Leann Shamash
Author of the blog Words Have Wings

Blood on her wings

Blood on Her Wings- Photo by Leann Shamash

This week we will read two highly unusual parshiyot, Tazria and Metzora. Tazria describes in details an affliction that can attack humans, clothing or homes and the rabbis teach that it is perhaps a result misuse of language in the community. This condition, called Tzaraat, which is so difficult to define that people cannot find an adequate translation for it,  forces people to leave the camp when they are afflicted. The priests act as observers and dictate when a person can return to camp or when houses need to be destroyed due to the severity of the condition. The Parshiyot also describes different bodily emissions and what occurs to an individual after childbirth or a nocturnal emission. 

Parshat Metzora, which follows Parshat Tazria, describes the sacrifices and ceremonies that the priest performs at the end of a period of person’s separation from the camp. In Perek 1Yud-dalet (14) it describes the unusual ceremony of two birds, one of whom is slaughtered over fresh water and then the second bird is dipped in its blood and set free.

“The priest shall order one of the birds slaughtered over fresh water in an earthen vessel; and he shall take the live bird, along with the cedar wood, the crimson stuff, and the hyssop, and dip them together with the live bird in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the fresh water. He shall then sprinkle it seven times on the one to be purified of the eruption and effect the purification; and he shall set the live bird free in the open country.”

Vayikra 14:4-6 (Translation from Sefaria)

The concept of animal and bird sacrifice is difficult in this day and age to comprehend,  but I can form an image of this small bird that carries the weight of our words on her wings. Hence, we get to this poem, which is about the small freed bird, who is heavy with blood.

The bird has blood on her wings.

She tries            to

She flaps her small

blood            spatters.

Tiny      red      drops

       by     the    earth

an offering of blood


kindly,      not voluntarily

           the second
           small bird,

chosen for his perfection.


the bird stumbles      and


under    the       sticky

          of sweet
        The small bird,

almost                  weightless,

              is   dazed;
           her tiny brain
             not aware
               that she
the        weight of       gossip
           on her wings.
      weave           themselves
   Into        the              spaces
          her softly spined
         Red               blood
        as      brown    as      dirt.
                  But, look!
       She rolls herself in dust.
           Moving furiously,
             ridding herself
              of the stench
                of blood;
             of the words

        that weigh her down.

              She is free!
         The blood is gone.
      The grime of worthless
    is         mixed            with

the dust       of           the earth

         Small wings flutter.

            The air hums.

            escorts her
             as she flies
             this world
          where words
        are our commerce
         and our downfall.
         She flies upward
   where there are no words,
             Only wind.
           Only clouds.
            Only sun.
About the Author
After a career in Jewish education, Leann Shamash is the author of the blog Words Have Wings, which addresses the parsha of the week through poetry.
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