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		                                    Thinking Torah Blog		                                </span>

03/31/2022 05:00:00 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

With this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, we transition from the ordination of the priests and the bulk of the sacrificial system to skin diseases. In Hebrew, the skin disease in question, called tzara’at, is often translated as leprosy, but it was probably some type of psoriasis. It seems odd that the Torah would spend chapters discussing a skin infection that was not deadly and did not cause much harm to the infected person. For this reason, scholars and commentators have always been interested in what these chapters are truly about. Why did our ancestors care so much about this particular skin disease? In truth, it likely wasn’t about the condition at all, but rather, it was all about the skin itself. Our skin is fundamentally our border. Our skin keeps our insides inside and most of the outside outside. Borders are interesting places. They approach a place of uncertainty.

Where does one thing stop and another thing begin? Borders suggest existential questions of what one thing is and how it relates to its neighbor. When there is an issue on the border, it can affect the whole. Our American culture is just as obsessed with borders as our Israelite ancestors were. The Biden Administration seems poised to end a Trump-era rule called Title 42 used to expel asylum seekers for the last two years. Some who disagree with removing this rule claim that the coming surge of asylum seekers will be of “biblical proportions.” The metaphor of infectious outsider permeating the now porous border should not be lost on us, especially because Title 42 was a health decree to try and keep Covid out of the country, as if a country’s border could do such a thing.

Whether political or personal, borders are essential and rules around borders change over time. How have your individual border rules changed? Do you wear a mask everywhere you go? Do you sanitize your hands more regularly today than two years ago? Our borders and how we navigate them are worth thinking about; our ancestors knew this thousands of years ago.

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784