As I noted in my email for Shemini/Shabbat Parah, I will be out for roughly two weeks, starting at midday today (until sometime between April 4 and 11), so I am going to rerun some remarks from 2008, in which I also cite remarks made in 2005. Cool. They still look pretty good to me.
People who are just familiar enough with the Torah readings to recognize them by name tend to grimace when Tazria comes around. People very familiar with Tazria per se tend to appreciate it more. It’s like finding diamonds in muck. There are important philosophical issues to be pondered as we read about childbirth purification rituals, skin diseases, and mildewed (or moldy?) walls and clothing. Not to mention the physician-like role of the priests in physical diagnosis and treatment. While I keep emphasizing that “purity” and “impurity” here refer specifically and only to ritual (im)purity, which, for example, involves one’s ability to join the community in eating certain sacrifices, there is still a whole lot of negative connotation to “impure” that carries over to today.
Here’s part of what I wrote three years ago about Tazria: “On one hand, spiritual and physical: purity, cleanliness, freshness, order, control, health, life. On the other, spiritual and physical: impurity, uncleanliness, mildew, disorder, lack of control, disease, and death. Blood straddles both, since it is life giving (also used in rituals like priestly ordination) but also a cause for menstrual and postpartum ritual impurity. Childbirth straddles both, since it is life giving but the mother risks death, and a purification time and sacrifices are required, twice as long for a girl (blood begets blood) as for a boy. There is an effort to link skin maladies to a bad action on the part of the sufferer (physical impurity stemming from spiritual – cf. Miriam’s “leprosy” as a consequence of slander. Also cf. claims that acne was exacerbated by certain misbehaviors), which is an attempt to bring order and control to otherwise random maladies. But why does a particular state become defined as “impure” (and yes, I know we’re talking “ritually impure” but the constant linking of physical and spiritual makes it really difficult to avoid the connotation of “dirty.” See, e.g., Midrash Rabbah on childbirth.)? Messiness? Childbirth is indeed messy (been there, done that. Twice.), as are some of the more disgusting skin maladies. But isn’t all that animal slaughter for the sacrifices messy? Wouldn’t the sacrifices also give rise to odor, say, at the end of the day? Maybe proximity to death is the defining factor. Possible, but, again, sacrificing causes a lot of death, albeit of animals, and I don’t see where mildew fits in.”
A very early Shabbat shalom,
Lost in Translation
A lady from a foreign country who could not understand much English wasn’t feeling well and went to see her doctor. After examining her he said, “You are pregnant. Please understand that you have an insufficient passage and if you have a baby it will be a miracle.”
The lady rushed home crying and told her husband, “The doctor says I’m pregnant and I have a fish in the passage and if I have a baby it will be a mackerel!”
How much will it hurt?
A woman goes to her doctor who verifies that she is pregnant. This is her first pregnancy. The doctor asks her if she has any questions. She replies, “Well, I’m a little worried about the pain. How much will childbirth hurt?”
The doctor answered, “Well, that varies from woman to woman and pregnancy to pregnancy and besides, it’s difficult to describe pain.”
“I know, but can’t you give me some idea?” she asks.
“Grab your upper lip and pull it out a little…”
“A little more…”
“No. A little more…”
“Yes. Does that hurt?”
“A little bit.”
“Now stretch it over your head!”
My childbirth instructor says it’s not pain that I’ll feel during labor, but pressure. Is she right?
Yes, in the same way that a tornado might be called an air current.
Random phobias, pertinent to Tazria
Leprosy- Leprophobia (yes, I know “tzora’at”, often mistranslated as “leprosy” , is some skin malady other than Hansen’s Disease)
Skin Disease- Dermatosiophobia
Surgical Operations- Ergasiophobia (well, if it’s childbirth by Caesarian section)
A doctor remarked on his patients, ruddy complexion. “I know” the patient said “It’s high blood pressure, it’s from my family. “Your mother’s side, or father’s side?” questioned the doctor. Neither, my wife’s. “What?” the doctor said “that can’t be, how can you get it from your wife’s family?” “Oh yeah” the patient responded “You should meet them sometime!”
Top Ten Things To Do While Giving Blood
by Tina Mancuso and Paul Coen
10. Watch the bag fill.
8. Pull the tube out of the bag and drink from it.
7. Race to see who fills their bag first (requires two or more people).
6. Puncture the bag near the top and see whether they pull the needle out of your arm before the blood squirts out.
5. While they’re not looking, substitute a bag of orange liquid and complain they gave you too much Tang.
4. Insist that you want to give 2 pints.
2. Tell them you saw the bag twitch.
1. Yell, “Hey, you used that needle on the last guy!”