This week we have a double portion, Tazria and Metzora. They both deal with the reasons for creating boundaries of time and space, and fixes due to being tamae, ritually unsure, or tahor, ritually, pure. For many who look at these two portions, they seem confusing, unsophisticated, and sexist. These are two of my favorite parshiot for those reasons - they cause me to look harder at them to find something relevant for this time and place.
Even though we don't participate in the sacrificial cult at the Temple any longer, we do begin morning prayers with "My God, the soul You have given me is pure" and in my head I hear Debbie Friedman's z"l voice singing those words. Therefore, the questions about which I want to seek possible answers are these. What might change this soul from its state of purity? Is that what tamae and tahor are describing?
I lean toward the understanding that when humans come in contact with a particular point on the life-death continuum, they become tamae. Even doing important mitzvot, such as giving birth and burying the dead, cause one to become tamae. In order to return to tahor requires time, water, and sometimes blood. The original elements present at birth - the infant isn't considered tamae, only the mother. It seems to be a remarkable system that says, "You have just experienced something powerful or potentially life-giving or perhaps the opposite, death. Take some time to appreciate that experience, then you can return to your normal routine." Or in ritual language, you can return to being tahor.
We have constructed our lives wanting full control over our time, so we see this "time out" as a punishment, rather than permission to not do something. We like being able to fill our time with work, entertainment, family, exercise, etc. We have leisure time (even if it doesn't feel that way), so perhaps we don't appreciate the requirement to take time. But have you heard some say they need a "sick day?" Isn't that asking permission to be prohibited from working? Physical ailments may force us to take some time. Turning from the physical to the spiritual, how do we know if our souls are healthy? Maybe we all need to take some time to think about that.