by Dr. Ariel Resnikoff, Jewish Studies Teacher 

This week’s Torah portion, Tazria–meaning “conceives”–continues the discourse from last week’s portion on what is sometimes translated as “purity and impurity” (tumah v’tahara). In Tazria the Torah details the purification ritual of the mikveh, a ceremonial bath that women must immerse themselves in after giving birth–as well as the ritual of circumcision for a Jewish male baby eight days into life. Finally the parsha goes into depth about tzaraat: a leprosy-like divine plague that G-D inflicts on certain people in the Old Testament as a punishment for particular types of willful transgression. The person afflicted by tzaraat must go into quarantine, and remain in isolation from the rest of the community until they are no longer afflicted. 

In New Orleans, on the 12th-grade journey last week, Ms. Beck and I were discussing this portion and thinking aloud about the ways in which it might pertain to our contemporary moment. Perhaps purity and impurity are imperfect translations of tumah v’tahara, we mused, and instead we might think of this rather binary concept in metaphorical terms, referring to a person’s bandwidth to interface and relate with the world around them, across a spectrum of the physical and metaphysical, the corporeal and the divine. Ms. Beck also commented that she felt comforted by the vision of a Jewish society in which members of the community can leave and isolate themselves when it’s necessary–thinking of tzaraat–with the possibility of a full and holistic return. 

This notion of a controlled and proscribed, yet finite isolation, with the possibility of an embracing return calls to mind for me Rebbe Nahman of Breslov’s teachings on teshuva (repentance). Rebbe Nahman teaches that we all contain within ourselves an indestructible divine spark that no transgression or adversity can erase. All people have the possibility to be accepted back into the community according to Rebbe Nahman, when the time is right–when they have repented fully and their bandwidth to navigate the line between the divine and the mundane is replenished and restored. 

As we head into shabbat this week, I want to bless our whole JCHS family with the ability to know when we are tapped-out in this sense–not impure per se, but improper in our ability to engage with the world around us–and to take a step back, a deep breath in, then out, and find our way back to the community, which is always ready and waiting to embrace us, with open arms.