Sick and Tired – Parshat Tazria-Metzora 5777

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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.

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Transitions – Parshat Tazria 5776

Transitions

Transitions are emotional for me. I get weepy watching kids get on the camp bus for their first summer, knowing that they will return forever changed. I celebrate a pre-K graduation in the same way as I celebrate a high school graduation. The way in which we mark these transitions, with a bittersweet mix of the joy of anticipation plus a little sadness at the passing of what was, fills my heart completely. Transitions are simultaneously scary because of the unknown and thrilling because of the accomplishment.

As Jews there are many moments of transition that we mark in our lives. Smaller moments of transition like lighting Shabbat candles or celebrating Havdalah help us to transition weekly in and out of holy space. Big moments like becoming a parent might be recognized with an aliyah to the Torah or a baby naming. A bar or bat mitzvah is marked as a transition with the recitation of Shehechiyanu and acknowledgment of the day, among many other related events.

Interestingly, one common theme found in several of our traditional Jewish transitions is the use of water. Both in Jewish weddings and burials, we see water used in purification. 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 including the transitional time after childbirth, and continues with the treatments and prescriptions for what to do when a person is in need of cleansing of both body and material items in order to re-enter society.

At the outset this parshah looks as though it is strictly medical in nature, but it is actually speaking to the core of what it means to be a people. Each of these moments in life (childbirth, illness, etc.) represents a change in the status of your body and your daily life. This fluctuation in the connection to self is a type of transition. As we already know, the Torah reminds us that transition demands ceremony, and the ceremony most often used is that of the ritual bath in the mikvah. This spiritual immersion in living waters is a physical step toward inward and outward purification.

The Torah of purification is a Torah that understands that life experiences change us in ways that need to be noted and even celebrated, and the use of water in these events serves as a purifier because water is the source of sustenance and life. Going to the mikvah is a beautiful way to mark a moment of transition, whether for conversion, marriage, or otherwise. We recognize the sacredness in marking these moments and moving forward through life’s many changes. Though they may be emotional or they may be mundane, Parshat Tazria reminds us to “dive in” and embrace our transitions.