Deeper Than the Skin

Metzora Tazria By :  Yitzhak Lewis Adjunct Assistant Professor of Hebrew Language Posted On Apr 24, 2015 / 5775 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective | Gender

“And, behold, if the appearance thereof be deeper than the skin” (Leviticus 13:30)

Your body is a map of roads
To be taken,
And not taken

Your skin enfolds what
Your eyes shut behind them,

All your past is bored into it
Every day with the awl of time.

For, you know
The flavor of death in sleep
And you shall go out by yourself,

Beneath your skin still,
As a starry desert sky
Or notes tucked in the cracks of a wall,

A vast space
Is pressed,
Clear as the sea and deeper
Than the skin.

“וְהִנֵה מַרְאֵהוּ עָמוֹק מִן הָעוֹר”
(וַיִקְרָא יג:ל)

גּוּפֵךְ מַפָה שֶׁל דְּרָכִים
שֶׁיֵשׁ לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶן,
וְאֵין לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶן

עוֹרֵךְ עוֹטֵף אֶת
שֶׁעֵינַיִיךְ סוֹגְרוֹת אַחֲרֵיהֶן,

כָּל עַבָרֵךְ נֶחֱקָק בּוֹ
כָּל יוֹם בְּמַרְצֵעַ הַזְמָן.

הִנֵה יָדַעת
טַעַם הַמָוֶות בַּשֵׁינָה
וּבְגַפֵּךְ תֵּצְאִי,

תַּחַת עוֹרֵךְ עוֹד,
כִּשְׁמֵי מִדְבָר זְרוּעִים
אוֹ פְּתָקִים בַּחַרַכֵי כּוֹתֶל,

מֶרְחָב גָּדוֹל
צָלוּל כַּיָם וְעָמוֹק
מִן הָעוֹר.


In our contemporary world, scrutinizing someone else’s body is a practice reserved for lovers and doctors. But in this week’s parashah, in the world of the tabernacle and temple, it is the priest who is instructed in all the myriad ways a body might be formed, deformed, and reformed. The detailed focus on such a mundane thing as the human body may seem odd for a man tasked with the maintenance of God’s dwelling place. It might also draw attention to gender questions as we—readers of this parashah—follow the temple official as he is introduced to the taxonomy he will perform (also) on women’s bodies.

Either way there is something uncomfortable about this image—be it of a holy priest bothering himself with such earthly matters or of an (always male) official vested with divine power to inspect and quarantine women’s bodies. The question I had in mind in writing this poem was whether we can (or should) “redeem” this image—whether a way to do that would be to reduce the priestly practices, typologies, and scrutinies to a kind of metaphor, to a synecdoche of a lover.