Thursday, April 7, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Metzo’rah – Vayikra (Leviticus) 14 – 15

Parashat Metzo'rah forms a sequel to Parashat Tazri'a and is defined by the words: "the Torah of the leper for the day of his cleansing" (Lev. 14:2).  Just as it was the priest who diagnosed the state of leprosy, it is only he who could now determine if "the affliction - or plague - of leprosy is healed" (v. 3 literal translation, emphasis added). This “affliction” or “plague” (which some of the English translations omit and in others it is “plague” or “infection”) is “nega.” It stems from the root n.g.a (noon, gimmel, ayin), with the primary meaning being "to touch". The most famous 'touch' in Scripture that has had a significant influence on all the afflictions we are dealing with here is found in B’resheet (Genesis) 3:3:  "But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, Elohim has said, `You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die'" (italics added). However, these words were not spoken by Elohim, but rather, by the woman who distorted the original words of the Creator. In His original statement, Elohim did not tell Adam that they were not to touch the tree (Genesis 2:15-16). In the case of the Children of Yisrael, they were charged not to touch Mount Chorev (Ex. 19:12,13). The root n.g.a is found also in Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 53:4 and 8, where it says about the Messiah, "We esteemed Him stricken [nagu'ah], and "for the transgressions of My people He was stricken [nega]" (emphasis added). Thus, His affliction on our behalf becomes the healing touch for all of our “n’ga’eem” (afflictions), which were brought forth by the lie that was believed in regards to ‘touching’ and partaking of the forbidden fruit in the Garden.

 Referring back to the person being cleansed… It is now incumbent upon him to take two living and clean birds, cedarwood, scarlet, and hyssop for his offering. One of the birds was to be killed in an earthen vessel over “living” ('running,' in English) water. The living bird is to be taken with the cedar wood, the scarlet, and the hyssop, all of which are to be dipped in the blood of the dead bird, over “living” ('running') water (ref. 14:4-6). Interestingly, "living" is mentioned four times in this short passage. "Scarlet" in Hebrew is “tola'at shani,” which is literally a "worm of scarlet" (i.e. the worm from which the dye was extracted). Incidentally, in Parashat P’kudey (Ex. 38:21-ch. 40) the term “worm of scarlet” – tola’at shani – was rendered scarlet thread – signifying the blood of the atonement and was mentioned along with the gold, the blue and the purple. Yet here the worm may denote a very humble status (e.g. Ps. 22:6; Is. 41:14). “Hyssop” is the translation (actually a form of transliteration) of “ezov”, symbolic of one of the lowliest plants, especially when compared to the cedar. In Melachim Alef (I Kings) 4:33 we read: "…from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall." In contrast to the worm and the hyssop, the cedar symbolizes grandeur and eminence. When it comes to sin, there is no difference between the 'great' and the 'lowly' as "there is none who does good" (Ps. 14:1; 53:1; Rom. 3:12).

Next, the earthen vessel also connotes humility (e.g. "we have this treasure in earthen vessels" 2nd Cor. 4:7). Whether this combination of the lowly with the lofty denotes different types of individuals, or whether it is pointing to the characteristics within the individual (who is to reform from the sin of pride and haughtiness and become humble and submissive), is an issue that has been hotly debated. However, regardless of the answer to this question, for cleanliness to be declared the bird's blood must be sprinkled seven times on the person undergoing the purification.

In the course of this cleansing process, the priest had to go outside the camp to the place where the afflicted person was quarantined (14:8). In the previous Parasha, we noted that the phrase "outside the camp" (“the city” or “the gate”), has a dual connotation. In Vayikra (Leviticus) 4:12 and 6:11, there was "a clean place outside the camp." Here in 14:40, 41, and 45 references are made to "an unclean place outside the city". Both places are singled out and are in fact related. The priest who goes outside the camp comes in (an indirect) contact with the unclean, or afflicted person, much like our High Priest who (in order to cleanse us) had to come to our contaminated world so that we could join Him "outside [His] camp" (ref. Heb. 13:13).

On the “eighth day,” after the seven-day watch (ref. 14:23) and the concurrent bodily purging, the person undergoing the cleansing comes forth with his offerings. Notice, this selfsame individual goes through a ritual similar to the dedication for service of A’haron and his sons (cf. Ex. 29:20,21; Lev. 8:23, 24). Thus, we read: "The priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and the priest shall put it on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot… And of the rest of the oil in his hand, the priest shall put some on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot, on the blood of the trespass offering” (14:25-28). In this way the atonement is granted, as well as anointing for 'hearing,' 'doing,' and 'walking' (see Hebrew Insights into Parashat Tetzaveh, Ex. 29:20). Notice especially the "tip of the ear" (or "lobe") which is 't'nuch', with its root anach" (, alef, noon, chet) meaning plumbline as it is used in Amos 7:7-8.  "Ear" – "ozen" – on the other hand, forms also the root for "moznayim" (weighing scale).  Thus, the ear, which is responsible for bodily equilibrium, becomes symbolic for not only 'hearing', but also for an obedient 'inner' listening resulting in discernment, justice, and steadiness (the latter being also literally true of the big toe).   

Since quite a substantial offering was expected of the person being cleansed, provision was made "if he is poor and cannot afford it…" (14:21). "Cannot afford" is expressed by a typical picturesque idiom, "his hand is unable to reach", as "hand reaching" (of this type) denotes financial well-being.  "To reach," stemming from the root n.s.g (noon, sin, gimmel), also means "to pursue, or overtake."

