Another Double Parsha as the omer counting continues. And Israel celebrates the 53rd Yom HaAtzma'ut. Wow. 53 years. Brings back memories. I was there in Jerusalem for the 25th (Yeah, I'm that old....). I was attending the Hebrew University and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College at the time. I lived in the Kiryat HaYovel part of Jerusalem -- a hill toward the outskirts. We had a great view across the valley in the backyard of our apartment house.
My roommate, Tova and I spent an interesting year there. We could have stayed in the student dorm where many students lived, but we wanted to live in a more 'real' part of the city. We were lucky enough to find a simple apartment that had a wonderful convenience -- a phone. We would have been willing to put in a phone, but the wait in those days was horrendous. So a partially furnished apartment with a phone was wonderful.
We also had a little brown Poodle named Talya (to the dismay or our neighbor's daughter with the same name). Most of our classes were on the main campus and Taly was allowed to come with us. She really liked studying on the grassy campus when we would do that.
I have several interesting memories of the YA time. One was thanks to the practice strafing runs that the Israeli Air Force did for the fly-by they were planning. Tova and I did not know about these practice runs.... until they started. We were making the beds the first time we heard these..... I remember yelling "What the! Get down, down, NOW!" as we hit the floor -- Taly was barking furiously. The flies on the wall must have been laughing their heads off. We felt so foolish when we heard about the practice runs on the News. (1973)
Later that week, practice runs occurred while we were somewhere without Taly and she dug through the sofa (yes, through -- $300 then to fix that....). We were looking forward to the parade -- as much for its festivities as to be done with the practices.
The big day came and we watched it from a friend's roof -- great vantage point -- and WITH Taly, who was shivering in my arms as the planes flew over. It was great and LOUD. And then, when we went to go home, we discovered that all of Israel (or so it seemed) was leaving downtown Jerusalem with us. Busses were mobbed, and they couldn't move through the crowd, anyway. So we decided to walk, at least part way. A little girl looked at Taly (who did need grooming) and said in the sweetest Hebrew, "She looks just like a lamb that needs shearing" - I nodded and acknowledged she was right -- and we did visit a groomer the next week. Before we could make it to a functioning bus, Taly decided she had walked far enough and looked up at me with a face that couldn't be denied -- and so we carried her over our shoulders -- just like the lamb she resembled. When we finally did connect with a bus, we were very happy. The annoyance of paying a separate fare for Taly seemed a small price.
The Yom HaZikaron had been powerful -- we lived near Har Herzl and the fireworks were truly great -- I did manage to get some photos. Then the full day of the parade and related activities -- Oy, we needed the rest after that -- and there were three full work days before we would get to Shabbat.
It would only be a few more months until Israel was again at war -- the mood was already tense by then. There are more similarities between my memories and today's news than I would like -- When will we all learn how to live together?
1. Parsha details: Lev 12:1-15:33 ( tri 14:33-15:33 ) [ Haftorah II Kings 7:3-20 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: Times of 'tamey' after childbirth, leprosy and menstruating. Not the drama of last week's Parsha, but more interesting in insights than might be thought at first glance. And a fascinating study on perspective -- ours as we read it.
Seven days + 33 for a male child and 14 + 66 for a female child. Noting the difference is certainly easy. So write down your first thought and then come back here.
First, notice that 7+33 is 40, that great number we see so often. And pretty close to the amount of time a women bleeds after having a child. The "blood of her purifying" as it is put (and the 14+ 66 is twice 40). So is the time longer for daughters or is it shorter for sons? Is this a punishment or a reward? What's your perspective?
First, let's look at an average day "in those days". Life was not easy for anyone -- there were no microwaves, no built in vacuum cleaners, no gas/electric ovens. Daily life took lots of work, much of which would be associated with getting daily meals to the extended family. And part of the day might be spent interacting with others in the community to do the daily business and trading.
Being 'tamey' or 'unclean' was a vacation from these obligations. It meant time to yourself (and your newborn). This would be the period of heavy bleeding after delivery and a period of lighter bleeding, during which time it would be nice to have 'regrouping' time and lifting heavy items would be both unpleasant and dangerous, but required if you didn't have this 'time off'.
