One of the things I find most compelling about Judaism is the way in which we read Torah. Not just the pomp & circumstance of ritual surrounding it, although that is definitely awesome; but rather, the fact that we read the same words over and over, year in and year out. Each and every time we read a portion we can learn something new, glean some insight that we didn't catch before.
Why, you might wonder, could that be if the words never change? It is because we change. We are different each and every time we encounter Torah, and we bring our unique selves and our personal perspectives to the stories and messages in our ancient text. When successful, we merge the two to find wisdom and guidance for our modern lives.
Nevertheless, there are those portions that some try to avoid. They're the ones our kids hope they won’t draw for their b'nei mitzvah. Yes, of course, we know there is no “bad” parsha. But nonetheless, when we reach tazria-m’tzora, we find a parsha that speaks about ritual uncleanliness, skin disease and other such maladies. Woo hoo!
Tazria-m'tzora details myriad specifics about the ways Israelites can become ritually impure and specifies the rituals that they must perform in order to be brought back into normative relationship with their community.
And this is where I get stuck. Because if we are to take from this parsha a message that resonates with us today, I struggle with this notion of “impure”. Is any one of us truly “pure”? I find myself drawing parallels between this notion of purity to the concept of perfection, even when we know that no one is perfect.
One of my favorite quotes: “No one is perfect. It’s why pencils have erasers.”
I have been leading a program with high school students for many years entitled, “Who is the Best Jew?” The goal is to bring teens to a place where they can genuinely recognize the subjectivity of this concept and realize that no one Jew is “better” than any other simply because he or she "knows more" or "practices more". In the program’s wrap-up we share this thought: “A good Jew is one who is always striving to become better.” In other words, we are all a work in progress.
So if all this is true, it can make the message of tazria-m’tzora all the more challenging. To ostracize or remove members from the community when they are “impure”, or not allowing them in because they are not “pure enough” will lead us down an incredibly slippery slope.
Any time that a community leaves anyone out, intentionally or not, they risk creating and perpetuating the notion of in-group/out-group; the very thing inclusion advocates strive to eliminate in their communities.
So how do we do it? How do we, as a Jewish community, ensure that no one is “cast aside” for their “ritual impurity”, forced to jump through the hoops that parsha tazria-m’tzora might suggest as necessary?