Parshas Tazria: Adaptation, Separation, Sanctification, and Renewal

This week we read about the laws of Tumah and Tahara and Tzoraas. We also add on a special Haftara, Parshas HaChodesh, one of the four added in anticipation of Pesach approaching. As nothing is accidental or coincidental in the Torah, we must wonder what the connection is between all of these different areas of Jewish life and law. Whether regarding a woman’s menstrual cycle and status after giving birth, or the guidelines for identifying Tzoraas, or the Mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh, all of these topics share a single common denominator: The purpose of all of these laws is to identify, create, and foster separation for the express purpose of sanctification.

The Torah understands the human psyche far better than any human. Moving through life, we are constantly trying to adjust, to adapt, to our environments, our circumstances, our relationships. Sometimes, this is critical to maintaining our sanity in those situations, or to the very integrity of those relationships. When thrown into a new job or stage of life, if we were unable to become accustomed to new things, we would flounder, and crumble into a useless, anxious heap. Our ability to adapt begins as soon as we enter the world; as the lights, sounds, smells, of the world outside the womb overwhelm us, we cry in surprise and discomfort, but slowly, over time, we grow used to our new surroundings, and hopefully, we adapt and thrive.

Adaptation has its drawbacks, however; we get used to things. After months at the same job without any fluctuation in workload, boredom sets in. Even in the best and most rewarding relationships, how long does it take to begin to take the other person for granted in some area? We spend years working toward a specific career, and a few years into it, we are tired and burnt out. After 9 months of pregnancy, a real live human growing within us, even the initial bliss, gratitude, and overwhelming joy of motherhood and childbirth fades eventually. How do we adapt to change without life becoming rote and stale?

As per usual, Torah has the answer. God in His infinite wisdom set up laws to make us stop, regroup, and renew. The laws of Niddah and Taharas HaMishpacha are meant to do this in a marriage, where there is a danger of becoming used to, and of taking for granted, an incredibly important relationship. Similarly, a woman becomes “impure” after giving birth not because she is a pariah to be avoided, but because she actually has just taken part in a divine process so Godly and special that we would forget and disregard this incredible miracle if we were not forced to stop and acknowledge it. Childbirth, this most awe-inspiring partnership with God in creation, has become commonplace in our scientifically advanced world, and perhaps moreover in our family-oriented culture. It is a blessing to be able to take such a miracle for granted. For this reason, God commands women to stop, to separate themselves, and it allows us all to take stock of the miraculous beauty of what has just occurred. Take time, God says to the new mother, to be separate, for you are in fact so separate and special in what has just occurred to you. You will soon forget it, and that is natural, but first, take time to notice, to internalize, what has just happened, and perhaps you will return to the routine of life renewed and reawakened.

While the most basic understanding of Tzoraas is that it is a punishment for speaking Lashon Hara, the Psukim in our Parsha actually do not mention gossip even once. Rather, the Psukim discuss only how to identify Tzoraas on a person’s body or clothing. Even the process of purification for a Metzorah does not appear until next week’s Parsha (which we will assuredly discuss then, of course!). This is because sometimes the important thing is not how to stop being separated, but how to make the most of a separation. The purpose of the laws of Tumah and Tahara is to get us to think, to reconsider, to pause and reflect, and renew our values, reignite passions, reaffirm beliefs. The prescription provided by the Torah is this: because you will adapt, take the time to separate, infuse that separation with holiness, and return to life renewed.

We notice this same theme in the additional Torah reading for Parshas HaChodesh. The Mitzvah to mark a new month according to the lunar cycle was the first Mitzvah that the Jewish people were given by God. This is because following a lunar calendar inherently makes us different, and separates us from the world. No matter where the Jewish people go, throughout each of our exiles, over thousands of years, each month, we are commanded to look up and watch for the first appearance of a tiny sliver of moon in the sky, to remember that we are inherently different. We are like the moon; subject to cycles, able to renew, to grow, to start again, unlike the sun, which stays ever the same. Our laws are meant to break up the monotony, to shake us from becoming too used to the every day flow of our personal lives, to keep us growing, thinking, and changing, and to remind us that we are separate. Let us not simply roll into the Month of Nissan as we always have, consulting our lists from years past, going through the motions of cleaning, preparing, cooking; this Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, stop, reflect, and enter this most auspicious and holy month renewed and refreshed.

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