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Torah Sparks

April 5, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Lev. 12:1 - 13:59 (Hertz, p. 460; Etz Hayim, p. 649)
Triennial Cycle II: Lev. 13:29 – 13:59 (Hertz, p. 463; Etz Hayim, p. 655)
Haftarah: II Kings 4:42 – 5:19 (Hertz, p. 466; Etz Hayim, p. 671)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(12:1-8) The laws governing a woman's state of ritual impurity after childbirth.

(13:1-59) Laws concerning tzara'at, the severe skin disease resembling leprosy. If judged by the priest to have this affliction, the person was declared unclean and kept quarantined.

Discussion Theme: Taking The Initiative

“As for the person with a leprous affection, his clothes shall be rent, his head shall be left bare, and he shall uncover his upper lip; and he shall call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall be unclean as long as the disease is on him. Being unclean, he shall dwell apart; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Lev. 13:45-46)


  1. The sufferer must warn all that approach that he is impure so that they stay away from him lest they become contaminated. (Rashi on Lev. 13:45)
  2. From the fact that the leper shouts “Unclean!” it teaches th at one must inform others of his anguish so that they may pray on his behalf. (Talmud Moed Katan 5a)
  3. An early teaching: Where is the allusion that the requirement to mark burial sites is a Torah-based requirement? Rabbi Abahu said: From the fact that the leper shouts “Unclean! Unclean!” The impurity shouts out: “Stay away!” (Moed Katan 5a)
  4. The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the Children of Israel and let them journey forth! And you—lift up your staff and stretch out your arm over the sea and split it; and the Children of Israel shall come into the midst of the sea on dry land...” (Exodus 14:15)
  5. Moses, too, was praying, and God told him, “Now, when Israel is in distress, is no time for lengthy prayer.” (Rashi on Ex. 14:15)
  6. If you try to do what you can, God will help you do what you cannot. (Bachya ibn Pakuda)
  7. The relationship between the family and Jewish institutions is like a seesaw. The two parties on the seesaw agree to be partners. It works best if the parties are of equal weight. It works best if they agree to collaborate. So, too, family education works best if we get both the family and the institution on the seesaw. Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking. We taught each generation to send their children to a Jewish school. Now we have reached the limit of efficacy of sending our kids to be educated. We need a new model. (Vicky Kelman, The Whizin Institute)
  8. You claim that you want a spiritual leader. Are you prepared to let than individual guide you? I understand that you want a teacher. Are you prepared to study? You indicate that you want someone who will stimulate your children. Are you prepared to bring them to the synagogue? You ask me to inspire you in prayer. Are you prepared to pray? You note that you want your spiritual leader to stimulate the synagogue to grow in its ability to affect people’s lives. You want the synagogue to touch people in times of joy and sadness. Are you prepared to join us in that effort? (Rabbi Jerome Epstein, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism)

Sparks for Reflection/Discussion

Despite the leper’s status as victim, the leper is obligated to let the community know that he is impure. He must take some initiative. The family of the deceased is obligated to inform the community, by virtue of a gravestone, where the deceased is buried so that kohanim do not mistakenly tread in a forbidden area.

Again, initiative must be taken; one cannot simply be passive and consider one’s duties fulfilled. Similarly, Moses is told that in a time of need, he, too, must act and not simply rely on God to rescue the people.

By extension, Vicky Kelman argues that education requires more than simply outstanding teachers and schools but an involved family. “Drop-off Judaism”, Judaism whereby parents drop off their child at synagogue and do not, themselves, enter with their child, becomes drop-out Judaism.

How do we convey to the Jewish community that spirituality requires initiative; it doesn’t just happen. If Jews want to be spiritually moved by the beautiful voice of the cantor, they must come to synagogue; if they want to be inspired by the lessons of our tradition, they must take the initiative and attend study sessions; if they want their children to have a relationship to the rabbi, they must bring their child to the synagogue; if they want the synagogue community “to be there” for them in times of need, they must be “there” for others as well.

How do Jewish congregations worldwide fair vis-à-vis this type of initiative?

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