Ten years ago I became a bat mitzvah, and I read from M’tzora. I still give the same summary of the parashah that I gave then: it tells us how to clean lepers of leprosy, how to clean houses of mold, and clean women when they menstruate (a ritual more commonly known as the mikvah). This year, we read Tazria and M’tzora together—Tazria adds how to clean women after childbirth and begins the remarks on leprosy. People’s eyes still widen as I tell them this. “But that’s the worst one of the year!” they exclaim. I cannot disagree.
The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, along with whatever translation I read back then, emphasizes the treatment of lepers, moldy houses, menstruating women, and new mothers as ‘ritual purification.’ Certainly, as presented, that is the tie that binds these acts together. But that was never what struck me about this portion. Reading M’tzora, all I could see was exile. The lepers and the menstruating must leave their homes and molded homes must be left.