Tazria/Metzora 5769 - Embracing Separation

by Rebbetzin Malkah

It's there.  It lurks.  It waits.  It rains all winter, snows just as a tease, and then it hits.  Growing up in New York and never seeing so much of it, I am always surprised when it happens each spring here in Seattle.  But right on time, it rears its ugly head:  slippery and slimy mold.  It covers everything in different ways and layers in the Northwest.  It is almost like the eleventh plague.  And what is the remedy?  Armed with glorified bleach cleaner, a garden sprayer and a garden hose, you can have the cleanest pavement, trim, steps, and decks.  But as I was conquering different parts of the outdoor wood today, it hit me that what is so relevant about this mold and this week's parasha is this: given the right conditions, environment and host, both mold and tzara'at ("leprosy") have the ability to grow and afflict the host in a number of unsavory ways. And what is the cure? In both cases, separation is the remedy.  As the item with the mold is tamei (unclean), so too is the metzora (the afflicted person) and the niddah (menstruating woman). In order for both to come to a state of tehorah, or cleanliness, they both must undergo a separation from that which makes them unclean.  And it is precisely in embracing separation and the process towards tehorah that deliverance and restoration are found.

The Doctor Is In

Spring has sprung, and so have mold spores.  Given warmer temperatures, they surge in their growth activity and show their progress:  green and black everywhere.  You would think perhaps that you sat around idle all winter by the way everything blossoms in these flagrant hues.  And all the pressure washing in the world won't do it (unless you take off a layer of paint or part of your deck).  Warm temperatures, rain, humidity - mold is in its glory.

When we were repainting our house several years ago, I had to schlep my kids several times with me to give counsel on paint colors and have paints mixed.  Throughout the entire time, we had to be inundated with a video playing by the paint counter.  It was a video with Ed Hume, pitching his 30 Seconds Outdoor Cleaner.  One of my sons is still traumatized by the video, as its short length caused it to play over and over while the paint was being mixed.  Ed Hume claimed that in thirty seconds, it would kill slippery and slimy mold, leave surfaces clean, and remove the scourge of green and black that laced all your woodwork around your home, your decks and your patios.  This is your typical infomercial material to be sure.  Ahh, but heavenly.  Well, maybe not the video after thirty times, but what the product actually does.  It removes the blight of something that will grow, undoubtedly, in the right environmental conditions.  The doctor is in, goodbye mold.  Listen, apply, rinse and you are done.  Ed Hume:  my mold doctor, my hero.

Now picture the nature of lashon hara (evil speech) as a type of slippery or slimy mold.  The spore is out there, maybe residing in the spirit in our hearts.  What does it take to activate it?  What kind of environment?  Maybe a party, or a get together?  Does it take a moment of weakness in our character or in our humility to cause us to feel superior to another person and lower him or her?  As Ed Hume offers his cleaner to us for our mold issues, the Torah prescribes a very different measure for us to sanitize the soul.  However, what is the same is this:   a separation of the affected area or person must occur, and then a proscribed purification process must ensue.  All the water in the world won't change a thing on the onset.  Only the true purification with specific elements will set things aright first, and then water will take its final purifying course.

The Priest Is In

Whether it is the walls of a home, the garments of a person, or the actual skin of a person covered in some form of tzaraat, the priest must examine the articles or the individual and make a diagnosis.  Depending on the severity, there might be a seven-day waiting period for the metzora and his/her property.  The waiting period is akin to a diagnosis, to see how the condition is playing out.  As tzaraat is a direct punishment for the sin of lashon hara, the healing of the metzora is not only based on a period of waiting and/or separation, but also the nature of the shuvah, or repentance, within the metzora's heart.  Only when the Kohen checks the metzora and sees that affliction has subsided can the individual begin the purification stage with a sacrifice , a mikvah and right intention.

When we are tamei, we are sealed off from G-d's presence.  Sometimes being separated from G-d's presence will help us yearn for His closeness again.  Messiah Yeshua's healing of the leper, one who was outcast from society and the very lowest of the lowly, shows that through separation and then becoming tahor, that individual could return to Hashem's presence.   Yeshua's prescription after the healing was to go see the priest - to finalize the restoration of himself with G-d.  This is the role of Messiah, to restore our closeness with Hashem when we have distanced ourselves and sealed ourselves through sin. The very things that make us unclean goes further than just our own selves however.  A reference in the Talmud in Sanhedrin 98b indicates that our own impropriety actually spreads, like a mold spore, and infects the world on such a cosmic scale that the Messiah actually takes it upon himself to cleanse the world.  Only when we separate and return to Hashem can he be restored to his people and the world restored to Hashem.  Personal responsibility weighs heavily upon each one of us to participate in clean-up:  not just for our sake, not just for the world, but for the return of the Messiah.

A Common Theme

What is common to our mold/spore and tzaraat condition is this: both the item affected and the metzora require one thing:  separation. This idea of separation occurs in so many different venues in Judaism and in the Torah.  We see separation as a common theme and a process of restoration throughout the Torah:  tamei, separation, and tahor. We spend quite a bit of time on it to close each Shabbat during the Havdalah service.  We say goodbye to the Shabbat and enjoin ourselves to the new week, we separate from our spouses at certain times, we separate from the Temple after childbirth.  Something more profound must be going on than just secluding ourselves from each other.  A transformation must be occurring when we remove ourselves for the sake of purification and commandment.

The very nature of separation is that something must be applied in order for the transformation to occur.  What is the core of the transformation?  In the case of a clean deck, it is that wonder cleaner.  Once it hits the mold, it dies and is easily washed away.  All traces of the scourge are removed and the wood is left clean and renewed.

For the metzora, what must be applied?  What is the magical cleanser?  The secret lies in the separation from the camp.  Once the metzora has been declared unclean, he/she must remain outside the camp until a further inspection by the priest reveals the metzora to be clean.  The separation, coupled with shuvah (repentance), is the elixir for a transformation and a renewed soul.  The final steps, just like with the mold, involve a washing with a purifying substance.  This separation from the camp and a resolve to separate those tendencies towards lashon hara from the heart are the true solution to a scourge of the soul.

For the niddah, the separation from her husband is a spiritual cycle of life and death.  Through her separation and her immersion into a mikvah after her time has transpired, her transformation back to a life giving source allows her and her husband to start anew, to be fresh and build on their relationship with renewed life.

Aerate and Wait

One of the more disturbing images in my mind as a youth was my father on his tractor with the lawn aerator attached to the back.  The aerator is a bulbous, intimidating tool.  A spiked metal wonder, it turns on a frame as the tractor moves.  With precision it would gouge the lawn with one inch holes and pull up clods of dirt.  What is the purpose behind this masochistic moment?

Only when I began to take care and nurture my own lawn did I come to realize how a thick and bulky lawn is unhealthy.  How space, or separation, between the grass blades is healthy.  Breathing room and room to allow water to properly settle and evaporate is critical in lawn health.  My horror at seeing dirt and grass removed then has been replaced by a certainty now that healthy grass and souls require certain behaviors:  space and time to reestablish health, growth and well-being.

May you apply separation and renewal in your own life as a necessary model for health, strength and transformation.  Allow the words of our Messiah and the Torah to aerate your life, and wait patiently.  Only good things can happen, only the true nature of what you are meant to be will be revealed through this time-honored and tested process, and bring your soul closer to the Divine Creator in a spotless and renewed state.

Shabbat Shalom....

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