D’Var Torah

Tazria, 5784 (April 13, 2024)

Rabbi Micah Friedman

     This week we read Parshat Tazria – the first parsha which systematically introduces us to the human experience of Tumah and Taharah. These terms are often translated as “ritual impurity and ritual purity.” But, I think this language of purity and ritual leads us to think of Tumah and Tahara as antiquated and ritualistic – rather than as meaningful states of human life.

     Today, in the learning that I will lead after we have had the chance to eat and socialize over Kiddush, I will attempt to show you – through verses in the Torah and rabbinic teachings – that the redemption of our ancestors from slavery in Mitzrayim demonstrates for us the possibility of transformation from Tumah to Tahara. 

     This is a transformation from a degraded state – or a state of alienation – or a state of emotional overwhelm – or a state of immense grief – or a state of severe concern for your health – into a state of “great light” – a state of expansiveness – a state of freedom – a state of full-fledged participation in communal celebration – a state of redemption. 

     In the rituals of Taharah that are performed by a Kohen in various contexts, the structure of tumah and taharah and the actions of the priest facilitate an experience of internal transformation. 

     We see this in our parsha in the context of various natural human experiences. The first word of substance for which the Parsha was named “Tazria” means when you produce offspring. The root of this word “Zera ” means seed or descendant and reflects the great blessing of human reproduction – of bringing new children and life into the world. In this context, there is a certain procedure prescribed to facilitate a new mother’s journey from a state of severe concern for her health and emotional overwhelm into a state of expanded freedom to fully participate in the life of community. Later in the context of Tzara’at – a term that refers to a wide array of contagious physical afflictions –  we receive different instructions for facilitating a journey from Tumah to Taharah.

     Later, I will invite us to think about the procedures of our tradition for preparing for Pesach as a reenactment within our own homes of the transformational spiritual work of the Kohen that brings us – in a symbolic sense – from Tumah to Taharah. 

     For now, I would like to leave us with the sense that – perhaps – all of the traditional practices of Passover can be understood – and experienced – as guiding us towards a state of expansiveness, freedom, and transformation.

     Perhaps, this is why it says in the Haggadah – in each and every generation a person is obligated to see him or herself as if you were personally brought forth from slavery in mitzrayim!

     May we each – in accordance with who we are and where we find ourselves this year – experience the redemptive and transformative power of the approaching Pesach.