Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thursday Kavvanah, 3/31/2011 - Cleansing our Souls

The weekly parashah (portion of the Torah) is Tazria, which features less-than-appealing descriptions of a bizarre skin disease and other types of tum'ah, ritual impurity, and the purification rituals associated with them. This ranks as one of the most difficult parts of the Torah to relate to, especially since it is not clear what affliction tzara'at (the skin disease) actually refers to (although it is usually translated as "leprosy").

How might we read this as modern people? Is this passage about disease, or something else? Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, a key figure in the 19th-century musar (ethics) movement, observed that the tzara'at passage follows the list of kosher and non-kosher animals, indicating that what comes out of one's mouth should be as pure as what goes in.

I would extend this to include all the sources of internal tum'ah, what you might call "spiritual impurity": not only speaking ill of others, but also corrupt thinking, placing more importance on possessions rather than relationships with people, failing to care for those in our society who need help, and so forth. Perhaps we need a modern ritual to help us cleanse our internal tum'ah, the impurity of the soul.

Any ideas?

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