"How are you?" asks an old friend. "Great!" you respond. "Fantastic, wonderful. Flourishing!" You smile, your old friend smiles, and you both move on. However, you think to yourself, things are more complicated than that, in all sorts of ways. In fact, are you right to be so cheerful?

According to Jewish teaching, yes. Of course there are times to confide one's problems to a friend, times to get help, and certainly there is a need to be aware of what is happening in one's life and to take firm action to deal with dangerous and otherwise negative situations. Yet at the same time, we can truthfully say, whatever the situation, that we are flourishing.

"Really?" you might ask. "Whatever the situation? What about if...? Come, on, be rational."

Our double Torah reading (this week, the Torah reading is comprised of two parshahs: Tazria, Leviticus 12-13; and Metzora, Leviticus 14-15) gives us a hint of this idea, as explained by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.1

The name of the first section, Tazria, means "conceive, give seed." It denotes fertility and childbirth. The opening passage is in fact about a woman giving birth to a child, and about the offering she brings to the Temple, expressing thanksgiving to G‑d.

The rest of the parshah, however, concerns a person who is afflicted with tzaraat, a condition generally translated as "leprosy." The main symptom is that a patch of their skin goes white, and on account of this the person may have to dwell outside the city. At first sight this is something negative in the extreme. Nonetheless, the name of the parshah which is mostly devoted to this topic is Tazria, denoting fertility, flourishing health, goodness.

There is a tradition that the name of each portion in the Torah is itself part of the teaching which the Torah imparts to us. Although we may not realize this at the time, the negative condition of tzaraat will lead to something good. It is part of the process of giving birth, of spiritual progress.

There are a number of ways in which our Sages express this idea. Maimonides2 tells us that the affliction known as tzaraat, which only existed in Temple times, was in fact a wondrous sign from G‑d. It warned the person that he was doing something wrong, namely speaking negatively about others. The sign came in stages: first an affliction of one's house, then of one's clothes (both described in the second parshah) and finally of one's own body. The afflicted person dwelt outside the city in order to think over his attitude to other people and to repent. Then the condition healed and he returned to normal life. The fact that G‑d showed him directly that he was doing wrong was actually a mark of his closeness to G‑d and the presence of the Divine among the Jewish people. It forced the person to face himself and take stock of his situation, and to improve and put things right. The negative was the start of something positive, a mark of growth and progress.

According to the Rebbe, from a spiritual point of view, every situation for each individual, and also for the Jewish people as a whole, is a step toward something good. From an ordinary perspective, it may seem obviously good, or it may seem very difficult and problematic. Inwardly it is all good: flourishing!