"When you have come into the land of Canaan, which I give [“natan”] you as a possession, and I put [literally “give”, natan ] the leprous plague [“nega,” referred to above] in a house in the land of your possession…" (14:34), is a non-ambiguous declaration that shows clearly that the cause of the “nega” (which, as we noticed above was not a mere natural phenomenon) is YHVH Himself. Do take note - the above is dealing specifically with a built-up structure. The usage of the verb “natan” employed here twice for “give” and "put", reinforces both YHVH's involvement in the matter and the fact that He is also its primary cause.

 A house so plagued is to be "emptied out" of its content (14:36).  “Pina” - of the root p.n.h (pey, noon, hey, meaning "to turn"), is the verb used here.  In Parashat Trumah (in Ex. 25:20), we have already encountered p.n.h, in relationship to the "showbread" ("bread of the face") and the faces of the cherubim placed on the Ark of the Covenant. In the course of "emptying out" the house there is a “turning” - that is, "making way" and by implication a “clearing” or an “emptying out". The act of emptying out one's house (and taking it apart, if need be, 14:40-45) has a further symbolic meaning. We thus read in 2 Corinthians 5:1: "For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from Elohim, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens". According to Midrash Rabba 17:7: "And I will put the plague of tza'ra'at in the house of the land of your possession (14:34) - this refers to the Temple". Here is what Malbim, citing another source, has to say about this very thing: "The use of the term venatati [“and I will give”] regarding tza'ra'at prompted Rabbi Yehuda to consider the plague in a positive light as a medium for the elimination of sin and iniquity". [6] However, this passage not only deals with the tza'ra'at which pertains to buildings, but also with the type which affects clothing (v. 55), while mentioning other related conditions, namely "a scale, a swelling, a scab, and a bright spot" (ref. 14:54, 55).

"Scale" is “netek”, from the root n.t.k (noon. tav, kof), meaning “to pull off, draw, disconnect, or remove". Ee’yov (Job) laments: "…my purposes are broken off – nitku…” (Job 17:11 italics added). And again, in Jeremiah, "my tent is plundered, all my chords are broken…” (10:20, italics added). The swelling is called “s'et”, of the root n.s.a (noon, sin, alef), meaning "to lift, carry or hold up". S'et, as such, according to B.D.B Lexicon is "exaltation, dignity or swelling". [7] Ee’yov (Job - 41:25), speaking of Leviathan, says: "When he raises himself up, the mighty are afraid" (italics added). “Scab” is the translation of “sapa'chat”, which is of the root (samech, fey, chet), meaning "to join, or add." It can also refer to that which is overgrown. In Chavakuk (Habakkuk) 2:15 we read, "Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, joining him to your wineskin, even to make him drunk, that you may look on his nakedness!” (Italics added). Finally, the "bright spot" is “baheret”, of the root b.h.r (bet, hey, resh), which means "bright or brilliant", used almost exclusively in relation to a physical condition. However, one reference in Ee’yov (Job) 37:21 seems to indicate a light so bright that men cannot look at it.

Lining up the terms, according to their respective connotations, will create the following picture: A breaking or removal (possibly from the Almighty) will lead to the attitude of loftiness resulting in rebelliousness and pride, followed by wrong attachments. From there the path is open to what may appear as an effulgence but is actually nothing more than a blinding false light. The entire body of instructions is finalized by the words: "…to teach on the day of the unclean, and on the day of cleansing; this is the Torah of the tza'ra'at" (14:57, literal translation). Thus, this long passage, which starts in verse 34, is solely for the purpose of teaching (“le'horot”) the Torah (as it pertains to the issue at hand). Torah impartation, therefore, is what it takes to counteract the sequence portrayed above and its dismal results.

The next section of the Parasha (chapter 15) deals with unclean discharges emitted by the body (which are the natural outcome of the sequel conditions described above). "This was an emblem of the corruption of nature, and of all evil things that are in or flow out of the evil heart of man, which is defiling to him"[8] (see Mat. 15:18).

"If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, other than at the time of her customary impurity [her regular menstrual cycle], or if it runs beyond her usual time of impurity, all the days of her unclean discharge shall be as the days of her customary impurity. She shall be unclean [for as long as she has the discharge]… Whoever touches those things [which she has handled] shall be unclean…" (15:25, 27). This injunction makes the episode recorded in the Gospels, of Yeshua healing the woman with the issue of blood, most remarkable (ref. Matt. 9:19-22; Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48)! Yeshua does not appear to be alarmed by the fact that an unclean woman has touched him. In fact, He does not even refer to her as such. As much as Yeshua respected the regulations of Torah (being the Torah incarnate), it was the Torah of Life and NOT the “letter” which He advocated and practiced. Yeshua ministered the life of the (Re)New(ed) Covenant, as defined by 2nd Corinthians 3:6: A "new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life".

Toward the end of Parashat Metzora we read: “So you shall cause the sons of Israel to be estranged – vehizartem, the root of zar, stranger, foreigner - from their uncleanness so that they do not die in their uncleanness when they defile My dwelling place that is among them” (15:31, literal translation). As those who form the abode of YHVH, the Israelites are to be “strangers” to uncleanliness. These words truly encapsulate the spirit of the Torah injunctions - a spirit that the Elohim of Yisrael wishes to bestow upon His people.  The affinity between "(ve)hizartem" (root z.r. zayin, resh) to "hiz'hartem" is quite noticeable. The root of the latter is z.h.r (zyin, hey, resh) meaning a bright light or brightness (such as in Ezekiel 8:2), and in other conjugations means to "warn", "instruct", "take warning" etc. (such as in Ecclesiastics 4:13). The close association between these two terms shines like a bright light here warning the Children of Israel to stay away from strange ways.


[1]  New Studies in Vayikra Part 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman.

      Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora.

      Hemed  Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.


[2]  The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson.   

      Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.


[3] Gill Commentary, Online Bible

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