This is one of those torah portions that you hope you don’t draw for your bat mitzvah. Yes, of course, I know there is no “bad” parsha. But nonetheless, when we reach tazria-m’tzora as we do this Shabbat, we find a parsha that speaks about ritual uncleanliness, skin disease and other such maladies. Woo hoo!
Tazria-m’tzora outlines myriad details about the ways Israelites can become ritually impure and specifies the rituals that they must perform in order to be brought back into normative relationship with their community.
But this is where I get stuck. Because if we are to take from this parsha a message that resonates with us today, I find myself struggling with this notion of “impure”. Is any one of us truly “pure”? I find myself drawing parallels from this notion of purity to the concept of perfection, even when we know that no one is perfect.
I have been leading a program with high school students for many years entitled, “Who is the Best Jew?” The goal of this program is to bring teens to a place where they can genuinely recognize the subjectivity of this concept and realize that no one Jew is “better” than any other simply because he or she knows more or practices more. In the program’s wrap-up we share this thought: “A good Jew is one who is always striving to become better.” In other words, we are all a work in progress.
So if this is really true, it can make the message of tazria-m’tzora all the more challenging. To ostracize or remove members from the community when they are “impure” or to not allow them in because they are not “pure enough” can lead us down a incredibly slippery slope. It will bring us in a direction of creating distinct lines of “in and out”; the very thing inclusion advocates strive to eliminate in their communities.
Any time that a community leaves anyone out, intentionally or not, they risk creating and perpetuating the notion of in-group/out-group.
So how do we do it? How do we, as a Jewish community, ensure that no one is “cast aside” for their “ritual impurity”, forced to jump through the hoops that parsha tazria-m’tzora might suggest as necessary?
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Lisa Friedman is Matan’s Manager of Social Media and Alumni Networks. She is also an Education Director at a Reform congregation in Central New Jersey where she oversees the synagogue’s and religious school’s inclusive practice.