Thursday, April 11, 2013

It's All About Cooties

3 Iyar 5773 / April 12-13, 2013

In this week's double portion, we learn that Judaism is really all about a fear of cooties. Last week we learned about which  things we can eat and which we can't, with the can't column largely encompassing those creatures that eat the waste of other creatures and/or are creepy crawlers. This week the focus is on those who have skin afflictions and how the community is meant to deal with such outbreaks. For example, it's perfectly logical that if you had a rash you'd go to see a priest (you'll love him Ma - he's a priest AND a doctor!). Similarly, clothing and even homes were subject to such scrutiny. For those found to be "unclean," a process existed (often including isolation for a week) to earn back your "clean" status.

We learn later in the Torah that as punishment for speaking out against her brother Moses, Miriam is stricken with a skin disease requiring her to be separated out from the nation for a period of time.  We are taught her external affliction was the result of an internal spiritual imperfection.

It seems obvious to note that when one is struggling internally, it's not challenging for others to notice based on the person's external attitude, actions and appearance.  We might like to think we have awesome poker faces, but most of us don't.  Like Miriam, how we appear to the outside world is often the result of what we're dealing with internally.  And how blessed are we that our tradition recognizes the value in taking the time to be alone - to remove ourselves - in order to work on our internal issues when necessary, so that we can be the "cleanest" version of our selves as we walk through the world.

This Shabbat, set aside a bit of time to be alone.  What kinds of internal issues are you looking to work on? What kinds of cooties are finding safe harbor in your life that you'd like to be rid of? What sorts of rituals do you utilize to symbolize letting go of the things dragging you down? In addressing these questions, recognize that the process of doing so is an inherently Jewish one, and can be traced all the way back to this week's double portion.

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