Weekly Sidra: Tazria-Metzora (Conceived-Leper)
Torah Portion: Vayikra / Leviticus 12:1-15:33
Haftorah: Melachim Bet / II Kings 7:3-7:20
There were four men, lepers, outside the gate. They said to one another, "Why should we sit here waiting for death? If we decide to go into the town, what with the famine in the town, we shall die there; and if we just sit here, still we die. Come, let us desert to the Aramean camp. If they let us live, we shall live; and if they put us to death, we shall but die." (Malachim Bet 7:3-4)
This week we read two Parashiyot. One is Tazria meaning she conceives and Metzora which deals with a skin affliction. This is usually, but incorrectly translated as leprosy.
It is interesting that the first Parashat deals with the ritual of birth and the second one is about a person who is afflicted and the ritual concerning how to deal with them. In Tazria the woman gives birth and becomes unclean. Parashat Metzora deals with the purification of a person with a skin disease.
The Haftarah portion also deals with four men who have Tzarat (the skin disease). Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch demonstrated at length that tzarat was not to be interpreted as a medical malady, but rather as a spiritual affliction. The verse itself indicates this, as it directs those who find themselves afflicted to seek out a Cohen (priest) and not a doctor, while the Torah specifically permits and even encourages those who are in need of medical care to seek treatment from physicians.
The Torah’s emphasis is clearly on the tu’mah (טומאה, "ritual impurity ") that results from a diagnosis of tzarat because the verses focus on the Cohen’s declaration of "unclean" – וראהו הכהן וטמא אתו ("The Cohen will see [the eruption] and [declare] him impure").
The Talmud, and the majority of historic Jewish literature in general, regards tzarat as a punishment for sin; it lists seven possible causes for tzarat:
- an evil tongue (malicious gossip)
- a vain oath
- illicit sexual intercourse
- miserly behaviour
One midrashic source categorically states that tzarat only appeared as punishment for evil tongue, while others add further reasons to the list in the Talmud. Unlike the modern medical approach, which seeks to cure by natural means, the classical Jewish sources argue that cure from tzarat only came about through repentance and forgiveness. In particular, the Midrash Rabbah sees the different types of tzarat as increasing levels of punishment, which could be curtailed at any stage if repentance was made:
- The first stage in the Rabbah’s view was the infection of homes, and if repentance came here it only required removal of the affected stones for a cure.
- In the second stage, the entire house must be torn down as the tzarat would not go away, and the infection came upon one’s clothes; if repentance came here it required only washing of the clothes for a cure.
- In the third stage of Rabbah’s scheme, the clothes must be burnt, and the infection enters the person’s skin; if repentance occurs here then purification could occur.
- In the fourth stage, which only occurs when the person has completely refused to repent, the person is forced to dwell alone.
Our Rabbi Maran Yeshua was the only person in all of Jewish history to have a recorded healing of Jewish people with Tzarat.
12 As he entered one of the villages, ten men afflicted with tzarat met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out, "Yeshua! Rabbi! Have pity on us!" 14 On seeing them, he said, "Go and let the cohanim examine you!" And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, as soon as he noticed that he had been healed, returned shouting praises to God, 16 and fell on his face at Yeshua’s feet to thank him. Now he was from Shomron. 17 Yeshua said, "Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found coming back to give glory to God except this foreigner?" 19 And to the man from Shomron he said, "Get up, you may go; your trust has saved you." (Luke 17:12-19)
How many of us are living with spiritual Tzarat? Will we repent and be healed or will we continue to live in our impurities and be spiritually outcast? One way leads to life and the other to death. Which choice will you make? Whether we look at the Talmud or the Good News the choice is the same.
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