by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
Tazria -Metzorah, this week's parsha, discusses the cleansing process of the leper, as well as the purification processes for bodily secretions of a reproductive nature, both male and female. It must be made clear that this is not referencing a physical uncleanness. Rather, it is solely discussing a spiritual form of impurity.
In fact, the English word for conTAMination derives from the Hebrew word for spiritual impurity, which is TUMAH. And "pure" itself derives from the Hebrew word Parah. One could only become pure by being sprinkled with the ashes of the Parah Adumah, the red heifer.
Nor is this evidence of any misogynist bent in the Torah itself. Quite the opposite! Both males and females are deemed spiritually impure by dint of the secretions of their respective male and female fluids.
What is the connection between two strange, seemingly disparate topics, viz. the juxtaposition between the narrative of ritual impurity for the secretion/emission of male and/or female fluids and general impurity resulting from general psoriatic skin ailments?
It is generally understood that Miriam developed "leprosy" from her lashon hara (evil speech) against her brother Moses. The Torah itself makes that connection. Hence we can extrapolate from the particular to the general that there is a connection between "leprosy," possibly psoriasis (related to the word tzoraas), and the improper use of the Divine gift of speech. And what she said wasn't so much "evil" as it was widely understood to be "merely" involving herself in his personal sphere, intruding, as it were, on the private zone of relations between man and woman.
Lashon hara has the capacity to destroy people's reputations and careers and even lives. It may not be the actual death blow per se, but it certainly has the power to create the conditions in potential form. In western society entire industries are devoted exclusively to the spread of slander, gossip and talebearing. In fact, the more salacious, the more lucrative.
So too, male and female emissions and secretions have within them the potential for human life. Conversely, since their emissions carry within them the sense of loss of potential life, in a sense their emission bears with it the concomitant sense of potential death.
Since the advent of modern science, no one believes in the idea of a homonculus, i.e., the idea of a fully formed miniature human residing in male seed. Nevertheless, to some degree it represents symbolically a potential for life, similar to the woman's unfertilized eggs which are lost through her monthly cycle.
Hence the connection: both ideas speak of the idea of potential death. One is the potential death of reputations, lives and careers. The other is the potential life that was lost, the life that never came to be. They intersect with the idea of nidah. This usually refers to woman in her menstrual state, to be off-limits to her husband, but the very first case of a person said to be (in a state of) nidah in the Torah was a man!
The first nidah in the Torah concerned KAYIN, when because he took a life he was to wait outside the figurative camp of humanity, literally "off-limits," by becoming a perpetual wanderer, a displaced person. He was to be a fugitive and a waNDerer (na veNaD ba'aretz (Gen 4:12). Being NaD, he was the first to be in a state of nidah. He cut off the potential of another's life by killing.
He cut down the flowering seed potential of a human life, still in its youth. Therefore his compensatory karmic healing was that his seed/life could never be allowed to take root. He was forced to wander in perpetuity. While we may not kill others in a physical sense, our words have the power to destroy lives, families, even communities.
Robert Oppenheimer, lead scientist in the Manhattan Project, the secret program to develop America's first nuclear bomb during WW2, was reported to have said, upon witnessing the first nuclear test detonation, "I have become Shiva, goddess of Death, Destroyer of Worlds." Now Iran has feverishly been working to develop its own nuclear arsenal, all the while targeting Israel publicly for destruction. But Israel, sounding the alarm against its own destruction, and threatening potential action, has itself become a pariah among the nations of the world. European surveys proclaim that Israel is now viewed as the single greatest threat to world peace.
Those who slander Israel and invert truth and justice, derive their energies and power from Jewish voices who lead in the struggle to defame the Jewish state. All their arguments and accusations are echoes of the voices of Jewish self hatred and slander. Without these Jewish voices, their claims would have no traction, their charges would have no grounding.
If the Jewish people were united by a vision of a shared destiny and national goal, no nation in the world would dare oppose us. Instead, every Jewish voice that slanders Israel enables our enemies to speak out forcefully against Israel, sure in the knowledge that they are free of the accusation of antisemitism since there are actually Jews themselves who promote the same charges. This is nothing new. It is no different than the Jewish kapos who worked at the behest of the Nazis to do their dirty work for them, hoping in the end to be spared, to their own self delusion.
The Jewish people were na vanad ba'aretz, wanderers of the world, for two millenia, suffering every form of abuse heaped upon them by a scornful world. And now, the Jewish slanderers of Israel, who for reasons of their own deep seated neuroses, give ammunition daily to our enemies who wish to eradicate us from the earth, have the power through their words and deeds to once again lead to Israel's destruction, and our people to once again experience the pain of exile and wandering, chas ve shalom. Their words of slander, are indeed weapons of death.
Let this connection be a reminder that our words are like actions- that we can destroy worlds, or create them, depending on how we use our gifts.
Shabbat Shalom! Good Shabbos!
© 2000-2012 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua HaKohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.
Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)