If the core isn’t solid, the integrity of a structure suffers. This is true for homes and commercial buildings as well as the structure of the human body or even the “structure” of a community. When we were doing renovations on our house a few years ago, I was very interested in the steps the builders took to make sure we had a sound structure. Naturally, I wanted our house to be strong and remain standing, but it went beyond that. I noticed the places where they used reinforced materials. I noticed where they pointed out a little bit of wood rot or gaps in insulation from old construction. All of that information was helpful to understanding the core strength of our home.
On a personal and very physical level, it was around this time when I also started exercising regularly and often with my coach. As we cycled through the strength exercises, I would notice that some days worked muscles I didn’t know I had, resulting in incredible soreness, while other times, I hardly felt anything the next day. The muscles I used frequently were already strong and didn’t feel the strain, while the muscles I used less often made themselves known. The key to it all was building and maintaining a strong core. When my core was engaged, my body was more stable.
The idea of identifying the core of a structure, a person, or even an organization is at the center of this week’s Torah portion. This week’s portion, Metzora, is a pause in the narrative of the death of Aaron’s sons, his mourning process, and his rejoining the community. The text details the healing and purification processes of physical buildings and our nation of Israel. As you might imagine, these processes require different actions for different circumstances.
There’s a focus on literally scraping apart buildings and looking at materials to find the source of an impurity. Find the brick, scrape the mud, cut a hole, etc. When all else fails, the Torah asks the community to tear down the building altogether, because at its core, it isn’t sound and must be rebuilt. The commentators read these verses and liken the idea of building strong physical buildings to that of building strong communities.
In chapter 14, verses 43 through 45, the question we’re to ask is whether or not the building as a whole has superficial issues or “wounds,” or if it is the entirety of the building that is broken and must be torn down. In the commentary, we’re asked to use this same lens on our own organizations when there are problems, struggles, or stumbles. Is it the entirety of the institution that is failing, or are there individual boards that need replacing or screws that need tightening?
Not every problem can be solved with a repair. Sometimes what you really need is an overhaul. Parshat Metzora reminds us that to be problem solvers means knowing the difference.