Are we pure or impure?           April 13, 2024

The root of the Hebrew word Tazria is Zera – זרע meaning “seed”. Although Tazria has been translated as “she conceived”, it is better understood as “offspring or descendants but not necessarily as the literal seed of the male as theologians teach. The Hebrew language has a very different mindset than our Western way of thinking; it is holistic and speaks to us through pictures and allegories.

Like the translation of “korban” into an offering or a sacrifice, both of which fall short of what it really means…i.e., to draw near or approach, there are two words in this portion, “tahor – טהור and tamei – טמא” that have also been mistranslated into clean and unclean. Rather than getting into the etymology of these words, let’s examine what they represented when they were given and see how they can be applied to us today.

Tazria begins with a woman who gives birth and sets down the guidelines about being clean or pure and unclean or impure. When a woman gave birth to a boy, she had to wait seven days like at the time of her niddah (menstruation) until she would be considered tahor, clean enough to go to the Temple so that he could have his brit milah, circumcision on the eighth day. It had nothing to do with her being dirty.

According to Hebrew thought each person has a dual aspect, physical and spiritual. We are made up of the neshama נשמה or ruach – the soul and the guf – גוף, the physical body or basar, flesh. The Torah teaches us that the body, the guf is under the supervision of the spirit, the neshama. To the Hebrew mind, both body and spirit are one unit.  This is where the Presence of God, the Shechinah is encountered. However, today most people have accepted the Greek understanding of body, mind and spirit, a trilogy, that separates one from the other and in which the physical body dominates the spirit.

Neuropsychology teaches that most, if not all, diseases of the physical body are related to the spiritual or as some prefer to call it, the emotional aspects of our life. We cannot separate the physical from the spiritual.  Many of us get sick when our spiritual nature is low. We only realize it when the symptoms start to show in a variety of illnesses in our physical nature (body). My father-in-law was a doctor and at the end of his life, he said to me, “Son, you need to take care of what is inside you because that is what provokes disease.”  It has been proven that people with good attitudes fight off illness better than those who are depressed and negative. Psychologists explain the various hormones, like adrenaline, that are activated in the system when there are stressors that attack the immune system.

What does this have to do with tazria, tahor and tamei?  Tamei means that we are not ready to be in the presence of the Creator while tahor means that we are.  Tamei is everything that is polluting us, that is not allowing us to see our path clearly, similar to driving in a thick fog where it is hard to see out of the windows. It is not about being dirty or evil or being sinful.

Here after the woman gave birth, she needed to offer a “korban chataat –   קָרְבַּן חַטָּאת ” at the Temple.  Chataat is translated as sinful, but again, it had nothing to do with sin. It was to demonstrate that she was out of balance and needed to be restored. Some sages say that going through a difficult process can make us feel very weak, sometimes leaving us with a vacuum within that needs to be filled.  Until that vacuum is filled, we feel lost, out of control. It is like an emptiness within the soul that needs to be restored. This spiritual vacuum is manifested in our physical body.  The lack of balance between our neshama and our body can cause us to lose our joy of life and become very depressed.  We lose focus. The spiritual aspect of our body, our neshama needs to be healed before we can have physical healing.

That doesn’t mean that if we continuously work on healing our neshama, that our bodies won’t decay. Our bodies are limited in time but there is something inside us that never ages. Our bodies are deteriorating even though we still feel so young inside. That’s because our soul is eternal, while the physical body continues to age. It is only the body that becomes “tamei”.  This is not about being good and bad, clean and unclean, but rather that we are not in a state that is presentable to the Creator.

When we do something wrong that is displeasing to God, we need to go through the process of making things right before we can present ourselves to Him again. That is what the offerings were about. We know the difference between right and wrong because we have been endowed with a conscience that can differentiate between the two so that there is no excuse.  It is a matter of the will.

Why did the Creator choose Israel?  We had a purpose – to be a nation set apart from the rest of the world for one reason only, to be “ohr l’goyim” – a light to the nations, to bring Torah to the rest of the world. What have we done? Instead of making the Torah universal, we have kept it for ourselves, putting ourselves on a pedestal while regarding the rest as inferior, incapable of following it, except for a few select laws (called Noahide). That was and still is our greatest mistake in understanding and appropriating the true meaning of kadosh, being set apart.

This book Vayikra starts with the inauguration of Mishkan, followed by the process of inaugurating the Cohanim – Priests, with the instructions for their service, and then about “tahor and tamei”, what is permissible and what is not. Last week, we saw that food was a symbol for the manifestation of our inner state of being and the kashrut regulations were about what we are. Next week in Metzora – מְּצֹרָע, we will examine “tzaraat -צָּרַעַת”, translated as leprosy, which was a spiritual disease which could be in the person, the clothing, or the house. The only one who could declare these things clean was the cohen, the priest demonstrating that this was not a physical problem, but a spiritual one stemming from lashon harah, the evil tongue, or simply put – gossip.  Gossip destroys the image of God since every human being has been made in His image.

All these things are to show us that we need a renewal in ourselves, not to be stuck in definitions, but to have a living experience. We need to be willing to rethink what the Torah is teaching us. Every one of us has different ways of understanding. No two people believe the same on anything.  We must not follow a person blindly but let us follow the Creator who wants us to think for ourselves. He wants us to speak to each other, to grow and help each other.

Tazria is the parashah for the woman, who according to our sages was the greatest and final creation of the Boreh Olam. There was a process of creation. He began by creating the simplest of minerals progressing each day to create more complex matter – vegetables, fish, birds, mammals and finally man and He ended with the crown of His creation – the woman. She has something that man can never experience – the bringing of life into the world making her partners in a special way with the Creator. We as men were given the role of being protectors over the rest of His dominion but the greatest thing that we needed to protect was the woman.  Today this has been lost. We have feminist and macho man philosophies…both are wrong. The Creator made male and female for a reason and gave each a specific role.  When the woman wants to be like a man, she lowers herself.  When we reverse the order of the Creator, we become “tamei” where we can no longer be in a relationship with Him. That is when we need to seek out how to become “tahor” in order to be fit enough to have a relationship with the Almighty.

Shabbat Shalom