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Drash on Parashat Tazria (HaChodesh) 2022

Drash on Parashat Tazria (HaChodesh)             

Rabbi Gary J Robuck
Interim Rabbi
Temple Beth Israel, St Kilda, Victoria
Founder, Gesher Educational Services  

The Tazria-Metzora Principle

This week’s parasha, Tazria, challenges readers to find contemporary relevance in the ancient text. Its detailed account of skin affliction, the impurity associated with childbirth and the handling of one who is deemed leprous are all remote from our modern sensibilities. Perhaps it was Parashat Tazria that I had in mind earlier this year when identifying for my students 19 different principles to keep foremost in mind when approaching Torah text.  Among them were these four: 

  1. Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Try not to content yourself only with examining the p’shat – the straight-forward, contextual events recorded in the text or the p’rat- the picayune, but also search for the k’lal; the deeper, more expansive meanings. The careful reader is wise to explore not only the names, dates, and sequence of events, but the larger meaning behind the events. Seeking the transcendent (zooming out) often yields the most delicious fruit. (Not who and when, but why and to what end?)

  2. Don’t force yourself or others to conform to a specific position or conclusion. Judaism respects a multiplicity of viewpoints arrived at through careful reasoning and in a desire to know the truth. (Eilu v’eilu – “these and these are the words of the living God”.)

  3. Don’t be afraid to “phone a friend”. For thousands of years, great minds have pored through the very text you are reading today and shared their thoughts.  Consulting the wisdom of our Rabbis and Sages is “terribly Jewish” and almost always profitable and illuminating in some way.  Having more than one commentary (peirush) on hand when learning is like filling your home or classroom with gifted students.  Likewise, seek out a variety of denominational perspectives. 

  4. The Tazria-Metzora Principle: Reject the notion that this story or that teaching is archaic, irrelevant, or hopelessly outdated. There is something to be learned from everything if you shine enough light on it. Be inquisitive, as it is said: “This too is Torah” and I must learn it”! 

Let’s test this last principle. Towards the very beginning of the narrative, the Torah demands that two offerings, an olah (burnt offering) and then a sin offering be presented to the Priest. In the rabbinic commentary, a lively discussion follows which leads us directly to an insight about parenting. 

In an article appearing in My Jewish Learning, Rabbi Joseph Ozarowski, citing the late Rabbi Menachem Sacks of Chicago, explains the relationship between childbirth and the two offerings:   

“The olah, considered the highest offering, symbolises the high aspirations we parents have for our children. We expect great things from them in their Torah learning and personal piety, in their academic and financial pursuits, indeed, in almost everything they do. We want them to be great and we want them to be perfect. And we want to be perfect parents. We want to give them everything they need to succeed and shelter them from any obstacles to success.

But commonly it is the chatat (offering) that is brought for unintentional sins that more closely resembles our efforts. We make mistakes while parenting. We make mistakes raising and training our children. No parent can avoid this” (Menachem Tzion).

Can one find relevance even in a passage concerning leprosy? Well, it would appear so.  As I write this, Jocelyn and I await the birth, God willing, of our fourth grandchild. No-one knows what will await this child, but of this I’m certain: our children will do everything possible to secure the brightest future possible for our grandchild but, being human, make mistakes along the way. And that is OK.

Jewish wisdom recognises that we are not perfect; not with respect to raising our children or in any other respect. Making peace with our imperfections, like bringing offerings of different kinds, can help to ensure our well-being and bring us closer to God.  

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