Monday, April 04, 2011

Skin Diseases of Antiquity

Every week Jews around the world read from the Torah, better known to many as the Pentateuch. At the age of 13 Jews stand before their congregation read a portion of the Torah and give a little lesson about it. The lesson usually is part interpretation and part about how this portion will inspire them to further their Jewish study and commitment. Then they never come to synagogue again (just kidding, sort of…)

Different cultures have different rituals for bringing young people into adulthood. In many societies young men have to hunt or fight or something else physical. For Jews, we have to prove that we can read, do so in public, and show that we understood what we were reading. It is an open question which path is more frightening. I wouldn’t want to face a dangerous animal in combat, but trust me you don’t want to read and speak in front of my great uncle Moishe. As a mechanism for cultural survival, public reading would seem to be at a disadvantage to hunting. But Jews are still around and you don’t run into many Hittites or Assyrians these days (has Ninevah risen?)

Some Torah portions are pretty good and easy to talk about, like the parting of the Red Sea, Cain and Abel, or anything with Jacob! Others can be a little tough, like the extensive instruction about how to construct the Tabernacle (which doesn’t seem to have a lot of contemporary relevance since we don’t wonder around the desert anymore.) Sometimes our G-d is a harsh judge and sometimes our G-d is an extremely demanding interior decorator.
My own portion, about a century ago was the story of Balaam, which was kind of awesome since it features a talking donkey. There is another word for donkey and I made sure I used it before the congregation while giving my lesson.

This past Shabbat we read the portion Tazria. It is about leprosy and skin disease. It gets quite specific, describing different kinds of rashes, eruptions etc. Depending on the color, sometimes a priest needs to be called. Not the easiest stuff to discuss, especially in front of your aunts, uncles, and grandparents. But that is not the end of it. Classical interpretations of this portion conclude that it was not the disease leprosy, but a dermatological outbreak brought on by impure thoughts.

A skin condition brought on by impure thoughts, just the kind of lesson a teenager needs.

I think GoofGirl might get this portion – by then I’ll want something that gives her some second thoughts.


Kol Ra'ash Gadol said...

If you really liked saying the other word for donkey, it's too bad you didn't get to expound on the talkies commentary on balsam. Bet you didn't know that he had a very affectionate relationship with his transportation.
And people think the rabbis are boring....

Father Goof said...

I thought of you as I was writing this entry!

Most people do think that most rabbis are boring - they just don't know that right rabbis!

I am always interested in stories about Balaam - I don't think I got that Torah portion by accident.

Kol Ra'ash Gadol said...

By the way my autocorrect made "Talmud" into "talkies" - weird!