Tazria - Redeeming the Unredeemable

This Torah portion is largely concerned with laws of bodily purity. The descriptions of bodily secretions and infections remind us that the kohanim, the priests, were the first dermatologists and infectious disease practitioners. How can you tell what is pure, tahor and what is impure, tamei? Tazria, as it is called, is the least popular Torah reading in the entire year’s cycle.

But this year it comes just a couple of weeks before Passover, when we are thinking about Seder preparations, and about Seders past. As Tazria is about redemption from the unsavory aspects of bodily life, so Pesach comes to remind us that salvation of body and soul is a complicated business.

I remember one year of great despair. No one in my immediate family shared my passion for Jewish ritual and spirituality, and I felt so alone. I couldn’t stand the thought of leading another Seder at which I would be the only interested party. What to do?

An acquaintance of mine named Jonny, who was in our rabbi’s Bible class, told me he was an actor. Sooo. We concocted a plan to wake up the family to one of the deeper meanings of the Seder, the necessity to leave behind what one loves in order to move into a higher level of freedom.

Just as we were about to dip the parsley, Jonny came running into the room. "Stop!" he shouted. "There’s no time to waste. Put down your parsley. The Russians are attacking, and we have to flee tonight. I have a bus outside ready to take you to the airport and fly you to safety. Let’s go!"

Well, you can’t imagine the commotion. Dear Aunt Stella, then in her seventies, stood up and said, "This is America. This can’t happen here. I’m not going!" Cousin Bob started yelling, "You must be crazy. Let’s sit down and eat our dinner." Soon everyone was yelling at everyone else. Finally, someone said, "Shohama, is he for real?"

My children were furious with me. "Mom, how could you embarrass us like that? Why did you bring your crazy friend to our seder?"

They felt that I had taken a occasion of family purity and made it impure.

But you know, twenty-three years later, that seder is the one all my children remember with great fondness. The one when Mom brought her crazy actor friend. They love to tell the story. In the passing of time, the impure has become pure.

This year, it seems especially relevant to remember that it isn’t always easy to tell the pure from the impure. Sometimes our feelings and our actions are a blend of the two. Our relationships with our spouses and children and parents and sister and brothers aren’t simple. They are neither totally tahor, pure, nor totally tamei, impure. How much love we have in our hearts can transform our vision and our memories.

I bless us all with great love for our families, so that the passage of years brings us the redemption of remembering the good, and forgetting the not-so-good.