A Stiff Upper Lip: Tazria-Metzora 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you react when you feel embarrassed in public? Do you try to go somewhere private as quickly as possible? Do you try to laugh at yourself? Or do you try to ignore or forget what caused you embarrassment?

Our two portions this week explore what happens when people are afflicted with a potentially embarrassing skin ailment:

The Pitch: “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

Swing #1: “Nobody likes to talk about such things as skin disease and blotchy skin – and yet the Torah includes this topic and devotes two full portions to it. Precisely because we find these things difficult to discuss, synagogues should provide opportunities to discuss them and to learn more about them – for the sake of our our lives. … Synagogues need to get involved in teaching and promoting the mitzvah of health care. For if our bodies are not well, then our souls cannot be well either.” –  Rabbi Jack Riemer, “Take Care of Yourself!”, from The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary, edited by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

Swing #2: “‘He shall cover over his upper lip’ – this means that he is to keep his mouth covered so that his breath does not offend anyone around him as it contains bacteria harmful to others.” – Rosh

Swing #3: “He informs that he [the one with tzara’at – not the other people in the vicinity] is impure, and they keep away from him.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: Which one of our commentators’ comments seems most useful to combat an embarrassing moment? Should a person with tzara’at have even felt embarrassed in the first place? What can we do to lessen other people’s embarrassment? Is it sometimes better to speak openly about embarrassing things so that they become more normal, and thus less embarrassing?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are so grateful to everyone who worked to make last Saturday’s gala a tremendous success. It was wonderful to link our congregation’s anniversary with someone as giving and decent as Anita Zucker. Thank you to everyone who was a part of it.

The Big Inning at the End: The many cancelled games in the season so far reminds should reinforce to baseball’s owners that every new stadium needs to have a retractable roof. Fans pay too much money for games that may or may not take place.

Shabbat Shalom!