As a little girl, all I wanted was to have my ears pierced. My father did not want his little girl to go about putting holes in her body. He was determined that I would not get my ears pierced until I was 16, although why 16 was the age I’ll never know. My dad would tell me that I was perfect just the way I was, or “if God wanted you to have pierced ears, you would have been born that way.” All I knew was that I wanted pierced ears, and the glory of choosing my earrings to go with my outfit. Ultimately, we compromised on the age, but my father’s point was that my body was pure and just the way that God had created me to be.
It is easy in today’s world to pick ourselves apart, to find elements of our physical being that we do not like, or that we wish could be different. You can’t go a day without hearing about a new “cleanse” to rid your body of toxins. We can wear contacts to change our eye color, heels to change our height; but our physical being remains a gift from God. The Torah teaches that both our buildings and our bodies have the ability to be purified and should be kept sacred as places for God. As we read Tazria-Metzora, the double Torah portions for this week, we are reminded of this fact.
The text of these parshiyot tell us of the laws for the purification of both our homes and our bodies after disease or death has occurred. The laws remind us that our bodies and our places of resident need to be treated with respect. We also have the obligation to help one another to maintain healthy living and to support one another when we find ourselves when we find impurities. While human nature tends to lean towards picking ourselves apart based on what we wish we could change, the Torah reminds us that what is seen as an “impurity” by our eyes is seen as a “tabernacle,” a holy space by God.
The medieval commentator Abarvanel picks up on chapter 15, verse 31, which states “Thus shall you separate the people of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile my Tabernacle that is among them.” First and foremost, the words “my Tabernacle” can also refer to the human body. Additionally, Abarvanel understands this verse as a sign that even when the Israelites are impure, even when we find ourselves feeling “less than,” we know that God’s presence is found among us.
This way of thinking forces us to see ourselves as created in God’s image and helps us to see that our bodies are indeed on loan to us from God. While it is cliché to say “your body is a temple,” it is in fact true that the divine spark that dwells within each of us requires that we look at ourselves with forgiving eyes. May we help one another to find the spark of the divine within us and see the beauty of our individuality.
ללמוד To Learn: ללמד To Teach: לשמור To Keep: לעשות To Do: These parshiyot link the feeling of being outcast because of illness or difference with the punishment for gossiping. Both being ill and gossiping can alienate you from others. In Perkei Avot 2:5, Hillel teaches: Do not separate yourself from within the community; and do not be sure of yourself until the day of your death; do not judge your fellow until you’ve been in his or her place… Hillel reminds us that we have an obligation to reach out to others and include them in our community, and to push past our instinct to judge. Instead, we must strive to remember that our words and actions affect others whether we can physically see it or not.