Rabbi David Schneider’s Weekly Words of Wisdom 13: Tazria

It's a massive sin to say bad things about me

(Leviticus 12-13)

You don’t have to be Joseph from the Bible or Andrew Lloyd Webber to know that dreams can be really weird. The other night, I dreamt I had this huge lulav, and Rabbi F and the honorary officers of the synagogue and the editor of the Jewish Chronicle had these tiny lulavs and my wife’s lover the builder who’s a woman had no lulav at all, just a tiny esrog, and I went round knocking everyone over with my huge, massive lulav, and my wife kneeled down before my lulav and worshipped it.

Now if as a condition of my continuing as Rabbi I was seeing a therapist called Ranaana (which comes from the Hebrew for “fresh, beautiful” which is ironic because, take it from me, she’s anything but), then she would no doubt manage to dredge up some terribly obscure sexual meaning for this obviously innocent dream instead of realising that, in this period between Pesach and Shevuos, I’m so incredibly devout that even in my sleep I’m thinking about the third so-called foot festival, Succos. But no. She sees a sexual level in everything, even a harmless doodle showing a load of arrows being fired out a circus cannon into a cave. Doesn’t she know her Bible? Hasn’t she heard of the arrows the L-rd fires (see 2 Samuel 22:15)? Or the cave of Machpeloh where Abraham was buried (see Genesis 25:9)? Or the circus cannon, which isn’t in the Bible but would be if they’d had circuses (see The Big Book of Zippo, p.224)?

A Rabbi doesn’t need a therapist. He is a therapist. And a teacher, leader, best friend, healer, prophet, lover (to his wife), and generally someone we look up to and almost worship for his incredible humility. Look at the role of the priest in this week’s parsha. It was his job to diagnose and care for the terrible, leprous-like skin affliction known as tzora’as (as opposed to the affliction known as tzores, which is what you get when you marry my wife). Here, the Priest (modern equivalent: Rabbi of a major North London synagogue) takes on the role of doctor, of a sympathetic comforter who lovingly exiles the patient from the community, tears their clothes and gets them to bark “Unclean! Unclean!” at anyone who passes.

Our sages explain that tzora’as is a punishment for loshon hora, speaking slander of someone else. Of course this doesn’t mean that everyone we see with the complexion of a trampled pizza with extra sweetcorn is a speaker of evil. Their condition might be caused by other things, like adolescence or spending weeks sleeping in a filthy synagogue cupboard, miles from any toilet facilities, with one’s only companions a horde of dust mites and a spider who you’ve started to call Rabbi Shlomo.

I repeat: there’s nothing intrinsically bad about a hideously repulsive outbreak of spots and other pustules all over the face and body that itch like hell. They might be nothing to do with loshon hora. Similarly, someone who’s planning to make a living from loshon hora with her “fictional” account of a life married to some “oaf” of a Rabbi before finding true love with a builder who’s a woman, this person may have – as the builder woman put it – skin that would still look good on a 20 year old (a 20 year old rhino perhaps?).

How are we to understand this apparent contradiction? Surely the parsha refers not so much to literal scabs and actual leaking sores that make a child at cheder projectile vomit when you lean in to help him with his picture of the Burning Bush. No, the parsha’s a metaphor. It’s talking about moral scabs and inner pus. It’s telling us to watch out for people with acute eczema and other related skin conditions of the soul. The Torah makes it clear that the only hope for these people is teshuvah, repentance, opening yourself to G-d’s mercy and dropping this preposterous book idea that no-one’s going to buy even though they’re already talking of a print run of 25,000.

This article was first published in The Jewish Chronicle.

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