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Torah Commentary
Tazria (March 29, 2014)

Rachel Dulitz,
Program Director,
Skirball Center

THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS could be succinctly summarized as, “a guide to holy relationships with God.” There are rules pertaining to the holiness and purity required in food consumption, sexual practices, and the offering of sacrifices in the Temple. We read about the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests and the laws of the high priest entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, we read about tzaraat, a skin malady which can appear on a person’s body, clothes, and even in their homes. The bible goes into great detail to explain how a person establishes that he has tzaraat and the rituals he must follow to rid himself of it. An afflicted person must leave the Israelite camp and an afflicted home must have bricks removed. This physical defilement is a representation of a spiritual shortcoming and can only be declared “healed” by a member of the priesthood.

The Talmud (Erchin 16a) states that tzaraat is a punishment for gossip and slander. Rav Yisrael Salanter explains that the Torah portion of Tazria directly follows Parshat Shmini and its laws of kashrut to demonstrate that what comes out of your mouth is just as important as what you put into it.

The Sefat Emet, a 19th century Chassidic rabbi from Poland, emphasizes the aspect of tzaraat appearing on people’s homes. He writes, “The real meaning of these afflictions of houses is in fact quite wondrous, a demonstration that Israel’s holiness is so great that they can also draw sanctity and purity into their dwelling-places....This is the real ‘hidden treasure’--that in the most corporeal of objects there are hidden sparks of the greatest holiness.” (Sefat Emet 3:139F)

I think these two ideas send a strong message about the importance of holiness in every area of our lives – even the most mundane. The tzaraat plague comes to remind the Israelites that any part of a person’s life is capable of being sanctified or desecrated. When a person goes through the process of purging the tzaraat from their house, they are essentially acknowledging God’s presence in every brick of their home.

As we read through the chapters of Leviticus, it is easy to mistakenly assume that holiness can only be found within the Temple, while bringing sacrifices, or by being a member of the priesthood. Parshat Tazria comes to remind us that the capacity for sanctity exists in every “nook and cranny” of our daily lives and domiciles. Holiness isn’t just about a priest, a rabbi or a temple. It is not achieved only on special holidays, during seminal lifecycle events, or while attending prayer services. It is found in our everyday lives, our homes, our business relations and how we speak to one another. It is something each of us can strive for every day, in our own unique ways.

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