Pure and Simple – Parshat Tazria Metzora 5778


As you may recall when I spoke about the subject of water on Yom Kippur, I am a terrible swimmer. Nevertheless, there is something magical about water, and being near a body of water has always been a calming force in my life. For almost my entire life I have lived within a quick drive of the lakes in Michigan or the coast in California and Oregon, and it somehow soothes me to know that I can be near the water in a matter of hours. And although Texas has the Gulf of Mexico, being mostly land locked in Dallas never felt quite right. I missed the soft waves on the shore of the lake, the open expanse of an ocean, and the calming feeling of that ebb and flow with no end or beginning.

Although I’m not usually actively thinking about it, it’s also likely my strong feelings about water are due in part to the sense of purity and cleansing it provides. It both hydrates and cleans my body, and that relationship to water is one that’s fundamental to human existence. Our combined Torah portion this week, Parshiyot Tazria and Metzora, remind us of the healing properties of water as well. The text of these parshiyot tells us of the laws for the purification of both our homes and our bodies after disease or death has occurred, and the laws remind us that our bodies and our places of residence need to be treated with respect. We also have an obligation to help each other maintain healthy living and to support one another when we find impurities.

In chapter 14, verse 9 of Leviticus, we learn about the purification of the leper; we read that he should “bathe his body in water; then he shall be pure.” This is not referring to just any ordinary bath. This is a symbol of rebirth and recreation. The Seifer HaHinnukh teaches that the experience of illness and recovery has made the leper a new person. In other words, someone who now looks at life differently. While it is ultimately the experience that changes a person, the water symbolizes that moment of change. As infants we are born out of water. When we enter a new life phase, including converting to Judaism, we visit the mikvah. In fact, our entire world was created only as it emerged out of a giant body of water.

As the spring begins to give way to the first signs of summer, may we find refreshment in all that we do and take as many opportunities as possible to enjoy all the peaceful reassurance and calm our beautiful Pacific Northwest has to offer.

As a final note, I encourage you to visit our beautiful community mikvah located on the Mittleman Jewish Community Center campus. It’s closer than the ocean and cleaner and calmer than the river. We have been blessed as a community through the support of the Oregon Board of Rabbis and Jewish Federation to sustain a beautiful, tranquil place to refresh and transform ourselves.

Sick and Tired – Parshat Tazria-Metzora 5777


Living with two young children who go to two different preschools, there’s really no such thing as “cold season” in our house. Someone always has a cold. The kids usually mange to take it in stride; they’re perpetually upbeat and energetic, so it’s rare when they’re not themselves. On the other hand, Duncan and I are miserable when we’re sick, and the recovery process seems to take more out of us.

As someone whose job requires maintaining personal relationships and being in social environments for at least part of the day, being sick doesn’t just take a toll on my body. Because it strips me of my productivity as well, it also leaves me feeling isolated and worthless. And as much as I loved pregnancy, being on maternity leave was equally painful for me for the same reasons. There’s no question I treasured the one-on-one special time with the baby, but I spent much of this time without contact with other adults. It sounds strange to say, but when I’m alone, I’m just not myself. On a conscious level, I know my body needs time to heal, but any time I’m cooped up, the isolation weighs heavily on me, and I feel a strong desire to get back to “it.”

Our beautiful tradition has plenty of ways to help both the community and the person in recovery to deal with these feelings. Specifically, this week we read a double portion, Tazria and Metzora, which focus on different ailments and healing processes.

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.

Within this text we learn in chapter 14 about the different offerings that would be given for skin ailments and other healing opportunities. The offering included cedar wood, which is from the tallest and strongest of all plants, and hyssop, described as the smallest and most vulnerable of all growing things. The tallest and smallest. The strongest and most fragile. What we have is not set of polar opposites, but a continuum. When faced with an illness, the strongest, the most vulnerable, and everyone in the middle all need to heal. And for each healing process, as the Torah teaches, there are steps to take that will keep you on track for recovery. This way you can be sure you’re really ready when it’s time to reenter the community.

We all heal, grow, and change in our own ways and at difference paces. Any illness, from the flu to a broken bone, can feel isolating and lonely. Still, it is our job as a community to support one another. To lift up both the hyssop and the cedar.

Mind Over Matter – Parshat Tazria Metzora 5775

Mind Over Matter

If you’ve been a parent of a toddler, you can sympathize with my frustration. When my daughter is hurt or upset, I wish I could really understand what she’s trying to communicate to me. Her language is progressing normally, but until she can formulate thoughts into full sentences, both parties are simply left exasperated. I can gather she’s in pain when she bumps her head and lets out a scream, and I can tell when she’s uncomfortable because she tries to take off shoes or her shirt. But most of the time, there’s a lot of guesswork involved. Equally frustrating is what gets lost in translation from me to her: that if she sleeps she’ll feel better, if she’d stop banging her head against the wall it wouldn’t hurt, or if she simply believed she could do something, she might try and succeed. A 19-month-old doesn’t always recognize the results of her actions, and certainly doesn’t have the self-discipline that we as adults have been practicing for decades.

On the other hand, we adults have the ability to not only feel our aches and pains, but also to verbalize most of what we’re feeling. We understand the cause and effect of our actions. By now I know that banging my head against the wall will led to a headache, and negative self-talk will probably not make me feel any better. This doesn’t mean I always act in accordance with my understanding of logic, but it does mean that in some small way I’m able to monitor and modify my experiences.

This week we read two portions, Tazria and Metzora. The text of these parshiyot tells 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 residence need to be treated with respect. We also have the obligation to help one another maintain that same level of healthy living. What’s most interesting is the implication that a healthy life is in part a result of a healthy attitude and a consciousness of our actions.

In chapter 14, verse 17 we read about the obligation to use oil on the head, hand, and foot as well as sprinkled on the altar as a method of spiritually cleaning away an illness. The head, the hand, the foot, and the altar – each location specifically suggested to convey the idea that the recovery from illness is a combined result of our actions, our attitudes, and divine grace. That is to say that in order to heal from what ails us mentally, physically, and emotionally, we must act differently, we must think differently, and we must find a spiritual center for ourselves.

Perhaps as a parent, instead of waiting for my child’s understanding of the world to mature, I can adjust my own outlook. When I had a newborn, there was no way I could fully relay to her the cause and effect of her actions. It was only after enough sleepless nights I realized that if I changed my own attitude, it would ease my expectations and disappointment. Our mind, our body, and our soul work together, according to the Torah, to help us effect positive change in us and in our world. May that notion guide our thoughts and actions this week.