Parshat Metzora 5779: #justiceforglitter

Last week I got to fulfill a childhood dream. As I entered the Wang theater downtown, my heart was racing. The beautiful interiors glimmered, and as I looked around I saw people of all ages and genders. Many of them wearing various shades of pink. We were there to see the one and only Mariah Carey. Famous for her notes so high only dogs can hear them, Mariah’s music and her unabashed femininity spoke to my neshama, and I’m sure some of your neshamas, as a tween in a big way. For my pre-bat mitzvah photoshoot, when I was instructed to bring along something that showed what I love and who I am, I knew exactly what to bring. My friends had pictures of themselves with soccer balls, or an instrument of some sort, but all I needed was a fully pink outfit, microphone, and CD. I still remember so vividly the moment I realized, microphone in hand, that I was not going to be able to lip synch to Mariah as freely in front of this photographer as I had in my bedroom with the door closed. All of that is to say, I loved--and love--Mariah. Last week, waiting for her to arrive on stage, almost 20 years after my bat mitzvah photo shoot was magical. As the lights dimmed and the music started playing, as if in preparation to receive the shabbos bride, everyone stood up. Mariah emerged in her glittery silver halter top dress. She sang all the classics, delivered those high pitched notes, we danced, it was amazing.

As we were leaving the theater, exhilarated from an amazing performance, we passed the merch table, and I noticed something peculiar. Alongside Mariah swag and her new album were shirts and bags and stickers with the hashtag #justiceforglitter. Justice for glitter is a campaign started by Mariah’s fans to save her reputation, after her 2001 film “Glitter” was voted one of the worst movies of all time. Not only did it get a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, The Village Voice called it “Infinitely mockable.” The Chicago Tribune: “A vehicle that tarnishes as you watch it, leaving this troubled chart-topper lost in a sea of drunken, maudlin cliches.” Fans were worried, rightfully so, that this movie would be the end of Mariah’s long and vibrant career. So, they started a campaign to bring #justiceforglitter.

In this week’s parsha, Metzora, we find ourselves smack in the middle of the book of Vayikra which deals with the laws of the Temple, sacrifices, and various afflictions of skin, body, and home and their spiritual remedies. Through these seemingly strange parshiot we see a word over and over again that is commonly misunderstood: tahor, usually translated as pure. As we know, every translation is a commentary in itself. When we translate tahor as pure or clean, we do two things: without the temple, we make it irrelevant to our lives today, and secondly, we add on a level of judgement that need not be there. I was very excited to find out, thanks to my teacher Laynie Solomon at SVARA, that when you take a closer look at the root tet, hey, resh in the dictionary you’ll notice that, in addition to pure it can also mean...wait for it… glitter.

This past Wednesday here at Nehar Shalom we completed the 6th and final week of our Talmud as Spiritual Practice Beit Midrash. In our sugya, from Eruvin 13b, we learn about Rebbe Meir. The Talmud starts by saying that it is known before the one who spoke the world into being (AKA G!d) how special and unique Rebbe Meir was. “So then, why did we not establish halacha like him?” The Talmud asks. Because, on the tahor, on the glittery, he could declare tamei, not glittery, and on the tamei he could declare tahor. And for each of them, it says, he could mareh lo panim, show for it faces or aspects. Meaning that, Rebbe Meir was such a radical character because he could hold the complexity and multifaceted nature of every situation, knowing that it’s never as simple as tahor or tamei, and that usually (if not always) thing carry aspects of both.

I guess this is my personal #justiceforglitter campaign, which has nothing (or everything) to do with Mariah Carey. If we read any of the number of things in the Torah deemed “impure” with this translation of it’s opposite, tahor, in mind, we understand it differently.  And these parshiot in Leviticus might feel a little less judgmental and distant.

The actual #justiceforglitter campaign worked, by the way. Through a lot of devotion and hard work, Mariah’s fans got the album for the movie rated #1 on iTunes, 17 years after its release. If Mariah’s fans can do that for Glitter, than I think as fans of the Torah, we can too.

In a world absent of priestly rituals, we are considered to be in the deepest levels of tamei/unglittery that there ever was. If we look through the lens of Rebbe Meir, then we can see that even within that there are aspects that are glittery. As we look in ourselves and in the world, may we be blessed to find the aspects of glitter that are difficult to see.