We continue our trip to late Pesach 5768 in this Shabbat "Tazria' (Woman in childbirth-bringing forth seed) - Metzora". Two parashiyot / weekly portions are read, i.e. a full coherent text about physical morals from the Book of Vayikra/ Leviticus 12:1-13:59-14:1-15:33.
Shabbat Shemini, last week recounted the awareness of how we are called to acknowledge God's holiness and try to become holy or sanctify His Name in such a way that morals, and the overwhelming highness of the Mitzvot / Commandments, can surpass any discouragement.
We hardly can meet our souls. It could be strange or funny. Some people would be likely to figure out what their souls look like because of the shape of their body. It does not mean that their appreciation about their shape is correct in terms of beauty or ugliness. Yes, our soul is in our body and not the body in our soul. How curious that most spiritual teachings in Judaism assume that the whole Oneness of God is visualized like the "bassar achat = one flesh" (= mental capacity to valuate news). We continuously break down our mental and physical life into two different, slice-fragmented parts that supposedly would not co-function in harmony. Tazria deals with human body as an active seed birthing shrine of the soul. It starts with birthing a male and ends with all sorts impurities that may affect womanhood. Both reading portions are linked to show us what the Kahal rav is, the holy congregation as a whole.
We shall celebrate Pesach: the first step of a delivery for a nation birthed by God. We came from serfdom to freedom, with a persistent taste of groping around in the wild. This fierce emptiness - safe God's Presence - continues to quest the ethical Jewish entity. Bound to God and thus tempted to look backwards and perish. Is idolatry appetizing as a golden calf?
I once had a very interesting discussion with a specialist of anthropological arts. He would not consider that circumcision has any corporeal and genuine basis in the Jewish backgrounds. Purity, full cleanness of skin has proven to be essential among the Nations. The Shoah survivors were tattooed systematically, but not all of them were circumcised nor even considered as Jews according to the Halachah. This is one of the most striking paradoxical points of "identity / counter-identity" of the Israeli society.
Pesach/Passover is the feast of offering the first fruits. It develops till the chag haBikkurim/first fruits) on Shavuot/Pentecost. Thus, reading portion Tazria starts as follows: "Ishah shetazria' veyaldah zakhar - a woman who will bring forth (birth) the seed and bear a male (son)... shall be unclean seven days; on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised - beyom shemini yimol bassar orlato" (Lev. 12:1-4). And during 33 days, the woman shall remain in a state of "damei taharah - blood cleaning process".
Two key factors appear in the first verse of the reading and are developed as a whole throughout the Shabbat meaning: God extends our call to do our best as humans in order to reach holiness and sanctify our life in our bodies. The woman is thus the place of sacredness, breeding and growing of the seeds (Zera'im is the first Order of the Mishnah). Before speaking of rash, eruption, tzora'at is not "leper"; it is a generic word for all skin abnormalities, peculiarities or diseases, the portion focus on the fact that we are submitted to physical and sexual morals or total absence of accepting moral laws in sex. The same way we are submitted to exercise a moral and conscious mental attitude toward God. "Skin" as "o'r" is a parallel facet, showing the same amplitude as or mental ability to be sanctifying God's name. "O'r (with initial "ayin") = "skin" but the word is not only in opposition with or (with initial alef) = light because it would covers a nudity that proves that Adam and Eve had infringes God's commandment to eat of the fruit of the tree (a fig-tree/te'enah in the rabbinic tradition). "whether awake or asleep, man and woman are stirred up to live" (Bava Kamma 2:5; Niddah 12a, Shabbat 55b referring to the Song of the Songs that is so pregnant every week and on Pesach). "I am asleep and negligent in observing the Mitzvot, but my heart is awake for charities and good deeds and love" (Shir Rabbah 5:2). "My heart is awake as I the Lord is anxious (awake) to redeem me" (Pessikta Rabbah 15). "When she woke up, she read and found it was her get/bill of divorce" (Gittin 8:2 (78) about a miracle).
Now, as the Temple is not existent at the present but women continue to observe the "cleansing mitzvot" of Talmud tractates Nidda and Negaim about "skin purity".
As concerns males, they all have to be circumcised. Interestingly, the commandment is definitely repeated this week in the Book of VaYikra (Leviticus), i.e. how to reach sanctity. Indeed, we have to comply with Abraham's sign of Covenant as "brit milah" = covenant of destruction ("cutting" idolatry away from our flesh). Again, the commandment is repeated after the Exodus and Moses circumcised his son because his non-Jewish wife reminded him of his obligation. The "cutting" of the foreskin is a basic act that a male can advance on the way of sanctity by having the life-giving member as in constant "erection or life transmission". This is a major mitzvah and only a mitzvah that, through Avraham Avinu (our father Abraham) integrates us to the seed of life, the rising of the dry bones. This is not a hygienic surgical act. It is not physically clean or eventually safer against diseases (as AIDS). Say, it might, in some case. True, the Christian Anglo world does practice the circumcision, because Jesus was circumcised. A Jewish male receives this cut/mark because he must be educated in order to also sanctify his physical intercourse, usually with a woman. "The cutting of the prepuce (orlah; like a fruit) where there is no doubt about the health of the child, supersedes the Shabbat" (Shabbat 134b). Daily news show too much criminal sexual aggressions that were basically less present in the Jewish communities: incest, rapes, same-sex early relationships and brutalities, disappearance of true respect due to women and the outrageous attitude towards the agunot/women who are not given their get (divorce) and thus can't marry.
On this Fourth Sunday of Great Lent, The Easter Orthodox Church shall reflect upon Saint John Klimakos and the Ladder. The Ladder that correspond to slowly understanding of ups and downs, sowing seeds of sanctity. We need the Shabbat as the Church readings pathetically in the present. Only spiritual love in physical and mental relationships can remove the thorns and suggest that lilies or little roses can, as in the Song, sustain and protect love to the fullest.
Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel
April 3rd, 2008 - 27 deAdar II 5768