Metzorah is a parasha that bnei mitzvah prefer not to have to confront. Detailing not only eruptions on houses and the visible skin conditions that make contagion obvious, what is most private is also made explicit. The intimate physiology of women and men, while essential, also results in regular separation and cleansing as part of the framework that ordered our ancient world.
Immersion in the mikvah now resolves the personal and cyclical “unclean”ness, as sacrifices can no longer enact instructions that distinguish between those who are poor and those who are in a position to offer more as expiation. Quietly and discreetly managed, what is not visible to others is enshrined in a rhythm of ritual renewals. We wash, we attend to outbreaks that have the potential to spread to others, we quarantine homes that are beset with moulds (now recognised as major public health hazards), give thanks for purification and then move on.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine commenced an exodus of millions. As we anticipate retelling our Egyptian exodus, another continues. Just as bombed-out buildings across Ukraine remind us of Syria and Bosnia, their empty shells reveal complete abandonment. Concrete boxes minus windows and balconies are empty skeletons within which no visible life remains, their structures utterly contaminated. It will take much more than additional weekly inspections and quarantine to rehabilitate the many cities that hosted our people within their general population.
As we prepare for the final ritual collection of chametz, finding carefully placed piles of crumbs that are disclosed in candle-light and are swept away with a feather, the theme of cleansing is vivid far beyond our homes and our communities. The haftarah reminds us that global expiation is also a cycle of constant scrutiny and repair, if not of genuine contrition by aggressors whose flagrant eruptions contaminate lives on a grand scale.
Whenever Ukraine can rebuild, the cleansing required will be like a refiner’s fire, the smelter for precious metals, and the blaze that rages across a landscape. Only then will the task of restoration, reclamation of homes and lives commence again in Ukraine. Only after the cleansing that comes following political cycles of aggression, defence and restoration, will it be possible for “Awe of God’s name, the sun of righteousness, to arise once again with healing on its wings” (Malachi 3:20).
Rabbi Aviva Kipen serves Progressive Judaism Victoria.
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