Cedar and hyssop provide some culinary opportunities as well as discussion possibilities for this week’s Torah reading.
Tzara’at (often translated as leprosy), the physical manifestation of spiritual disease, does not make for very appetizing menu planning. Between last week’s and this week’s descriptions of the lesions afflicting the metzora (person suffering from tzara’at), it’s as if we’ve enrolled in a crash course on bizarre dermatological conditions. Nonetheless, I am back on track trying to figure out how to transform the parashah into a Shabbat meal. According to the text of the parashah, the metzora must bring an offering to the mishkan after he or she is cleansed from the condition. The offering includes animals (which type is determined by one’s economic status), scarlet wool, cedar wood and hyssop. Traditionally, tzara’at afflicts those who have spoken lashon harah. The Midrash uses this rationale to explain the various components of the offering:
[Why must the metzora bring cedar wood as part of a purification sacrifice?] Because the metzora became haughty like a cedar tree, the metzora was afflicted with tzara’at…. [And why hyssop?] Because among all the trees none is lowlier than the hyssop, and since the metzora has become lowly he or she will be cured by the use of the hyssop.
MIDRASH TANHUMA METZORA 3
Luckily, cedar and hyssop provide some culinary opportunities as well as discussion possibilities. I will get cedar chips and do some grilling for Shabbat. As for the hyssop, much of our menu will be seasoned with Za’atar, made of hyssop. We like Za’atar sprinkled on chummus, baked into foccacia (I may just do a “garlic bread” with za’atar—no baking as it is erev Pesach), and on our chicken. I will set the table with pictures of cedar and hyssop and ask the kids what the differences are between the two. Hoepfully, the visuals will help get us into a discussion that leads into the above-cited Midrash. We will also talk about lashon harah and brainstorm great discussion topics that steer away from gossip and negative speech.