becomes stricken with a temporary skin affliction where he or she is required to caution people of their affliction which was brought on because of callousness to another.

So, who is the real metzora?  Is it the one with the affliction or the one who points it out to others as a gossip, or as a bully? And what constitutes a bully? And how do we deal with the bully in the room?

How do we deal with the Will Smiths of our world - the ones who act out in anger in an impulsive way – and, no less, on the worldwide screen? If he had shouted out and not gone up on to the stage, would we have been sympathetic for Will Smith and his wife, rather than viewing him as pathetic, a metzora in our midst?  Would we view him more as the spouse we all should be, in defending our husband/wife/partner against a bully, even in a comedy club?

How do we deal with the Chris Rocks whose humor is what people pay to laugh at life, but, at times, simply is intentionally mean, gaining a laugh at the expense of others and in this instance intended or unintended a weakness, illness or disability?  Should we give Chris Rock a pass because that is what he is paid to do? Or based on previous situations and the fact that his comments were adlibbed rather than part of his routine, should we consider the comedian a metzora? (It is well known  that if one sits in the front rows of a comedy club or a show with comedians, one has the potential of being a target or butt of their jokes.)

Rabbi Noah Farkas teaches: “It would be wonderful if we would never anger each other, or take our own interest into account overly much, but that’s not the world we live in. There is no such thing as a sinner in Judaism, only people who sin. We are not defined by our worst actions, but by our best reactions. Leviticus knows that life is messy. Everyone is a gift to the world and every time in Leviticus an event occurs in someone’s life, whether it be joyous, shameful, or sinful, that might take someone out of the world, God calls us back into relationship by asking us to come home. God is not a judge in Leviticus; that is up to the courts of Exodus and Deuteronomy to decide. Rather God is a partner that wants each of us to live a life on fire, a life of significance, and a life of holiness.”

For those of us who witnessed the laughter, the anger and the humiliation at the Oscars, I guess Tazria teaches us that we must be mindful of the nature of how we each can be that tazria, that eruption and volcano. We might be more conscious of the actions that the Torah says is the cause and root of the tazria, the eruption that overcomes our being and our bodies due to our actions that are less than perfect and harm another, either by words or by actions which makes us into the metzora, the leper.

We are the actor in one scene in the stage of life. We can react as a metzora or we can act in the ways of the kohen, the priest to others, with compassion and caring.

After all, each one of us have in our lives both eruptions of joy and of challenge. 

Life can be beautiful, but it can also be messy. How we evolve from each one of these elements of life is what makes us not only stronger, but healthier and holy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi K

Fri, June 24 2022 25 Sivan 5782