Coming Home to Wholeness

My first d’var torah here somewhat awkwardly coincides with parshat Tazria in the weekly Torah reading. What nourishment are we supposed to draw from the extensive minutiae dealing with the strange skin affliction called tzara’at? A person with this affliction, called a metzora (often incorrectly translated as “leper”), undergoes a series of examinations by the priest, spends time in quarantine in an impure state, and if the condition persists could be banished indefinitely to a living space outside the Israelite camp. “All the days that the affliction is on him he shall be impure. He should sit alone; his sitting-place shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:46).

Hello from your new rabbi! I am so excited to be wrapping up my first month with you at Kavana, and beginning to meet this community in all its wonderful diversity. Let me say right away that my intention is to connect with each of you over time. I look forward to discussing life journeys with you, exploring and experimenting with our spiritual yearnings, pursuing justice and taking care of each other, and drawing out nourishment from Jewish texts and tradition. If our paths haven’t already crossed, they will soon! Please feel free to reach out and send me an email at rabbijay@kavana.org.

My first d’var torah here somewhat awkwardly coincides with parshat Tazria in the weekly Torah reading. What nourishment are we supposed to draw from the extensive minutiae dealing with the strange skin affliction called tzara’at? A person with this affliction, called a metzora (often incorrectly translated as “leper”), undergoes a series of examinations by the priest, spends time in quarantine in an impure state, and if the condition persists could be banished indefinitely to a living space outside the Israelite camp. “All the days that the affliction is on him he shall be impure. He should sit alone; his sitting-place shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:46).

Typically this ritual of isolation is understood in one of two ways. Those who read the plain sense of the text (such as Yosef Bechor Shor, 12th century France) highlight that self-isolation prevented the disease from spreading. Sadly, we understand that all too well.

On a more allegorical level, the sages of the Talmud argue that metzora stands for motzi shem ra, one who brings out a bad name. In other words, this disease is the embodied rot produced by slander and gossip. Isolating a slanderer prevents their harmful speech from spreading.

But there is yet a deeper layer to this ritual isolation. The central mystical text of Judaism, the Zohar (1:64b), connects the isolation of a metzora to God’s action in destroying much of the world through the great Flood:

And this is the secret of the verse, "God sat at the Flood" (Psalms 29:10). What is "sat?" If it had not been written in the scriptures, we could not have said it, that God sat alone by Themself, and was distinct from the Judgment; here it is written: "God sat," while in another place it is written: "He shall sit alone" (Leviticus 13:46).

The only way God, who is the One who Creates and Delights in Creation, could destroy humans, animals, plantlife… was to enact an inner division. God exiled a part of God’s self to sit outside of the violent action like a metzora cast outside the camp, a divine dissociation. Which hints to me that perhaps destruction in general can only be accomplished by imagining we are separate from each other. War, theft, violence, planet-poisoning, none of these would be possible if we truly understood our inescapable inter-being. The Zohar is a drama about the yearning of God to be made whole once again, which is another way of saying it is a story about our own yearnings to be whole, to live in a world of connection and care, a world that embraces diversity as expressions of a deeper wholeness, where there is no inside or outside the camp.

At Kavana, I feel I am joining a community where we practice treasuring and expressing our unique gifts and stories and journeys and yearnings, and where we weave ourselves into that larger tapestry of wholeness. As poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote, “I live my life in widening circles…”

I look forward to becoming part of your circles,
Rabbi Jay LeVine