Parshat Tazria • Leviticus 12:1–13:59

The role of individuals in determining holiness is a central feature of Jewish law. A Torah scroll, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik writes, would not be sacred were it not for the scribe. If a sofer was to write a Torah scroll without explicitly noting the sanctity of God’s name while writing, that scroll would not be considered holy. “The loftiness of the text itself makes no difference — without the intention of writing the Name for the purpose of vesting holiness in the scroll, even the ultimate expression of faith itself, the Shema, becomes profane.”

It is through this lens that we might view this week’s Torah portion. Tazria, the first of two weekly portions concerned with declaring clean and unclean oozing sores and scaly skin afflictions, has been the bane of bar mitzvah students for centuries. How might we find a lesson for 2016 from the classifications of scabs, sores, and sprouting hairs? The role of individuals in determining holiness is a central feature of Jewish law even today. We, the community, have the power to declare clean and unclean, fit and unfit, included and excluded. We, the community, have the power to make someone holy — or the power to drive them from our society. We know how we would treat our loved ones. How do we treat the stranger among us?

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer