Featured Post

Faking it

When we surpass our own internal glass ceilings, we discover new, untold potential (Metzora)
Illustrative: Sheep feed on carnations, April 26, 2013. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Illustrative: Sheep feed on carnations, April 26, 2013. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Faking it. A “vague sense of dislocation,” a “recognition of a split” between our “true selves” and the roles we play. You know what I’m talking about.

Faking it[1]. It’s a human inclination, for better or for worse, and when it comes to the commandment of being happy on festivals (“You shall rejoice in your festival…you shall be that happy,”[2]…וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ וְהָיִיתָ אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ), the injunction can smart. I mean, really, do you enjoy faking it?

For those who adhere to authenticity and the very same joy that external and internal synchrony can bring to integrity of being, Pesach — or even the canter from Purim to Pesach — is an interesting time.

Pesach invites us to bring our inside to the fore. Where Purim allowed us to conceive of the masks we wear or want to wear or want to shed, Pesach permits us — facilitates us — in giving birth to our inside experience, creating ourselves anew. Pesach takes “faking it” to a whole new generative level.

This Shabbat, experiencing Parshat Metzora, combined with Shabbat HaGadol, the shabbat before Pesach, offers us a perspective on this inside/outside interplay and readies us to delve into this form of recreation.

Inside/Outside — The Mobius Strip of our Being

Down the road in Jerusalem lies a small field where the wildflowers now bloom, children frolic and you can catch a rare whiff of the pastoral. Adjacent is an old leper hospital[3], which only stopped taking leprous inpatients in 2000 and outpatients a mere decade ago. While this leprosy is not the tzaraat of the Torah — a misapplication of biblical knowledge by Septuagint translators onto a newly discovered foreign disease — it was affliction enough to garner the wariness (and goodwill) of the neighborhood.

This tzaraat of Parshat Metzora (and the preceding parsha, Tazria) is a whiteish skin affliction. This external affliction is interpreted as having been brought on by internal, clandestine malefaction — gossip, casting aspersions on others and the like[4]. So too, clothing or the walls of a house may have tzaraat and be manifestant of the owner’s spiritual state. The white blight, if confirmed as the real thing, distances the individual from the community, taking the external blip as a sign of internal instability.

In one sense, the suspicion of tzaraat is an invitation for leaders to have their fingers on the communal pulse. The kohen (priest), whose domain is within the walls of the Beit Hamikdash (Temple), is required to walk the streets of the Jewish people to come to the suspected metzora’s home and examine the individual. Tzaraat not only rescues people from their “faking it” ways by showing the color of their insides and offering them a path out of their behavior, it also brings the leaders closer to the people in the time of wavering and distress. (If Adar and Pesach are parallels with Elul and Sukkot, then the maxim of “the King is in the field”[5] of Elul is all the more pertinent in looking at this function of the kohen  we hear about pre-Pesach.)

Furthermore, the very name given to this shabbat, Shabbat HaGadol, “the Preeminent Shabbat,” contains within it connections to the inside/outside relationship. The title alludes, according to the Tur, 13-14th century halachic codifier and commentator, to the miracle God performed for the Israelites in protecting them from the pietistic wrath of the Egyptian people. The Israelites had taken the Egyptian’s religious mascot, the lamb, into their homes, yet when the Egyptians forbade this disrespecting people from abiding in their country, the Israelites were not harmed during their deliberate stay beyond their welcome.

This confluence of the outside threat with the security provided internally is seen strangely in how these lambs, imbued with the directed reverence of the Egyptian people, were consumed by the Israelites. These paschal lambs were eaten only inside the walls of the people’s houses so that a double corporealization and transformation took place — of the semiotic power of the lamb, taken inside the homes of the Jews, and inside their bodies.

As a prelude to the Israelites’ exodus from all they have ever known, going outside the expectations of anything normal, this internalization of otherness is striking. Perhaps, as with aiming for any authenticity, dissolution from tethering shackles can only occur after connection and resolution. Perhaps, in order to find springtime freshness, there really needs to be this burrowing into the foundation of ourselves, before any shoots can germinate.

At this advent to Pesach, through Parshat Metzora, through Shabbat HaGadol, we are given an opportunity to examine the ever twisting and turning Mobius strip of our being. Our soul’s encoding scripts what is inside and outside and switches indiscernibly between them both. Now we get to see them both: faking it suddenly becomes that much harder.

Birth

Pesach is the anniversary of the birth of a nation, bursting feet-first out the birth canal of its creation, crying out in song to its Creator. So too, the woman who has given birth is commanded[6] to bring a sacrifice to the Temple, to atone (וְכִפֶּר עָלֶיהָ), of a sheep and a bird or, if impecunious, two birds. Childbirth seems to be the ultimate experience of bringing something internal, clandestine and private to the outside, communal sphere, so it is curious that we might have to atone for such an act.

Childbirth is the closest we can ever get to the Mobius Strip image of synchronicity between inside and outside. The outside facilitation of an inside life, which is then thrust outside and nurtured by the being it was once inside — the seams of distinction are at once so blunt and so blurred that is no room for faking it. Ultimately, in the mortal world, life cannot be given without taking energy from the nurturer: the sacrifice acknowledges that it is only through God that we live. As the Pesach seder prompts us — “through your blood, live!”[7] The juxtaposition of the new mother’s experience with that of the metzora is telling.

Limits of ourselves

In preparation for Pesach, as with any challenge, we often find the limits of ourselves and overstep them! On Pesach itself, we are given the opportunity to explode those limitations and this Shabbat is a precursor to that.

Over Pesach, we retell the experience of Kriyat Yam Suf, the splitting of the sea, that enabled the Israelites’ escape. This breaking of the birth waters, facilitating an incipient exit of an embryonic self, is, at springtime, an opportunity to bring forth a new part of ourselves. Already now, pre-Pesach, on Shabbat HaGadol, we look ahead to the place of being able to clothe our bodies and souls in the waters of immersion, which will themselves separate in generous provision of space for us to birth ourselves.

The nature of Yam Suf (the Sea of Reeds, nowadays, the Red Sea) is the containment of finitude (suf, “reeds” as a reading of sof, “limit,” “end”). By immersing ourselves in the depths of our own limits and then tearing apart these limitations, we generate fresh possibilities for ourselves, of how we see ourselves, of our cohesion between inside and outside and the uneasiness of “faking it.” Perhaps the split in the waters can cohere any distance between the “faking self” and the “inside self.”

As a birthing mother may attest, and as the metzora or any person approaching a challenge has witnessed, there are doubts and fears and a recognition that bringing the inside to the out is not easy; it is often very dangerous. I wish us all an easy, safe time of it and true, integrated happiness over the holiday.

[1] Faking It, William Ian Miller, 2003. p.10

[2] Deuteronomy 16.14-15. In reference to Sukkot here, though generalized to include Pesach and Shavuot.

[3] https://hansen.co.il/en/story/

[4] T. Bavli, Arachin 16a

[5] Likutei Torah, Re’eh 32.2

[6] Leviticus 12.6-8

[7] Ezekiel 16.6

About the Author
Tikva Blaukopf Schein lives in Jerusalem, where she runs Torah-poetry slams, teaches, and learns. She is enaged in doctoral research at Bar Ilan University on laughter. Her BA is from Oxford University in Classical and Oriental Studies.
Related Topics
Related Posts
Comments