Parasha Inspiration – Tazria-Metzora

Last week’s portion, Shemini, ended with a discussion regarding being separated for Hashem. The discussion revolved around the idea of certain animals being food and other animals not being food. The differences are described using very specific terms, Tuma and Tahara, often translated as clean and unclean. Tuma, unclean, is the term used to describe animals that are not food. Tahara, clean, is used to describe animals that are food. In this week’s portion, we see Tuma and Tahara used in a different way.

            In this week’s portion, we see that Tuma is a condition that has a remedy. The remedy for Tuma contains two separate elements: mikvah and time. In order to get past the affliction, one must have mikvah and one must wait a specified period of time, usually until sunset. We see that through this remedy Tuma may transform into Tahara.

            In some teachings, Tuma is associated with sin. This portion shows us that this is not at all the case. Childbirth ends in Tuma. Niddah ends in Tuma. A seminal discharge ends in Tuma. None of these things are sin. However, all of these things involve something coming out of the body. It is not a question of sin at all. Rather Tuma is a condition of life. Even in fulfilling a mitzvah such as “be fruitful and multiply” results in Tuma. So Tuma is not because of sin. Rather, Tuma is the result of natural bodily functions. It is merely something that occurs in day-to-day life, it is not something to be ashamed of or to be ridiculed for. Tuma happens to people.

            So, with the remedy, Tuma may become Tahara. Until Tuma becomes Tahara one may not enter the Temple. Until Tuma becomes Tahara one must remain outside the camp. This teaches us that Tuma is not a desirable thing, but it is a common thing. What is it? Why is it that the simple ritual of mikvah and time get rid of it?

            Most diseases and afflictions that we are familiar with are of the basar (flesh). Tuma is not. Tuma is a condition of the Nefesh and the Neshama. That is, it is a spiritual condition. It is a condition of the soul outside of time and space that can be affected within time and space, that is, it can only be affected from within time and space. If one is Tuma, one is Tuma in the Nefesh and in the Neshama. To remedy this one utilizes the ritual of mikvah and time, within time and space. This is a wonderful example of how our behavior within time and space affects our eternal soul, our Neshama.

            We do not spend as much time and effort being concerned with Tuma and Tahara as we should. The fact that these are spiritual conditions that are affected by our behavior within time and space is very significant. As we continue to count the Omer, and make an effort to raise our consciousness of Nefesh and Neshama, consider Tuma and Tahara. Perhaps it is time to take a mikvah and wait until sunset.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.