By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant Last week’s Torah Parsha (SHEMOT) ended with Moses and Aaron both discouraged, as the Pharaoh of Egypt denied their request to free the enslaved...
This week’s Torah Parsha (TAZIRA) is extraordinary, not for its content; but, for its absence of content. TAZIRA has been labeled “the Torah Parsha least likely to be studied” (1). It has also been accused of having “challenged and confused generations of Torah scholars, as well as legions of rabbinical students” (2)
To understand the rationale for these somewhat astonishing descriptions of a specific Torah Parsha, it is necessary to comprehend the nuances of the Jewish calendar; and, the impact on reading the Torah. A typical ‘lunar-based’ Jewish calendar equates to 354 days (eleven days less than the ‘Gregorian’ or ‘Modern Day’ calendar) However, to ensure that the entire Torah is read within a singular year, there are several weeks, where we are required to read a ‘double Parshiot’ (3). In virtually all situations, where a double Parshiot is read within one week, each individual Parsha is singular in its narrative and insights. The aberration to this independence of each individual Parsha is this week’s Parsha (TAZIRA), separated from its usual partner: Parsha (METZORA).
Notably the Jewish calendar is designed to enable an additional month to be added, seven (7) times in nineteen (19) years (i.e. ‘Jewish leap year’); with the consequence that Parsha (TAZIRA) is read separately from Parsha (METZORA). This year (5779/2018-2019) happens to be one of those infrequent leap years (4).
The major theme of Parsha (TAZIRA) is the bizarre phenomenon of ‘TZARAAT’, a physical manifestation of a spiritual demise, resulting from a serious, unknown sin or transgression. The symptoms of ‘TZARAAT’ can include: skin, hair, or limb discolorations; blemishes or blisters of the skin; whitening of the hair; or, even mold or obvious stains on clothing.
If afflicted with ‘TZARAAT’, the afflicted individual is required to visit with a designated Kohen. Although, the Kohen is not a medical doctor, he is charged with evaluating the extent of the spiritual decline, based on the symptoms (5).
The ‘TZARAAT’ is required to meet with the Kohen every week, in order to determine if the symptoms continue to exist, or if the situation has deteriorated. In either case, the man or women is to be banished from their respective community. This punishment of separation from one’s family and friends is considered onerous, and one of the most formidable means of shaming an individual for committing a burdensome act (6).
There is a bewildering essence of Parsha (TAZIRA), when separated from its companion Parsha (METZORA). The reader is acutely aware that a transgression has occurred; the specific culprit of the offense has been identified by the Kohanim; as well as the severity of the malfeasance, and the subsequent punishment.
However, within this singular Parsha, no indication is provided, pertaining to the specific victim (or victims); nor, to the exact nature of the violation. Parsha (TAZIRA) leaves the reader with a perplexing enigma, which can only be clarified by reading Parsha (METZOR).
2. Rabbi Michael Rosenak, PH.D, “Midrash and Medicine” (Hebrew University Press, 2005)
3. Bar Ilan University Torah Center (Tel Aviv, Israel)
5. Jewish Virtual Library