Metzora opens with a description of the rituals for purification of a metzora, i.e., a person suffering from tzara’at (some skin affliction that is not Hansen’s disease). Then houses with tzara’at are described (reddish or greenish streaks) as is how to deal with them. The remainder of Metzora, Lev. 15, concerns tumah (ritual “impurity”) resulting from genital discharges – male and female, normal and abnormal – which I’ll refrain from discussing this year (you’re welcome.). Maimonides sees the various forms of tzara’at as Divine punishments of increasing severity. First, property would be afflicted. Then, if the person’s behavior did not improve, skin affliction would occur. Rabbi Leonard A. Sharzer, MD, of JTS, at http://www.jtsa.edu/Conservative_Judaism/JTS_Torah_Commentary/Metzora_5771.xml , attributes significance to the textual, rather than temporal, direction: from visible skin lesions (to tzara’at inside one’s house (reddish or greenish streaks) to abnormal genital discharges, going from public and superficial to increasingly private manifestations.
Some of the purification rituals for a metzora seem reasonable, e.g., washing body and clothes, shaving head hair, isolation for a prescribed time, immersion, and offering up a burnt offering and a sin offering (sliding scale, depending on means). The ritual described in 14:2-7 needs a second look, or at least some head scratching. Once the metzora’s skin has healed, the priest gathers two live clean birds, a stick of cedar wood, crimson thread, and hyssop. One bird is slaughtered “over fresh water in an earthen vessel” into which the blood falls. The priest takes the live bird, and the cedar wood and hyssop tied with the crimson thread, and dips them in the blood/spring water mixture and sprinkles it seven times on the metzora. Then the live bird is freed. This ritual is also used for a house with tzara’at. According to Rashi (11th c.), the purification elements symbolically address the sin at the root of the tzara’at, improper and divisive speech, like slander and gossip. Atonement for these requires abandoning the attitude of superiority that promotes such activities in favor of humility. Cedar is tall and imposing, thus symbolizing haughtiness. The crimson dye is from a lowly bug (or other lowly life form) and the hyssop is from a lowly bush, so they represent humility. Eyes represent jealousy, the mouth, improper speech, and the head, haughtiness. Thus, the eyebrows, beard, and head are shaved. Blood sprinkling occurs often enough in rituals that Rashi doesn’t even bother to comment on it here.
Remember, the priest diagnoses the condition and performs purification rituals; he does not “cure,” but guides the affected person through the entire process. It is important to note that, while the metzora is separated from the community at first, the ultimate goal is to end the isolation, remove stigma, and reintegrate the person into the community. It’s a pity we don’t have a formal process today for welcoming society’s outcasts back into our midst, albeit without blood and animal sacrifices.
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz Senior Rabbi, Shir Tikvah
Empathy Activism (Metzora, Leviticus 14:1-15:33) [abridged a bit for length]
Posted: 04/01/2014 10:43 am EDT Updated: 04/01/2014 10:59 am EDT
On March 31, 2014, along with dozens of my colleagues, I shaved my head. Bald. Not just short. Bald. To paraphrase the babies from “Free to Be You and Me,” “Bald as a ping-pong ball.”
The simple answer is that we joined “36 Rabbis Shave for Brave” to raise money for children’s cancer research through St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a fundraising effort dreamed up by Rabbis Rebecca Einstein Schorr and Elizabeth Wood. It was born in a moment of pain; our colleagues, Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer, buried their eight-year-old son, Sammy, who died from refractory acute myeloid leukemia on Dec. 14, 2013.
In our collective grief, we rabbis came together, raised more than half a million dollars and raised the profile of paltry funding for children’s cancer research. Men and women. All rabbis. More than 80 of us. Now bald. Symbols of hope and grief, empathy and activism.
The deeper answer as to why we did this, though, is a bit more emotionally and spiritually complicated.
Rachel Havrelock notes in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary that “the human body is both an indicator of change and a vessel of memory.”
An indicator of change. A vessel of memory.
We rabbis teach Torah, offer blessings, strive to inspire the brokenhearted souls, to ameliorate suffering, to breathe Judaism to life in a new generation, to live our prophetic values in the public square and change social policy for the human good.
But we cannot stop our loved ones from knowing agonizing pain when a child dies.
So there was a deeply spiritual, Torah-based reason we did it: empathy.
But it is more than that. Shaving my head is a ritual way to engage other people in a conversation: About Sammy, about children’s cancer research, about my deep respect for Phyllis and Michael’s ability to simply wake up each morning, about “tzedakah” (justice), “tikkun” (healing) and “rachamim” (compassion), about our responsibility to do something when we can.
There are moments, sublime and acute, when memory marries the body’s transformation, and empathy and activism embrace. It is the cry to respond, however and whenever we can, to the suffering in our midst.
Empathy activism. The radical Jewish ideal that our connectedness to other people inspires us — demands us — to respond to their suffering with courageous action. When we can, we must.
Information about St. Baldrick’s Foundation is found at http://www.stbaldricks.org/ .I am also happy to note that there are Wilmington, DE rabbis who have traded their locks for a shiny pate. IGP
What did the bald man say when he was given a comb? ‘I’ll never part with it.’
Bald guys never have a bad hair day.
Washing The Sweatshirt
One day, a housework-challenged husband decided to wash his sweatshirt. Seconds after he stepped into the laundry room, he shouted to his wife, “What setting do I use on the washing machine?”
“It depends,” she replied. “What does it say on your shirt?”
He yelled back, “Texas A & M.”
From 2500 Jokes to Start ‘Em Laughing
By Robert Orben (Random House, 2012)
I’ve found that cleanliness is next to godliness- but in a six-year-old, it’s next to impossible.
It’s very discouraging. We have a six-year-old and the only four-letter word he doesn’t know is “soap”!
There’s no question about it, we have a problem. You can tell that by the three different kinds of soap we have in our bathroom – Lux for my wife, Dial for me, and Brillo for him!
We try to bribe him to take baths. One time we got him three toy boats. I won’t say what the water looked like when he was through, but two of them went aground!
Unfortunately, the kid has answers. One time I said, “Why can’t you be like Daddy and wash all that nasty dirt off your face?” He said, “I’d rather be like Mommy and cover it up with powder!”
The greatest problem facing the American family today can be summed up in six words: Ovens are self-cleaning and kids aren’t!
Kids really stick together. If you took a bath once a month, you’d be a little gummy too!
I was getting my hair cut at a neighborhood shop, and I asked the barber when would be the best time to bring in my two-year-old son.
Without hesitation, the barber answered, “When he’s four.”
The barber was far from proficient, nicking the customer more than once with his sharp razor. After the shave, the customer asked for some water.
“Are you thirsty, buddy?” the barber asked.
“No. I just want to see if my face leaks!”