|Dr Annette M. Boeckler|
This shabbat succeeds Yom HaAtzmaut last Thursday and Yom haShoah the week before: two memorial days that are commonly understood as expressions of Israel’s distinctiveness. There were other genocides in history and other nations have their independence days, too, in our shared Jewish cultural memory, however, we feel, that these two events in our own recent history have shaped our modern identity in a distinctive way. Both events made us learn that we are separated or isolated from other nations. This idea of being separate leads me to some thoughts about this week’s parasha.
It, too, is about separation. Persons afflicted with Tzara’at had to be sent outside of the camp of the Israelites. They had to shout “tame, tame” (Unclean, unclean) if they spotted somebody approaching (13:45). Tzara’at could affect people, but also things, as fabrics or leather (13:47-59) and houses (14:33-53), which then had to be set apart or stopped to be used.
A student of Leo Baeck College recently said to me - I’ve forgotten what actually had triggered this amazing statement in the middle of the library: “To make something holy, it has to be separated.” Regarding this week’s parashah I wonder: this whole parasha is about separation, but no, it is NOT about holiness. How come!? Both, being holy and having tzara’at mean to be separated, but what are the differences?
1. Tzara’at just happens. It can be observed and then needs to be checked and declared as such. Holiness, however, needs to be achieved or created by certain acts. Something becomes holy ONLY because we have MADE it to be so.
2. Both, Tzara’at and Holiness is expressed in words: those afflicted with tzara’at shout: “tame, tame” (unclean, unclean), holiness is proclaimed by: “kadosh, kadosh, kadosh” (holy, holy holy). But whereas the first is a statement about the shouters themselves, the second is said about somebody or something else. The angels in Isaiah’s vision declare the holiness of the person sitting on the throne, not their own. One can exclaim: I am unclean (tame), but not: I am holy (kadosh).
3. Tzara’at is separated by sending the afflicted person outside of the camp. Holiness, however, denotes a separated area INSIDE of the camp, as the tabernacle in the middle of the tents of the Israelites.
4. Tzara’at is contagious. People have to stay away from tzara’at to protect themselves. Holiness, however, can’t be transferred from one person or one thing to another.
Tzara’at and holiness are both descriptions about somebody or something being separate and this is the only aspect they have in common. Sometimes, however, one may get the impression, that nevertheless they can be mixed up. It happens that we Jews shout about ourselves “holy, holy”, that we understand being separate as being outsiders or that being holy is something that just happens to us. Next shabbat we will hear in our torah portion: “Strive to become holy, because I, the Eternal One your God, am holy” (Lev 19:1). Maybe this week’s parasha therefore can prevent us to misunderstand our holiness in the terms of the separateness of the tzara’at. Holiness is the opposite of tzara’at in all the four above mentioned aspects.
Dr Annette M. Boeckler is a member of KNM and lecturer at Leo Baeck College.