The Paradox of Purity

April 12, 2024 / 4 Nisan 5784

We encounter in this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, a profound and paradoxical symbol—the color white. Commonly associated with purity and cleanliness, white in this week’s reading denotes spiritual impurity and “uncleanness.” This striking juxtaposition serves as a focal point for a deeper exploration of our actions, their repercussions, and the associated communal responsibility.

Tazria highlights the skin affliction “tzara’at,” often mistranslated from Hebrew as leprosy. However, unlike the irreversible medical condition of leprosy, tzara’at was a reversible Divine manifestation reflecting one’s spiritual state. When individuals engaged in spiritually harmful behaviors, particularly lashon harah (derogatory speech), this ailment could emerge as a Divine signal for self-reflection and change.

The Torah relates the story of Miriam, who was afflicted with tzara’at after speaking ill of her brother Moses and his Cushite wife, Tziporah (Numbers 12:1-10). This punishment, which included isolation from the community, was not meant to be permanent but to encourage introspection and transformation. It is a poignant illustration of how behaviors that disrupt communal harmony are addressed—emphasizing correction rather than retribution.

Furthermore, the symbolism of white in tzara’at is reminiscent of Moses’ first encounter with Gd at the burning bush (Exodus 4:6). Gd turned Moses’ hand “metzorat k’sheleg” (“scaley as [white] snow”), and then restored it, illustrating the potential for change and Divine interaction. This sign confirmed to Moses the authenticity of his mission, emphasizing that what may initially appear as frightening can indeed be a catalyst for growth and understanding.

Stephen Covey once shared that “just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.” This perspective is reaffirmed in our Jewish tradition in the writings of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l who expressed that challenges in life could be transformative. Each test, each challenge, was a summons to growth and vital in understanding tzara’at. The temporary nature of this condition underscores the Torah’s message that personal transformation is always within reach, and what seems punitive can lead to improvement and enlightenment.

Parashat Tazria invites us to see the struggles and setbacks in our lives as opportunities for change and growth. It reminds us that our actions and words have power, and we must use them wisely to foster unity and understanding within our community.

As we reflect on today’s sadly divided society, the message of Tazria resonates profoundly. Each of us has the potential to either exacerbate divisions or to heal them. The Jewish Federation, through its mission, leads by convening the community, promoting collaboration, and building bridges. This week, let us each commit to reaching out, nurturing relationships, and transforming challenges into opportunities for unity and collective strength.

In doing so, we fulfill the highest ideals of our tradition, turning the paradox of purity into a profound lesson for both personal growth and communal harmony. Because we are…


Shabbat Shalom.