Parashat Tazria- Metzora is a doozy. This week we're reading about taharah and tumah, terms that can be loosely translated as "ritual purity" and "ritual impurity." Tumah is conferred by childbirth, by eruptive skin conditions and menstruation -- though garments and houses can be afflicted, too, not just human beings.
I used to find it almost impossible to connect with this part of Torah. But over the last year I've joined my shul's chevra kadisha (volunteer burial society), and done (most of) an extended unit of CPE, and those experiences have offered me a path in to Torah portions like Tazria-Metzora. That's what I wrote about for Radical Torah this week:
When I have spent a night ministering to a family in crisis -- children of a parent unexpectedly dead of an aneurysm; parents of a child incapacitated by a skiing accident; spouse of someone who is dying, or who is already gone -- I have come away feeling the same kind of wired exhaustion that arose after my first time serving on the chevra kadisha. Dealing with sickness and death leave me a little dizzied, a little fried, as though I'd stuck my metaphysical finger into a socket and gotten charged-up with an energy I can't quite describe. It's not a bad feeling, exactly, but it's not a comfortable one. It's the spiritual equivalent of looking directly into the sun. I come away with my vision temporarily blurred.
This, I think, is one way of understanding what tumah is all about.
Read the whole thing here: Meeting "impurity," and being changed.