Metzora (Lev.14:1-15:33), Shabbat HaGadol

I have this nagging sense that we have entered an age of global isolationism and disaster. But outdoors, I see all these hopeful signs of spring, trees with pink and white blossoms and delicate green leaves, brilliantly yellow daffodils and forsythia, tulips with still-unopened buds.

This week’s Torah and haftarah readings combine isolation and stigmatization with reintegration into the community and hope for the future.  Metzora, even more than Tazria, which we read last week, is one of those Torah portions that make you want to turn the pages really quickly.  But its very high “ewww!” factor distracts the reader from what are profound teachings about community and stigma.

Last week, we learned how the priest diagnoses tzara’at, the skin ailment formerly thought to be leprosy, the isolation of the person who has it (the metzora) and how the metzora is found to be ready for ritual purification. We also learned that tzara’at can occur in cloth or leather, and this week we see it can also occur in houses; these are red or green streaks, probably some kind of mold or fungus.

This week, we read the details of the purification of the metzora. This involves a ritual with 2 birds, cedar wood, crimson thread, and hyssop, with sprinklings of a blood-water mixture. The metzora launders his clothing, shaves off all his hair (even eyebrows), and immerses in water. He stays outside his tent, though now in the camp, for 7 days. The laundering, shaving, and immersion are repeated on the 7th day, and on the 8th, now ritually pure, he offers sacrifices.

After the section on house tzara’at, we learn about ritual impurity and purification in connection with genital discharges: male and female, normal and abnormal.  Details are in Chapter 15.

A key verse concerning Tazria and Metzora is 15:31: “You shall separate the Children of Israel from their contamination; and they shall not die as a result of their contamination if they contaminate My Tabernacle that is among them.”  You have to be ritually pure to go to the Tabernacle (later, the Temple) and offer sacrifices, which is a major demonstration of being part of the community.  Since there is no Temple now, what remains active are the restraints on sexual activity derived from Chapter 15.

It is not surprising that a society will define certain people as “unclean” and “worthy of” separation or exile.  In some cases, quarantine may be warranted for medical reasons.  But often, even if what causes the “uncleanliness” is just a medical condition, stigma attaches to it.  Surely the victim must somehow have deserved this?  Tzara’at was later linked by the rabbis to slander.  Similar conclusions that the community or individual “deserved this” accompanied the Black Death in the mid-14th century, AIDS in our own day, and mental illness for millennia.  Even when a stigmatizing condition is vanquished or managed, the stigma might not go away, and the person may still be an outcast.  Someone who is treated successfully for, say, depression or ADHD does not get a Certificate of Sanity.

Yet separation is not the focus of Metzora, but rehabilitation. There is a well-defined process with a clear, official ending, after which stigma is absent. Rabbi Leonard A. Sharzer, MD, associate director for bioethics of the Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, JTS, wrote in 2011, in Metzora: Disease or Dis-ease? “In the end, however, Parashat Metzora is less about separation, and more about reentry and reintegration. … If there is a lesson for us in this parashah, it is to remind us of the need for constant vigilance and for developing an awareness of our discomfort with difference, and of the way we marginalize others and often even stigmatize ourselves. It is not about the disease of the Metzora as much as it is about the dis-ease of the rest of us. Above all, we are reminded of the need to correct the injustice of the stigmatization we are all too quick to inflict.”

This is Shabbat HaGadol, the final Sabbath before Passover (Pesach).  Traditionally, it was one of only two times during the year that the rabbi gave a sermon. This one concerned the laws of Passover and was very long. There’s no additional scroll this week, but there is a special haftarah, Malachi 3:4-24.  It looks toward “the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord.” This will be a time of wholeness and reconciliation which will come only after Elijah specifically reconciles parents and children.

Next week: Passover!

Shabbat shalom,


Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness [Judaicized version, sent out in 2005]

A rabbi, apparently fed up with all the excuses given over the years to why people don’t go to services, included this list in the synagogue bulletin.


1.       I was forced to as a child.
2.        People who wash are hypocrites — they think they are cleaner than everybody else.
3.        There are so many different kinds of soap, I can’t decide which is best.
4.        I used to wash, but I got bored and stopped.
5.        I wash only on special occasions, like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
6.        None of my friends wash.
7.        I’ll start washing when I get older and dirtier.
8.        I can’t spare the time.
9.        The bathroom is never warm enough in winter or cool enough in summer.
10.        People who make soap are only after your money.


Shaving Jokes

  • Who shaves 10 times a day and still has a beard? The barber.
  • What do you call a group of men waiting for a shave? A barber-queue.
  • Dear Disney, why doesn’t Tarzan have a beard?
  • Dear shaving commercials, stop shaving hairless legs. If you want to impress me shave a gorilla.
  • I mustache you a question, but I’ll shave it for later.
  • Little Willie asked his mother: “Mamma, don’t soldiers ever go to heaven?” “Of course they do!” protested his mother. “What makes you ask?” “There are so many soldiers with beards, but I never saw any pictures of angels with beards.” “Oh, that’s because most men who go to Heaven get there by a close shave.”

When I went to Boston for grad school, winter was continuously cold for several months. Since legs were covered up, there was no reason to shave them. I remember one of my roommates referred to our very infrequent shaves as “mowing the lawn.” IGP


Top Ten Signs You Are in For A Long Sermon

10. There’s a case of bottled water beside the pulpit in a cooler.
9. The pews have camper hookups.
8. You overhear the pastor telling the sound man to have a few (dozen!) extra tapes on hand to record today’s sermon.
7. The preacher has brought a snack to the pulpit.
6. The preacher breaks for an intermission.
5. The bulletins have pizza delivery menus.
4. When the preacher asks the deacon to bring in his notes, he rolls in a filing cabinet.
3. The choir loft is furnished with La-Z-Boys.
2. Instead of taking off his watch and laying it on the pulpit, the preacher turns up a four-foot hour-glass.

And the Number One Sign You Are in For A Long Sermon

  1. The minister says, “You’ll be out in time to watch the Super Bowl” but it’s only September!


tph socks


An Orphan

In the 1970’s, a Russian school inspector is questioning the children. He points to one of the boys and says, “Who is your father?”
The boy replies, “The Soviet Union.”
He then asks, “Who is your mother?”
“The communist party,” came the reply.
“And what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be a Stankhanovite worker for the glory of the state and the party.”

The inspector then points to one of the girls and asks, “Who is your father?”
The girl answers, “The Soviet Union.”
“Who is your mother?” — “The communist party.”
“And what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“A heroine of the Soviet Union raising lots of children for the state and party.”

The inspector looks round and sees a Jewish boy tucked away at the back trying to look inconspicuous. He points and says, “What’s your name?”
The boy replies, “Mendel Abramovitch.”
“Who is your father?”
“The Soviet Union.”
“Who is your mother?”
“The communist party.”
“And what do you want to be when you grow up?”
Mendel replies, “An orphan.”


Quotes about Rehabilitation

Restorative justice is not a replacement of retributive justice, but a complement. It seeks the rehabilitation of the wrongdoer and the repair of the victim’s injury. Lewis B. Smedes

The subject of criminal rehabilitation was debated recently in City Hall. It’s an appropriate place for this kind of discussion because the city has always employed so many ex-cons and future cons. Mike Royko

We have developed our own approach towards rehabilitating people, involving psychological rehabilitation, social rehab within families and of our Religious Rehabilitation Group. Tony Tan

Many years ago, when I was working on Broadway, I used to go to a drug rehabilitation centre on Sundays. I didn’t lecture them against the perils of drug-taking; I gave them drama therapy. Diana Rigg





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