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Each week, we’ll explore a practice theme that arises in the weekly Torah portion. This week’s parasha “Tazria" is all about life, how its made and the magic and messiness of being sensual beings.
To make sense of this weeks parasha, we need to hold two things in mind. First, when the Torah says “ki tazria v’yalda zahar” it hopes that the first chapter of the Torah will immediately come to mind for us, “esev mazriah zera etz pri asah pri limehu,” as the women is “with seed” just as the earth too was with seed at the moment life burst forth in creation. Second, we have to remember that the parasha is unfolding with in the world of Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus) which claims that everything in creation has its right place, that every detail can be managed, with attention, by the priestly cultic system.
From within this perspective, our parasha turns its attention to the subject of new life, of souls in bodies coming together to make babies. Here, it evokes the magic numbers of seven (= perfection) and 40 (= life), making the claim that we might paraphrase like this:
“In order for a woman to become pregnant, heaven and earth must come together, just as she does with her mate, to make new life. The road is dangerous and messy, for its godly stuff, but the result is a new holy soul, who is circumcised if born a boy, and honored with a double period of waiting if born a girl."
For many of us, the gender imbalance in Parashat Tazria is challenging, for it seems at first glance to preserve long-held anti-female prejudices. But, in the priestly system, additional waiting or even additional tumah (generally translated as “impurity”) is an indication of awe, not judgement. This is a parasha that is about bodies creating life, and it stands in awe of those who carry life within them.
Parashat Tazria invites us to bring our attention to the magic and mystery of being souls moving about the world in bodies. Having a body can be messy business. They gurgle and ooze, crave and erupt. But, those same bodies also touch, feel and, as the parasha points out, carry life within them. So, this shabbat, celebrate your embodiedness, its messiness and its magic. In tasting your food and kissing your lover, know that the messiness is all mixed up in the good stuff of life. As the parasha teaches us, it is impossible to turn our attention to being alive without coming into direct contact with the messiness of it all. They go together, life and mess. So, rather than keeping things tidy, this shabbat, let them be juicy, and in that way, celebrate being alive.