Parashat Tazriah draws attention to the Levitical concern with ritual purity, beginning with the postpartum mother, who is prohibited from bringing an offering, and continuing with individuals suffering from certain skin afflictions, who are isolated from the community. In both instances, the individual is described as being in a state of tumah (ritually impurity).
While this may appear off-putting to our modern sensibilities, and has even been interpreted as a punishment, the negative connotation disappears if we view tumah as a technical term. The new mother – or the individual with a skin affliction – has undergone powerful experiences that call for reflection.
We have all had experiences where we just need to step back and take some time, whether to think, to adjust, to meditate or pray. While things may be business as usual for everyone else, something has changed for you, whether this change is visible to others or not. Separation creates a temporal opportunity for reflection to take place.
Such an interlude for reflection can occur on a communal level as well. This week we read the last of the arba parshiyot, four special Torah readings that take place on Shabbatot from before Purim until Pesach. Shabbat ha-Hodesh coincides with the Shabbat on or before Rosh Hodesh Nisan, and the additional Torah reading is all about the preparation for the first Pesach and the laws of the holiday.
That first Pesach was a powerful event that dramatically changed us as a people. We relive this formative episode at our sedarim. As with the personal experience of the postpartum mother or an individual afflicted with an illness, Pesach is both traumatic and transformative, albeit on a communal level. A seven- or eight-day separation from our daily routine allows us to delve into the experience and savour the changes spiritually.