Am I Choosing Life or Death?
These double parashiot Tazria – Metzora speak of being tahor – טָהוֹר and tamei – טָמֵא which are normally translated as pure and impure or clean and unclean but Rabbi Percy or as he signed his name – Ranebi, taught us that it’s better to use the words presentable and unpresentable. Tahor represents life and tamei, death. Ours is the God of the living. When we approach Him, we need to be “presentable,” like when we go to a wedding, after we have taken a good shower, we put on our best clothes. This alludes to the work that we need to do to clean whatever obstacles in our lives that are in the way of allowing us to be “unpresentable” to our Creator.
Tazria speaks about the disease, tzara’at – צָּרַעַת which has been translated as leprosy, but it is not the same as the modern day, Hansen’s disease. This affected not only the people of Israel, but also their clothing and even the walls of their homes. Tzara’at had to do with a person being unable to properly “present” himself at the Ochel Moed, for other reasons than simply the physical. The Creator had set down some very strict guidelines for them to follow which only applied to the Tent of Meeting where the diseased person would go to “present” himself.
How do we apply this to our lives today? What has happened is that we ignore most of these guidelines because there is no Temple, but we have lost an important principle that this taught us. We think that we can come to our houses of worship without dealing with the impurities in our lives. We put on a good act. The Creator is asking us to be honest with ourselves and with others before we can come clean before Him. I am not saying that this is easy. We are not perfect, and we will never reach perfection in these bodies but when we accept our imperfections, it is far easier to approach the Creator with a humble heart and ask Him for help so that we can keep improving. Our life is a process of growth from the moment of birth to the moment of death.
Many doctors today are discovering that most diseases have psychosomatic elements. To take it a step further, when we are emotionally or even spiritually sick, the physical body will be affected. Many people today are suffering from depression and anxiety which cause the immune system to weaken thus opening the door for them to suffer a variety of physical problems.
This disease, tzara’at can be thought of as something that destroys us from within but is not always so easy to detect. The Torah teaches us that it can begin with a very small part of the body, “the tongue” which can cause tremendous damage. There is an expression: “lashon hara, the evil tongue.” The Ninth Commandment states, “you are not to bear false witness against your neighbor…” In other words, do not destroy the character of another human being because every human being is made in God’s image.
Our sages tell us that metzora is a contraction for “motzei shem ra” – מוציא שם רע – to give a person a bad name. The diseased person called metzora, has become sick because they used their tongue for evil. Have you ever spoken maliciously about someone behind their back to another person? The truth is that if we are human and we have a tongue, it is extremely hard to dominate it, but we have to work on it. There are many references about the tongue in the Proverbs and the Psalms as well as the Messianic Writings. In fact, Yeshua’s brother James or Yaakov said in James 3: “The tongue is a flame too. Among all the parts of the body, the tongue is an entirely wicked world that infects the whole body;” Controlling the tongue is a constant battle and moving from tamei to tahor, from death to life is a lifelong process. This process, called teshuva is when we acknowledge what we have said to hurt another person; we confess it with the same tongue with which we spoke evil and we do our best to make things right so that we are able to approach our Creator. Today this idea has been taken to the extreme where everyone’s feelings are being offended when truth is told. This is not the same thing as intentionally destroying someone’s good reputation, his good name.
Lashon hara is spreading lies about or criticizing others behind their backs without confronting them to their face. That’s the coward’s way out. Do you know that many of us are physically sick because we have done just that, and we may not even realize why? When we are spiritually sick, it affects our physical body. That’s when we need to be brutally honest with ourselves. When we are sick, we feel separated from the Creator, as if we are placed in quarantine. It is no surprise to me that we are living in worldwide enforced quarantine at this very time when we are seeing social media flagrantly lie and destroy people’s characters. It is spreading like leprosy spreads over the skin, and it is contagious. Do not imagine that there is a separation between our spiritual and physical lives. Another reason that we “sometimes” get sick could be that the Creator is slowing us down, placing us in quarantine so that we can deal with the issues that we have swept under the rug for so long. He wants us to make things right one by one with ourselves and others. That’s what brings healing to our lives and ultimately to the world.
Before approaching our Creator, we need to first deal with ourselves. Healing won’t come until we look at what is holding us back from a “clean” – tahor relationship with Him. When we sin publicly, we need to make it right publicly; when we sin privately, we need to make it right privately. We cannot hide from our Creator, as Ranebi said – “God has night vision”.
Let us ask ourselves – What is holding us back from being free to truly live? Do we really understand the difference between life and death? Our own attitudes can bring life and death, tahor and tamei. Do we see the glass as being half-full or half empty? If we see it half full, we are optimistic, and are open to confront life’s challenges! But if we see it half empty, we are negative, and inflexible which leads to death. If we see the bad and wrong in everything and are so critical, our inner being becomes damaged. It’s not long until things go wrong in our lives, to the point of becoming physically ill.
The Torah speaks of bodily emissions. Every month, a woman has her period when she discharges an ovule which is transported outside her body through the blood. What could have brought life has now died. When men discharge semen at any time, after the semen is released, it also dies. The Creator is depicting through these images, that He has given us life and that we are to always choose to live rather than to die. In Deut. 30:15, He tells us 15 ‘See, today I offer you, life and prosperity, death and disaster.” It continues in verse 19 where He says, “I have set before you, life and death, blessing and cursing, therefore choose life…”
The Creator wants us to choose life. Ask yourself “Have I chosen life?” Our life speaks volumes to those who are watching us. If you think that you don’t have the capacity to change and choose to never surrender, your life will continue on a downward spiral. To shift it to an upward spiral, you need to become flexible so that you can grow… to seek life and not death.
The steps are simple but may not be so easy to do. First, we need to acknowledge what we do; that takes time and self-reflection. Next, we need to forgive ourselves and those who may have hurt us. It may be that we need to seek help in order to do that. We need to learn from our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them. And if we do repeat them, examine them, acknowledge them and then do what it takes to make things right. We are in partnership with the Creator; we are not on this journey alone!
It was the cohen, not a doctor or a psychologist who had to decide whether or not it was tzara’at because it was a spiritual problem, not a medical one. Today you and I have to be our own cohen and perform that search within by ourselves. Ranebi’s favorite Psalm was 139: “23 Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me, and know my thoughts; 24 and see if there is any wicked way within me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). May we be truthful as we ask ourselves this question: “Am I choosing life or am I choosing death?”