24 Apr 2015

Tazria-Metsora/Yom HaAtsmaut 5775: Surface Tension

Tazria-Metsora/Yom HaAtsmaut 5775: Surface Tension

“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

A veneer can be powerful in drawing our attention away from what lies beneath its surface. As a boy growing up in Los Angeles, one of my favourite places to visit was Universal Studios. At the time, Universal conducted a small tour of their lots on which they had built movie sets and used special effects in order to create amazing visual images on film. One of the most shocking parts of the tour for me the first time I visited occurred when we drove down what looked like a suburban road with houses all along it, only to turn the corner and find that they were not houses at all, but facades. Like most people, I fell for the visual trick because I only looked at the outer presentation and accepted that they were houses because they looked as if they were. It was an experiential lesson that helped me remember that outer layers conceal other hidden realities, and that what is beyond the surface can be quite different from what one might expect it to be.

This week we read of a condition called Sara’at[1] that would manifest on one’s skin, essentially, a discolouration of sorts. Sara’at brought with it several meanings and messages that are outlined both in the verses of the parasha and the rabbinic writings. Among these is the lesson I first learned at Universal Studios. The surface, in this case one’s skin, only expresses a certain layer of truth. There are other elements of truth that run beneath the surface that might require more than just a look in order to discover them.

When Sara’at erupted on one’s skin, it indicated that the thin veneer of the skin concealed underlying elements that had found their way to the surface. It was a reminder to look beyond the exterior and see a deeper reality.

This week’s haftara expands on the theme with a story. Elisha, the prophet, prophesied that a heavy famine would end within twenty-four hours and that there would be such an abundance of grain that a bag of fine flour would sell for only a shekel. There were sceptics to this prophecy, because on the surface there was no apparent way for this to happen, but there are undercurrents to reality that drive it in ways we would never anticipate given the perceived circumstances. The prophecy did come to pass in the most unexpected way.

The parasha and haftara teach us that there is more that is at work in the world than we initially perceive. Events occur and have occurred that defy imagination. When seen from a panoramic perspective, the world reveals astonishing twists and turns that quickly become assimilated into matter-of-fact realities. For years the idea that the Berlin Wall could fall was unthinkable. The thought of Communist Russia crumbling was no more than a dream. But it happened, in unexpected ways, as did many such events throughout history.

Life is so much more than what we see and know with our surface perceptions. Beneath it all flows the force of the Creator. It powers Creation and drives it in directions that are so surprising and serendipitous that they cause us to laugh and cry at the unexpected beauty. Those surprises that emerge from beneath the surface reach our souls because they exist on the same plane. When we learn to allow ourselves to be open to the possibilities of life’s stunning path, hope is present and we come to know, beyond simple belief, from the countless precedents of its kind, that the world will not falter and that, while the course it takes to reach its destiny may meander in dubious ways, it will reach its noblest goals.

In this same vein, we, after a great deal of wandering, have come home to our land as a sovereign nation. It has been a long and winding road, but we have returned. Our tikva — our hope — drawing from the Power of Life that lies beneath it all, has brought us there. Knowing this, collapses thousands of years into wonder-filled moments and the span of history rests whole and complete in the depths of the human soul.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] Commonly mistranslated as leprosy. A condition in which one’s skin, garment, or home showed a particular type of irregular discolouration. A kohen would examine and check for malignancy, in which case it would be declared saraat  and the person would exit the camp and live in isolation until it subsided.


Law and Lore

About the Prayers

Zemirot II

Mizmor LeToda

Mizmor LeToda[2], Psalm 100, is recited after Barukh She’amar in Sepharadi congregations on all weekdays. It is a prayer that expresses thanks and gives gratitude to G-d. Ashkenazim customarily say it while standing. Sepharadim, however, permit saying it while seated. Oriental Sepharadim say this mizmor every weekday of the year. However, Western Sepharadim do not say it on the morning before Yom Kippur, the morning before Pesah, and during the intermediate days of Pesah because in the time of the Bet haMikdash, the Korban Toda — the offering of ‘thanks’ was not brought in the mikdash because it was made of hamets.

On Shabbat the Mizmor leToda is replaced with Mizmor Shir leYom haShabbat[3], Psalm 92, followed by Adonai Malakh, Psalm 93. Those Psalms are also said on Yom Tob, but the first line of Psalm 92, “A Psalm, a Song for the Sabbath-dayis ommitted, and we begin with the next verse — “It is good to give thanks to the Lord…”

On Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur we say both Psalm 92, 93 and 100.

[2] Pg. 19, Daily and Occasional

[3] Pg. 68, Orange Shabbat book; 98, Daily and Occasional.


Parasha Perspectives

IV  Tazriah 

24        Ritual purification after birth  (12:1-8)

25        Early symptoms of tzoraat  (13:1-8)

26        Diagnosing tzoraat  (13:9-17)

27a      Tzoraat from a healing boil  (13:18-23)

27b      Tzoraat from a burn  (13:24-28)

28a      Tzoraat on head or face  (13:29-37)

28b       A bohuk-type blemish is not tzoraat  (13:38-39)

28c      Tzoraat from baldness  (13:40-46)

28d      Tzoraat of clothing  (13:47-59)


V  Metzorah

29a      Ritual purification from tzoraat  (14:1-20)

29b      Ritual purification from tzoraat for poor (14:21-32)

30        Tzoraat of buildings  (14:33-57)

31a      Tumah due to a man’s pathological discharge (15:1-15)

31b      Tumah due to normal seminal emission  (15:16-18)

32a      Tumah due to normal menstruation  (15:19-24)

32b      Tumah due to a woman’s pathological bloody

discharge  (15:25-33)