Identifying the Best Versions of Ourselves: Ellie's Reflections on Parashat Tazria

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Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Ellie Goldstein, who will be Rosh Kochavim A (entering 4th grade) and Rosh Halutzim (entering 6th grade) this summer. Ellie spent three summers at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin as a camper and two summers as a madricha (counselor). She will be graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in May and will attend a graduate program in public health in the fall.

Identifying the Best Versions of Ourselves: Reflections on Parashat Tazria
by Ellie Goldstein

This week’s parashah, Tazria, centers on the rituals of purification after childbirth and the methods for diagnosis and treatment of a variety of skin conditions, specifically tzara’at (leprosy). In the classical sources, conditions of the skin are often interpreted as a punishment for gossip or slander, lashon hara [literally: the evil tongue]. The priests are tasked with examining an individual with the symptoms of tzara’at, isolating the individual for a period of seven days, and pronouncing him clean or unclean dependent on if the symptoms have faded or remained. The following verse describes the requirements for an individual with tzara’at

וְהַצָּר֜וּעַ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֣וֹ הַנֶּ֗גַע בְּגָדָ֞יו יִהְי֤וּ פְרֻמִים֙ וְרֹאשׁוֹ֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה פָר֔וּעַ וְעַל־שָׂפָ֖ם יַעְטֶ֑ה וְטָמֵ֥א ׀ טָמֵ֖א יִקְרָֽא׃

As for the person with a leprous affection, his clothes shall be rent, his head shall be left bare, and he shall cover over his upper lip; and he shall call out, “Unclean! Unclean!”  (Leviticus 13:45)

Individuals must label themselves as “unclean” as a result of the disease and live in an area isolated from everyone – even others afflicted with tzara’at. We can read this purely from a medical standpoint. The individual should be isolated so as to avoid spreading the disease to others. However, this can also be read as further punishment for the original sin, lashon hara.

This raises an interesting question. If the individual parades around shouting “Unclean! Unclean!” won’t others begin to speak negatively about the afflicted individual? Is this punishment then counterproductive?

Tzara’at serves as a visual, visceral reminder of the shortcomings of an individual. Think about a time in which you participated in lashon hara. Now, imagine that you developed a physical condition as a result of this action. Would that force you to rethink your actions?

We are often quick to judge the actions of others, even if we participate in those actions ourselves. How can we force ourselves to come to terms with this fact and “cleanse” our actions? A space, physical or spiritual, that allowed individuals to identify the best version of themselves could be the answer. What if that place existed in northern Wisconsin?

Camp serves as a place for self-improvement in an isolated environment. First, we are fenced in by the Northwoods and at a distance from the larger community – an example of physical isolation. Second, we leave our phones and other pieces of technology at home, allowing us to interact fully with the people in our cabin and eidah. These two elements allow us to live in the moment for the duration of the summer.

Camp fosters the best version of ourselves. We spend time outdoors participating in a wide variety of activities, some of which may be new to us. We engage in activities that allow us to step outside of our comfort zone – in the cabin, on a camping trip or performing in the eidah musical. We reflect spiritually through Friday night services by the lake and daily tefillah [prayer] as an eidah [group]. We interact with people who are different from the people that we surround ourselves with during the school year.

I challenge you, in the few weeks before camp, to identify the best version of yourself and to think about ways to find that you this summer.