Tazria/Metzora deals with genital discharges and skin diseases, very unpleasant, embarrassing things. Medicine addresses disease these days, but what if we used the teaching in this portion to address modern plagues: racism, sexism, enviousness, unkindness? Perhaps some family member has pointed out our unkind behaviors, or a friend has told us that an opinion we voiced is racist. Our first impulse on hearing such things may be denial.
The Torah offers us a different path: it directs us to go to the priest (in our day, a trusted counselor) and say, “My wife says I am unkind,” “I am envious when I see friends get honors,” or “I would hate it if my child dated a black person.” The good counselor would take a close look at the evidence and the context. They’d explore it with us. And perhaps things are not what they seem (“he is clean”) or perhaps there are issues to address. Then they could help us toward change for the better.
Seeking guidance requires honesty, humility, and bravery. It is not fun saying to a counselor, “So-and-so said that my behavior was racist.”
But as with the mysterious disease in the Torah portion, these things affect others. Some are communicable (children learn racism and sexism from someone) and some are just plain contagious (I am unkind to someone, and that person passes along their pain to a third party.) These problems can’t heal on their own; we may need help to change.
Here in the 21st century, there are many diseases we can cure, and many more that we can manage. Besides physical illnesses there are other plagues with which we have made much less progress. Perhaps the prescription in Tazria/Metzora is also for them, the plagues of the human spirit.
This D’var Torah appeared in a slightly different format in the CCAR Newsletter.