I’m sure you’ve heard the message in one form or another: just because you’re vaccinated does not necessarily make it safe to return to life as we knew it in 2019. As we work toward what’s been referred to as herd immunity, more spikes in infections would reverse the progress we’ve made. That means the safest course of action for the time being is doing the things we’ve been doing for the past year, like keeping our gatherings small and with the same people, wearing masks, and washing our hands.
As Jews, this is familiar territory. We are acutely aware of what comes in contact with our bodies, from the laws of kashrut to ritual hand washing to visits to the mikveh to the burial process, just to name a few. Jewish ritual practice brings an awareness of our physical selves, the world that surrounds us, and the connection between the two. The book of Vayikra, which contains so many laws about food and daily activity and also sacrifices, serves as a bridge between physical and spiritual. Specifically our double Torah portion this week, Tazria-Metzora, is the essence of this connection.
The text of these parshiyot tell us of the laws for the purification of our homes and our bodies after disease or death has occurred. The laws remind us that our bodies and our places of residence need to be treated with utmost respect. We also have the obligation to help one another maintain healthy lifestyles and to support one another when we find ourselves with impurities. While our human nature tends to lean towards picking ourselves apart based on what we wish we could change, the Torah reminds us that what might be seen as an “impurity” in our eyes is seen as a “tabernacle,” a holy space, by God.
The parshah we read last week, Shemini, lists in great detail the food that is permitted to enter our bodies and how that food can make us ritually impure. The text this week discusses how the things that come out of our bodies can do the same thing with regard to infections, and other ailments. Being attune to our bodies means focusing on what we put into it, how our body reacts, and how we care for it. In a similar way, in Metzora we read about how buildings can become impure too based on what we do or put inside them.
These sections of text remind us of the intimate connection between our actions and our health, a reminder that’s all the more important to take with us as we head into another new stage of coping and living.