Parshat Tazria: Skin Care Tips from the Torah

Uploaded by gdashdcast on 05.03.2010

It's possible that Tazria is the
grossest and weirdest parsha
in the whole Torah.
Universally dreaded by b'nai mitzvah kids,
it's full of boils, fungal infections, rashes,
and sores sprouting hair.
It's hard to know what to make of it.
Tazria starts with a brief discussion
on purification after childbirth.
Then, without much of a segueway,
it quickly moves to skin problems.
This parsha, it seems,
is brought to you by pimple cream.
Unfortunately, the Biblical kind
of problem skin can't be solved
by a call to a 1-800 number for a facial scrub.
Nobody's exactly sure, in fact,
what kind of problem skin it was.
It's a skin disease that's called "tzara'at,"
and it's usually translated as leprosy,
but that's not right either.
It's a little like scaly psoriasis,
and a little like spotty vitiligo,
but it's neither, and rabbis tell us
it only existed in Biblical times.
Another thing that only existed in Biblical times:
the priests were the dermatologists.
That must have been just mortifying.
It's embarrassing enough having to go
to Dr. Birnbaum when you get a bad breakout;
imagine having to take it to your rabbi.
The rest of the parsha tells us
how the priests diagnosed
various skin conditions and fungi.
Some were pronounced "clean,"
and you were sent on your way.
Others were deemed "unclean"
and required treatment.
But instead of prescribing
tea tree masques and exfoliants,
the priests prescribed isolation.
If you had a particularly bad case,
you had to tear your clothes,
cover your upper lip, uncover your head,
proclaim, "Unclean! Unclean!"
and then go live outside the camp for awhile.
It’s hard not to see this treatment
as a little extreme.
Isn’t having the funny-looking rash
punishment enough?
Do you really have to make yourself
look even worse, announce your impurity,
then go live alone in the wilderness?
Well, yes, the rabbis explain.
Because this particular rash is not just a rash.
Tzara'at was the punishment
for the sin of gossip.
You say something crummy,
and the next thing you know,
you're covered in white spots
and headed on an extended solo camping trip.
Isolation is necessary,
but not for the reason you'd think.
It's not the rash that's contagious –
it's the gossip.
Fortunately, both are treatable.
So you go off for awhile,
and it's lonely, but then you're healed,
and after a purification ritual,
you can come back to your community,
and happily, there's still a nice, healthy ,
functional community to come back to.
You're back, new and improved,
with both skin and conscience clear.
And you look marvelous.