“Unclean! Unclean!” That’s what you would have had to shout out if you were struck by the leprous curse in the days of the Israelites. You would have also had to tear your clothes, grow your hair long and cover your face down to the lips. And then you would have had to leave your family and friends and go, alone, to live outside the camp. How terribly shaming and sad this must have been. The leprous curse was supposed to be the physical sign of a spiritual defect. However, the long description of how it was to be identified, the treatment and purification of the sufferer and their eventual rehabilitation under the jurisdiction of the priest, as described in Tazria and Metzora, is preceded by the law concerning the period of ritual uncleanness experienced by the mother who has just given birth. It is followed by the leprous curse affecting houses and clothes and the uncleanness of menstruation and male discharges. Surely, birth is no sign of sin, houses and clothes cannot be spiritually responsible and female and male discharges are merely natural processes.
How are we to understand all this? The marking out of what is ritually clean and unclean is part of the architecture of the physical and spiritual worlds. There is the divine and the human, the holy and the profane, the ordinary and the extraordinary, sacred space and sacred time, a space where God draws us close and a space where we strive to draw Him close. There is humanity and Israel, heaven and earth, darkness and light. It is our job to negotiate our way within or through or round these many rooms.
Well, that is just an idea, but for more ideas, prayer, song and conversation, join us this Saturday at 10:30, when Sharim Atilano will lead us along.