Nobody likes Tazria Metzora. It’s all about dead animals and dead skin, eruptions and discolorations. It’s not a pretty parasha. There’s this hard-to-fathom concept of being unclean and malignant eruptions that a priest has to come and observe, and then proscribe how to get rid of such uncleanliness. It doesn’t sit right with our sensibilities and sensitivities.
The text makes a distinction (and Leviticus, as noted previously is all about distinctions) between being “touched” by a demon and being cursed, and being in an impure state. That is, people in Leviticus are described as “tamei” (tough translation, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s call it impure), but they’re not contagious, or haven’t been invaded by evil spirits. They are merely in an impure state, and there are ways to change status to “tahor” (pure). It usually involves the priest identifying the problem, and telling the individual to go outside the camp, wash bodies and clothes, and stay separate for a while. The actual core of the person, their soul, their essence, isn’t forever contaminated. They’ve just entered a state of tamei, and they can come back from that, back into the camp. It’s not a fatal diagnosis, and it doesn’t have anything to do with what kind of person s/he is. You can be a really good guy, and still go through periods of “tamei-ness”; you just have to come out of it.
Souls are not tamei or tahor, but psychological or emotional states certainly are, even if the body is healthy. We can go around with a tainted perspective, a foul mood, an impure psychological state of mind. How does Tazria/Metzora speak to us in that way?
Well, I guess (and yes, it’s me, because I’m in a particularly irritated state of mind as I write this) it’s good to know that I don’t have to live in this mind-state. We’ve all been there, the typical bad mood vs. true psychological or emotional instability. That’s something completely different. But for the regular old “I’m irritated and annoyed and I’m walking around with a frown”, we can do the equivalent of the priestly RX: take a shower, change clothes and be alone for a while till we cool down. It’s good to know, that, like the physical balance swing between tamei and tahor, the normal psychological swing doesn’t reflect who we are essentially, either. We can be in a tamei state of mind, and then become tahor again. Instead of priests, we have therapists who will guide us back to health. Or really good friends, who bring wine.
Hmm. Wonder why the priests didn’t think of that?