If you’re plugged into Jewish consciousness, then this week house-cleaning is on your mind, as both the weekly Torah reading (Parashat Metzora) and the Jewish calendar take the messiness that can arise in our homes as their subject. Parashat Metzora (Leviticus 14-15) offers us the mysterious dynamics of a form of leprosy that attacked the walls of the home, just when we are scrubbing kitchens to rid them of any last traces of glutenous crumbs before Passover. Both invite us to consider how our attention impacts our environment and how our environment can support or hinder our practice.
Hassidic Judaism turns the process of cleaning for Pesach inward, inviting us to view hametz not as external leavening, but rather as anything within us that is inflated by ego (ie. Sfat Emet on Pesach/Vayikra, 5631). Likewise, the rabbinic tradition explains that tzaraat (leprosy-ish) is caused by gossip, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “if these walls could talk.” Both ancient categories, hametz and tzaraat, invite us to imagine our environments as alive and responsive to our intentionality and our actions. Through the lens of both categories, we are invited to imagine mindlessness as a residue that clings even after the moment has passed, tucked away in the nooks and crannies of our consciousness.
Like the spring cleaning called for in this holiday season, our practice offers us a way to rinse rinse things down, so that they can return to their natural state, unencumbered by the soot of inattention, and the parasha offers beautiful, albeit somewhat bloody, ritual imagery for the process.
Once the tzaraat (leprosy - ish) has passed, the afflicted must visit the local priest, where the following ritual ensues:
4. the priest shall order two live clean birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop to be brought for him who is to be cleansed. 5. The priest shall order one of the birds slaughtered over fresh water in an earthen vessel; 6. and he shall take the live bird, along with the cedar wood, the crimson stuff, and the hyssop, and dip them together with the live bird in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the fresh water. 7. He shall then sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the eruption and cleanse him; and he shall set the live bird free in the open country. (Leviticus 14:4-7)
In imagining this ritual, we can feel the parts of ourselves that are like a bird that yearns to fly clean and free, unencumbered by the soot of our lives. By sitting in silence, by bringing loving attention to the truth of our humanness, flawed though it may be. We gather ourselves in, our woody and fragrant parts and come into direct contact with our humanness. We dive in, and only then, are we set free. Whereas Parashat Metzora images a priest doing the hard work for us, in mindfulness, it is our relentless honesty and self-compassion that causes the transformation, our own loving attention that washes us clean.
This week, as you scrub your countertops, search too your innermost parts, seeking out those places that most need your loving attention. Let the walls reverberate with the intentions you’ve held this past year, and consider the habits of mind that you’re ready to release in your spring cleaning. And, as you splash fresh water over it all, feel the free bird within you, the neshama tehora, that is always there, yearning to fly free. Exhale and let her soar.