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Torah Commentary
Tazria (April 25, 2015)

By Rabbi Rena Y. Rifkin, Coordinator of Faculty
& Family Engagement

TAZRIA-M’TZORA, our double Torah portion for the week, discusses the body. We are told of skin diseases, discharges and menstruation. These are real-life physical conditions that often make us uncomfortable and rarely make us think of the holy or divine. These bodily fluids are not about what we expect Judaism to advise us. This is the nitty-gritty — not the lofty, highly philosophical and values-driven Judaism.

And yet, the body and its complexities are an essential part of Judaism. We often forget or don’t realize that Judaism is filled with discussion about our bodies. Every morning, we recite a prayer that discusses the intricacies of our “finely balanced network of opening and closings.” This prayer serves as a reminder that it takes only the slightest thing to upset the balance of our divinely created bodies.

Many of our major life-cycle events involve the body as well. At birth, we mark the bodies of baby boys, and many people ritualize the birth of a girl by washing her feet. The Shulchan Aruch, the major medieval Jewish law code, is filled with discussions about how to treat and prepare a body for burial. When converting to Judaism or before marriage, people immerse in the waters of the mikveh. So, too, the people with the three conditions of Tazria-M’tzora must immerse in the mikveh. They must cleanse and purify their bodies.

Our bodies are essential to our spiritual states. They serve as physical reminders of our presence and our status. Our bodies are more than tools for expressing our self-image. They are a reminder of God’s image. Our bodies are our grounding in this world. They are what allow us to sense our surroundings. Without our bodies seeing, touching, smelling, tasting and hearing the world around us, we do not know what is worth praising.

We use our bodies to increase our focus in prayer by bowing, standing, closing our eyes and clapping our hands. Rituals, such as circumcision or mikveh, help us to achieve greater spiritual states as the physical becomes impossible to ignore and forces our focus upon the holy moment at hand. But, we forget our bodies all too often. We forget that our bodies are holy and need to be purified as much as our souls. They need as much care and tending, too, if not more.

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber believed that authenticity was achieved when one’s exterior and interior matched. When what you said and did truly reflected what you thought and felt, then and only then could you be truly authentic. And, then and only then could you achieve deeper levels of connection, more intense meaning and a greater relationship with God.

One has to wonder if Buber’s idea of authenticity, the mirroring of the physical and the mental parts of a person, came from the relative closeness of Tazria-M’tzora with K’doshim. Next week, when we read K’doshim, we will read the text of the holiness code. We will learn the ways that we are supposed to treat each other. K’doshim provides us with ethical and moral guidelines for life. However, before we can read these rules, we have to learn about our bodies. In order to achieve the holy emotional state of K’doshim, we first must use the lessons of Tazria-M’tzora: for if our bodies are unholy and uncleansed, then our souls never can be.

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