IF CLOTHES COULD ONLY TALK.
This week’s double sidra has a focus on leprosy. Whatever the medical definition of the leprosy of the Bible, it is a kind of disease that shows itself in not just the person’s body but their clothes (Lev. 13:47).
Centuries of commentators raised the logical question: Why blame the clothes? What has the person’s clothing done that it should be described as leprous?
There is a scientific answer but there is also a sociological one. You can identify a person’s character and situation by looking at their environment. The Biblical way of thinking is certain that the packaging reveals the contents.
It’s not just a matter of what money they spend on their clothes or whether the garments are stylish. From the clothing you discover whether the person is tidy, organised, self-respecting and dignified.
If clothes could only talk they would have a lot to say.
A DIFFERENT NAME
Parashat M’tzora (“The Leper”) is not the only or the original name of this week’s reading. Saadia Gaon, Rashi, the Rambam – all had a tradition that this sidra should be called “Zot Tihyeh” (“This Shall Be”).
The change in name might have something to do with the general principle that the weekly reading is named after its first important word. Hence Parashat Sh’mot is not called “V’Eileh” (“And These Are””) because that is a less important Hebrew word than “Sh’mot” (“Names”).
In our case, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe tells us, there must have been a feeling that a name like “M’tzora” would have been too unpleasant in its connotations. Why then use the name “This Shall Be”? Perhaps because we want to convey a sense of hope and faith. The leper is marked by a terrible affliction – as things are at the moment. But there will come a time (“This Shall Be”) when humanity will be free of affliction, ailments and suffering.
It’s hard to imagine it, but human civilisation will get there. The Torah commands us to support the physician in going further, taking medicine to new frontiers and, God willing, the time when illness will be over will be part of the messianic fulfilment.
IS CIRCUMCISION UNFAIR TO THE CHILD?
8th-day circumcision figures in this week’s sidra (Lev. 12:3), though the mitzvah begins in B’reshit (17:11-12). Throughout the centuries Jews maintained the practice.
History does not seem to record objections to circumcision until our own day, when parents occasionally say, “Why impose this on a child when he can’t consent to it?” If such parents knew the Bible, they might quote what Reuben said to his brothers when they were working out what to do with Joseph, “Do not sin against the child” (Gen. 42:22).
It seems a fair argument until we realise that we also don’t ask our children if they want to be born, if they want us as their parents, if they want the heredity or the environment with which we saddle them, if they want to be male or female, or so much else. The way life works is that many great decisions are made for us.
As far as Jews are concerned, though we do not ask to be born Jewish we discover that it is a blessing; Albert Einstein said, “I am sorry I was born Jewish… because it deprived me of the opportunity to choose to be a Jew!” Nor do we ask to be born into a world where the Lord is God, but we discover that it gives our life meaning and challenge.
When we decide to circumcise our child, we not only hearken to the word of God and endow the child with a mark of Jewish identity; we also symbolise our hope that his manhood will be disciplined and bring him dignity.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.