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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Blood on Her Wings


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 due to 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 whether a person can return to camp or whether 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. Truly, the parshiyot read like how I would imagine a medical textbook would appear.


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 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 concept of sacrifice is so foreign to me, that it is difficult to comprehend any sacrifice, whether it be of grain, lambs, sheep or birds. This is anathema to us in this day and age and I have a hard time finding the sense inherent in the concept, 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.


Please see the links to other poems written on Tazria/Metzora at the end of this post.


I will also direct you to a podcast that I listened to on this topic (see below). In light of the person who was interviewed in this podcast, who is a member of my own community, I would like to dedicate this post to the memory of his beloved son, Samuel M. Fisher, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 24, just a few years ago.


May Sammy's memory always be for a blessing.


Kol Tuv,

Leann



 

The bird has blood on her wings.


She tries            to

fly.

She flaps her small

wings

and

blood            spatters.

Tiny red drops

accepted

hesitantly

by the earth

below;

an offering of blood

donated

kindly, not voluntarily

by

the second

small bird,

chosen for his perfection.


Startled,

she stumbles and

collapses

under the sticky

weight

of sweet

blood.

The small bird,

almost weightless,

dazed;

her tiny brain

not aware

that she

carries

the weight of gossip

embroidered

on her wings.


Criticisms,

Slanders,

Lies

weave themselves

Into the spaces

between

her softly spined

feathers.


Red blood

slowly

dries;

brown as dirt.


But, look!


See!


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

words

is mixed with

the dust of the earth

below.


Small wings flutter.

The air hums.

Dust

escorts her

as she flies

away

from

this world

where words

are our commerce

and our downfall.


She flies upward

where there are no words,


Only wind.

Only clouds.

Only sun.



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. Leviticus 14:5-7 (Translation from Sefaria)


***************





This poem was inspired by a recording of a Harvard Hillel discussion three years ago on the parsha Tazria/Metzora. It was led by Dr. Jonah Steinberg and the guests were Dr. David Fisher and Ellie Zisblatt. As a recording made during COVID, there is a bittersweet quality to the show, but it was fascinating. A quote at the end by Dr. Steinberg is what inspired me to write about the bloodied bird.





 

Other posts on Tazria Metzora





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