The wholeness of the wounded
by Jhos Singer
Shabbat Shalom Chaverim—
This week we have a double portion: Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33). And what a doozy it is!! It has to do with the impact of skin diseases, contaminated clothing, leprous houses (no joke), seminal emissions, and menstrual discharge. Lucky kid who gets this as their Bar or Bat Mitzvah portion, huh? Well, yeah, because these portions also teach about healing and danger, ministration and contamination, care and risk.
Each of these disturbances—of the body, domicile, reproductive energy—are of importance to the greater community. The Priests are called upon to act as diagnosticians, to examine closely the lesions, scabs, warts, and blemishes of human skin, clothing and shelter. They assess the hairs growing through patches of discoloration, how deeply the affliction penetrates, whether the wound weeps or is dry and scaly.
I so often hear spirituality described in glowing terms—it’s about healing and light, purity and transcendence—while religion is more often than not relegated to the realm of superstition, blind obeisance and oppression. I don’t agree with either of those analyses; rather, I think that spirituality and religion are two different tracks leading to an acceptance of the pain, suffering, and loss that go hand in hand with joy, delight, and blessing. And this Torah portion says it all.
The priests are called to minister through ritual and heart. They are called upon to get up close and personal with what is ugly, putrefied, and possibly contagious. They must see past the fouled and inflamed external layers to what is pure and wholesome below. To be healers they found themselves in direct contact with suffering and disease.
And this is the nature of spiritual work. We risk being infected with the very disease we are trying to heal. To step into a true spiritual path, one inevitably throws oneself in harm’s way, because like it or not, the world we inhabit—with all its beauty, delight, sustenance, and marvel—is rough on all living things. The Priest’s job is to find the wholeness, purity, and sterling nature even of the wounded. And that is a tall order.
This then is at the core of what it means to engage in a spiritual life, a life of service and a life of healing: to resist the impulse to shy away from difficulty, suffering, and the grotesque, but instead cultivate an eye for beauty, a curious mind, and a fearless heart. Poet, writer and Israeli peace activist David Grossman lived through his son’s death while serving in the military. Grossman teaches that the pain of remembering his loss is excruciating, but the pain of forgetting his son would be even worse. And despite his grief, he continues in the struggle for peace—for to be a healer, one has to draw close to the wound.
There is always a risk that the Priest will not be strong enough, resilient enough, or perceptive enough to bring about a state of tahor—balance, stability, and refinement. Some will be sickened by what they touch, see, or feel. It’s a real peril of spiritual life. But if it is in your nature, if you are called to the art of healing, ministry, or soul repair, you will take that chance. In Hebrew the word for a Priest is Cohein, an anointed one, a minister, a spiritual officer. But if you scramble the sounds of that title to Cayhayon you have dimness, faintness, fading.
As this Shabbat arrives let us find the courage to offer, care for, and nurture the wounded parts of our lives, our families, and our world—despite the risks. Let us spend these precious Shabbes hours seeking inner strength, faith, and trust that even if we fail in our spiritual efforts, we know we will be tended to. For the Priests are always amongst us, around us, and within us, seeking to find purity and hope in our bruised and bandaged world.