According to NHS England, 95% of people aged 11 to 30 will experience acne caused by hormonal imbalances. Knowing the medical reason, however, doesn’t prevent the occurrence nor does it remove any feelings of self-consciousness.
By contrast, Tazria-Metsorah goes to great length to define the outbreak and purification process for those affected by Tsara’at. While these were non-contagious skin lesions on persons of any age, a Metsorah was deemed among the highest level of ritual impurity.
Treatment of a Metsorah was a spiritual matter brought to the Kohen. After a lesion was declared Tsara’at, the affected person tore their clothing (a ritual of mourning) and warned others to keep away. They left the camp to dwell alone for periods of seven-days, until the ailment was reassessed. (Interestingly, if a Kohen contracted Tsara’at, they too had to be examined by a fellow Kohen.)
After the Tsara’at cleared, the purification process involved two birds; one was slaughtered, and its blood was mixed in water. Before being set free, the second living bird, along with a piece of cedar wood, scarlet thread and hyssop, was dipped in the crimson-coloured water and sprinkled on the Metsorah. Later, a separate blood ritual was performed on the right earlobe, thumb and big toe of the person.
The laws of Metsorah are Hukim, whose reasons we cannot fathom. But in them we see references to Parah Adumah (the red heifer burned with cedar wood, scarlet thread and hyssop, whose ashes purified corpse tumah), and the Kohens’ Inauguration (a symbolic rebirth – affected by placing blood on their right earlobe, thumb and big toe).
Metaphorically, the Metsorah birds were linked to the 10th plague, when the Egyptian first born were killed while the Israelites, who used hyssop to paint their doorposts with blood, were freed. The connection is made because both are referred to as ‘Negah’ (plague).
We learned this past year that being forced to self-isolate involves significant vulnerability. Hopefully, it has made us more sensitive and attuned to looking after our friends, family and neighbours.
As humans we try to explain things, to give ourselves an illusion of control. One lesson from Metzorah is that often, what matters most is more than skin-deep … and sometimes it is well-beyond our comprehension.
[For Wembley Sephardi Synagogue – 16 April 2021] (Also published in ALT-C Vol 348 https://mcusercontent.com/d2e2ae78faf8444ab0251f19e/files/55958a34-788d-402f-8866-5e11c1effd19/Writers_Digest_Vol._348_16_Apr_2021_.pdf)