(Late) Cookies for Purim and Norouz
Reb Zalman on setting your seder free

This week's portion: Clean



Depression whispering poison
anxiety's frantic wakefulness
cancer teeming beneath the skin:
the afflictions we truly fear

are chronic and invisible.
Even doctors look for ways
to blame the victim -- you smoked
too much, your cholesterol

is poor, you shouldn't have been
on birth control -- because
we can't stand that life isn't
a meritocracy, the way disease

sometimes just happens.
It must have been easier
when what distanced us from God
was a visible patch of skin

turning white or red, a spot
on the body to show to the priest,
the binary of tahor or tamei.
When what erupted in us

was on the surface, when we
like cloth could be sterilized
the damaged parts cut away
and consumed in fire

leaving behind only
what could be washed
and washed again, what could
become wholly (blessedly) clean.

Tazria: not, historically, the easiest parsha for me to connect with! Though over the last few years I've been finding various pathways in, ways of understanding the conditions of taharah ("ritual purity") and tumah ("ritual impurity") that make sense to me. Part of my problem tends to be how those words are rendered in English; longtime readers know I find those words both inadequate and wrongly freighted...

Here, again, I'm finding that when I let myself relate to this section of Torah through the prism of poetry, new insights emerge. (If you're interested in how I've engaged with this portion through prose in years past, you can always check out the Velveteen Rabbi's Torah Commentary, the page where I keep links to all of my divrei Torah.)

Though the arcana of taharah and tumah may feel distant for modern readers, the sense that sickness can keep us feeling distant from God resonates strongly for me. Behind this portion and its rules, I see a sense of longing for the kind of wholeness that would make holy connection possible.

As usual, you're welcome to download Clean.mp3 if you can't see the audio player at the top of the post or if you'd like a recording of the poem.

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