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Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33

This week’s a dual Torah portion contains a number of passages that definitely challenge our modern sensibilities. Many verses are devoted to tzara’at, a skin affliction that most translators define as leprosy, although no one knows exactly what it was. Parashat Tazria goes on at some length about skin diseases and the obligation to present oneself to the High Priest if so afflicted, for the High Priest, not unlike a Shaman, was also a healer. Given that skin disease is generally not a favorite topic of conversation, one way to deal with it in Torah Study is to extract from the text the more mystical teachings and avoid dealing with scaly skin afflictions and other colorful details. But even at the literal level of the narrative, there’s a fascinating passage in Parashat M’tzora that brings to light a broader understanding of the context and origin of the biblical text.

After a person has been certified healed from their scaly skin affliction, there is an elaborate process for them to be readmitted into the community. After bringing animals, flour, and oil to the Temple for sacrifice, the person undergoes a rather curious ritual in which the High Priest dips the fingers of his right hand into the blood of the sacrifice and puts it on the ridge of the right ear, right thumb, and right big toe of the recovering leper. Then the High Priest repeats the three-part ritual with oil. This peculiar encounter is described twice, back-t0-back, in this Torah portion, and our sages tell us that anytime something is repeated in Torah, you have to pay careful attention. So what was this ritual about?

I, like many others, am convinced that the Middle East and Far East were already intimately connected 2,500 years ago. Trade routes crossed through the known world from China and India, all the way to Egypt. Spiritual practices and healing techniques traveled along these routes as well. I asked some friends who are professionals in the arts of Chinese medicine what might have been known about the connections for these places on the body: ear, thumb, and big toe. The acupuncture chart for the ear reveals that its center ridge is directly related to skin diseases. The thumb is the last point of the lung energy channel. The lung and large intestine are the organs containing the metal element in the body, and the tissue ruled by metal is the skin. So skin ailments are often considered to have lung and/or large intestine involvement. The big toe’s outside corner of the nail is the spleen channel (digestion, absorption, assimilation of food/ideas/events—all related to the earth, to harvest time) and the inside corner is the liver channel (harmonization and smooth flow of energy, related to springtime, vision, and hope). All of these points are linked to energetic imbalances expressed as inflammatory responses of the skin.

What our sages understood then, and we have lost touch with since, is that we are energy bodies. The Temple Priests practiced acupressure as a form of healing 2,500 years ago because they knew our bodies are channels for the flow of Divine energy. They understood the energy lines that course through us, and saw each spiritual practice as a way to bring balance to the energy body. In fact, our sages divided the traditional 613 miztvot/commandments into two groups: 248 were connected to what they saw as the 248 organs of our bodies, and 365 were connected to what they saw as the sinews, tendons, and nerve connectors. Performing the mitzvot—as a practice to always reconnect us to Source—was not just a way to heal the world “out there,” to bring harmony into society; it was a way to heal our inner energetic world, to bring it into balance.

Perhaps the time has come to reclaim these ancient practices. Perhaps if we were to shift our vision of the embodied beings we are to more holistic, integrated, multidimensional selves, we could work through our prayers, chants, meditations, songs, and spiritual practices to bring our energy bodies into greater wholeness, greater harmony, greater shalom.