At it’s best, a close reading of our parsha suggests that we help those recovering from illness reintegrate into their communities; at it’s worst it is a text that limits, excludes and exiles.M’tzora (Leviticus 14:1 – 15:32) is a continuation of last week’s parsha, and the two are most commonly read together in non-leap years. These verses describe in squeamish detail various afflictions, and taboo-but-common human, shall we say, experiences. It is a text that has been used to fuel misogyny in Jewish tradition. It is a text that has been used to illicit shame around our human sexuality. It is a text that can be seen as antithetical to everything that we believe vis a vis inclusion and the holiness of the human form.
But we read it year after year, and we wrestle with its meaning time and again. Rather than excising texts like from our cannon, we acknowledge that they are part of our literary and historical traditions, and that it is up to us to make something of them.
The Eitz Hayim Torah and Commentary (ed. David Lieber) suggests that the rituals detailed in this parsha offer a ritual language for one overcoming illness. “The formal description of the cleansing ritual masks the deep and possibly conflicted feelings of the person who has recovered from a serious illness. These might include feelings of relief and happiness together with a new appreciation of good health, perhaps resentment over what had been gone through as well as envy of people who had remained healthy.”
We are obligated to ask “why is this text here,” and “what does it have to teach us?” We might not always be satisfied with the answers in their entirety, but 9 times out of 10, there is something to be gleaned from even our trickiest of texts.
– Rabbi Callie Schulman