Now, I have never had children of my own, but in talking to other women who have, the 40 days is pushing things at the short end and twice 40 is much better. That is, if you are not blessed with the conveniences of today.
For a daughter, the community could allow the woman to take twice 40. But a son had to be circumcised. This 'broke into' that time because somehow the son had to get to where he had to go to be circumcised -- or the mohel had to get to him. Either way, the woman's status as tamey had to take a little break -- and Torah confirms this in the language: "then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her menstruation, shall she be unclean. [so that's over in 7 days.....mikveh?] And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. [Somehow we get baby and mohel/father together to do the brit]. And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying for thirty three days;"
So we have to do things different to get the son where he needs to be -- what we see here had probably developed into a minhag, a custom, long before Torah was given. The act of the brit would have caused more activity and probably more visitors and so the mother would 'get back into the routine' more quickly. A daughter would have been more mellow, more quiet.
And the sacrifice would indicate that the mother was again a full member of the larger community. If she needed more time, she simply delayed bringing the sacrifice and was still considered tamey, off limits for the grunt work and contacts of daily life. We tend to look back at Torah and get very literal -- even if we are not fundamentalists. Forty is a round number. No body stood there with a stop watch and yelled at the woman, okay, it's now 39 1/2 days, get that lamb ready, etc. It would be very reasonable to read these times as: 7 days, treat it like menstruation (makes sense). Then the brit -- that's a pretty rigid time frame. Then, take a while, a little better than a moon's worth and get yourself back together.
I believe that then there was more literacy among the children of Israel than among other people of the time, but I do not think they perceived of time like people do today with palm pilots and day planners.
And for that matter, this time table will work okay while we are in the desert near the Tent of Meeting -- what about when we move into the Land? Some folks might have quite a delay in getting to the Temple to make this offering... Or did practicalities make it more like: If it has been 'long enough' after the child and you are going to Jerusalem, make this offering. Or did you 'pay' someone who was going there anyway to handle this issue for you? Or did this practice fall into disuse early?
And then there is the whole section on Leprosy. This is actually an interesting insight into some of the day-to-day actiities of the Cohanim -- looking at this and that and deciding what was disease and what wasn't -- what was tamey and what was tahor. A great deal of detail on leprosy -- an infectious disease still around today, especially among the poorer folks and where living conditions are not great. I went looking at some of the leprosy websites as part of my research here -- this is a very complicated disease with a variety of expressions and symptoms and communicability -- they are still not sure of the mode of transmission except that close contact appears to increase susceptibility. And it can 'heal' and reappear years later and the incubation periods vary widely.
As I read through these websites, I came across one website that spent a lot of time stressing that leprosy was not a curse of God. So I looked carefully at this text -- it is about the identification and treatment of leprosy and the cleansing afterward. Torah does not call leprosy a judgement or a punishment -- that if you had it you would feel cursed, I have no doubt, but Torah does not make that connection. In fact, it treats it simply and fairly humanely for the times. With no antibiotics or ways of dealing with infectious diseases, sending these poor souls out of the main camp was the best thing to do.
I have no doubts that people were afraid of the lepers and shunned them -- we still behave the same way today (and if you doubt that, watch people in a hospital or on the street when someone the least bit 'different' approaches. And the washing that the priests would have done and the abstaining from community feasts probably was the best thing they could have done to minimize the spread of the infections in the community.
As we cry about the treatment and the horror of the subject, at least there was a way 'back' if one did heal, or if one had one of the less communicable forms -- or just a common infection. And why so much detail -- well, that would eliminate people pushing the Cohanim from short cutting some of the treatment. The Cohanim did not need all of the detail in Torah -- this was for the lepers and those around them to get enough understanding of what the Cohanim would do for the various possibilities.
And then we go to discharges -- semen or menstrual. This is basically the same theme -- what is tahor, what is tamey -- and what to do with the man who has relations with a tamey woman. But wait a minute -- if she's 'tamey', why is someone sleeping with her? Obviously the average guy didn't take a 'hands off' approach just because she was 'tamey'.... Hmmm. Not quite the handkerchief attitude toward woman....
So what were the practical applications of 'tamey'? Mainly about who would eat at public feasts and sacrifices -- you had to wash, clean yourself and be 'tahor'. That probably went a long way to minimize disease transmission and general cleanliness. So was this about cleanliness and health? Maybe, but it also offered the 'tamey' a gracious and simple way out of difficult social obligations they might have otherwise been pressured into doing. (Not tonight, dear, I'm 'tamey' or I'd love to attend your gala celebration of a new tent, but I'm 'tamey' until later tonight.)
Perhaps 'tamey' came to have a much more negative meaning over time? Instead of the gracious excuse, it has become a bar to certain things -- and at a time when we no longer have the consecrated things and the Sanctuary that Torah restricts the 'tamey' from touching. It's all a matter of perspective.
3. Some Observations
Oy, such topics. The columns show several breaks -- this has come to be collected over time -- and that makes sense -- this is a collection of what to do about discharges -- all kinds of discharges and bleeding and such. The section of the day of cleansing is the longest section that is solid and that is not surprising -- it was probably the most recited section redacted as a whole.
I always think about how a subject so old relates to our times -- and I really wish I could say that the leprosy sections were 'old' -- but they're not. We still have leprosy -- and if anything, we have created new infectious problems. And we still shun the people who have the misfortune to be infected, even when we are not at risk -- or are we. And that is the problem. We don't know, we are afraid -- no terrified.
And we get superstitious. Always have been, probably always will be. This Parsha attempts to treat the subject of great fear and superstition in a 'clinical' method. Leprosy existed -- in Mitzrayim, in the wandering and in Canaan. It was seen in people, clothing, buildings. That hasn't changed.
An although having the disease -- any disease -- any deformity, and difficulty -- can be viewed as a curse, that is not how Torah treats it. It is a fact of life -- it happens. I think back to the good news/bad news from a previous Parsha and I think diseases and problems fit into this perspective (if you don't remember this discussion, email me and I'll send it to you). We all have our problems -- and the key is what we do with them, not what we let them do to us. If you think your problems are the worst in the world -- look around. There are many people who are much worse off -- and you know it. But again it is a matter of perspective.
I have learned (reinforced by recent events, as some of you know) to look at everything as "what can I learn from this". Everything can be a blessing or curse -- sounds like Purim again. It is always much easier to ask for Her help to be strong and look for the good. Some times people are fired and think it is terrible -- then a few years later they admit it was the best thing that ever happened to them -- they learned from it and went forward. No matter what happens, we can learn and get better.
When I left studying for the rabbinate almost 30 years ago, I thought my life would be nothing, that there was nothing significant for me to do. Now, I see that everything really was part of His plan -- there were some other things for me to do -- to learn, to do, and so on. The rabbi I will be now could not have happened without the journey I have taken. And only She knows what other 'little' tasks I have done along the way....
4. Persevering Sophistication
This week's Parsha is about Persevering Sophistication -- I think that is about perspective. The sophistication that comes with learning about learning. Being open to new ideas, being positive about myself and others (and you can't do one without the other). Sophistication is about putting yourself in the other person's place.
And the Cohanim treating Leprosy and women and discharges is about being sensitive -- to the individual and to the community. For we cannot operate without community -- but community cannot operate without individuals.
Persevere the sophistication that considers the whole picture -- and recognize that you might not see it from you vantage point. You might have to go back and check it again in a few days or a week. Or you might have to wash it and see what color it becomes. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a Torah to tell us what it all means when it turns red or dark.
Maybe we do -- look to the white space of your heart and see the Tree of Life of your Soul -- She is sophisticated, and She perseveres.
1. Tamey/Tahor: What is tamey(unclean)? What is tahor(pure)? When are you in need of Self time, when are you part of Community? Do you balance? What is balance? What does (tamey, tahor, balance) feel like? What does it taste like? What does it look like? What color is it? What does it sound like?
2. Remember/Independence: 53 years. What has it cost? To whom? What price are we paying now? Who is paying the price? What are we learning? Will we learn enough fast enough? What can we do to do Her service?
3. Torah: What is Torah? What do Her words say? What does Her white space say? How many times has She been copied to get to the scroll you look at? How many Torah scrolls are there in the world? How many have been burned over the years?
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved