I like to think of myself as a pretty observant person. I take in small details and notice when something has changed, whether it’s a haircut, landscaping, or new jewelry. I’m pretty sure I’ve been like this for most of my life. In fact, I like noticing little changes, and it can make other people feel good and feel very seen when someone notices those little changes. Not only that, but being aware of tiny changes can actually save lives.
About 18 months ago, I found a small lump in my armpit. I was doing my monthly self check and noticed something small, like a ball rolling around. I did my best not to panic, but inside I was going through every worst case scenario I could think of. I scheduled a virtual doctor visit to get some clarity and then ended up with a quickly scheduled mammogram and ultrasound. Turns out, it was just a harmless little cyst that I then had removed. Being aware of my body’s tiny changes was enough for me to catch something that could have been a lot worse.
Our Torah portion this week is a call to notice those small changes so we can take care of ourselves. This week we read from Parshat Tazria, one of two portions in the Torah that deal explicitly and fully with transitioning in and out of states of purity. The text begins with the notion of “impurity,” specifically the transitional states after childbirth, and continues with the treatments and prescriptions for what to do when a person needs cleansing of both body and material items in order to reenter the world.
As the Torah lists all the different ailments to watch out for – and there are many – it draws great attention to noticing change: hair that once had color but is now white, or skin that was pink and is now ashen or dry. Each of these little changes might be a sign of a different ailment. And the awareness of these changes can be lifesaving for the person infected and even the community around them.
Consider this your reminder to schedule that annual physical, go to the dentist, get a haircut, and get to know yourself. Like that postcard from the dermatologist, Parshat Tazria is our biblical yearly reminder to pay attention to our bodies. The Torah is not suggesting we be hypochondriacs, but simply to be knowledgeable and aware so that we can take the best possible care of ourselves and others.