Thursday, April 20, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashot Tazri'a- Metzo’rah Vayikra (Leviticus) 12-15


 Aside from dealing with the purification rites of a post-birth woman, the beginning part of Parashat Tazri'a also touches on the eighth-day circumcision (12:3). Last week's Parasha was called "Shmini," meaning "eighth". And while the bulk of Parashat “Tazri'a” deals with regulations of "tzara’at" (leprosy and other skin conditions) it is the next Parasha that bears the name of the leper ("Me'tzorah"). Thus, even when there appears to be no connection between two successive Parashot (plural of Parasha), one is often threaded into the other, even if very loosely. However, that is not true of Parashat Me'tzorah, which forms a sequel to Parashat Tazri’a and is in fact very closely related to it.

"If a woman conceives seed [literal translation] and gives birth to a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days…" (12:2). "Conceives seed" - "tazri'a", after which our Parasha is named, is a very unusual form since its root word "zera" - z.r.a. -  (zayin, resh, ayin) is "seed" or "semen" (and by implication also "offspring"). S.R. Hirsch translates it: "When a woman has matured a human germ…" and goes on to comment: "Germ, basically the seed of plants and hence herb-yielding seed (Gen. 1:11), the seed-forming activity of plants for the continuation of their species, when applied to human beings is the usual term for the offspring by which Man continues his generation.  By the use of the expression "tazri'a" here, which only occurs in B’resheet (Genesis) 1:11 and 12, referring to the activity of plants for the continuation of their species, the mother's role in producing progeny is looked at in purely material physical character of its physiological process. Thus, with one word the whole idea of the uncleanness, spoken of here, is shown" [1] In this manner Hirsch also provides one of several answers to the question, "Why should a mother be declared 'unclean' for fulfilling a Divinely-ordained mission?" The sages especially question the need for a sin offering. [2]  The expression "tazri'a," however, brings to mind not only B’resheet (Genesis) 1:11 and 12, as Hirsch points out, but is also reminiscent of the usage of the term "zera," “seed” in B’resheet 3:15, where there is a reference to the "Seed of the woman" Who is destined to crush the head of the serpent. Thus, by one word the “purely material physical character” of birth is singled out and at the same time also introduces its contrast – by an allusion to the future sinless “Seed of Woman” (see also Gal. 3;16), which will also propagate itself as any seed does. The seven initial days of the woman's "impurity" mentioned here, are comparable to the week of impurity during the menstrual cycle.

However, in verse 5, where mention is made of the birth of a female, it is no longer “conception of a seed”, but rather… “to give birth”. Thus, in the birth of a son his future is already foretold, in that, he will be carrying the seed, whereas if it is a daughter that is being born there is no need to mention the “seed”. We see here how the future generations are encompassed even in the life of an individual.

"When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting" (12:6). The burnt offering, according to some of the sages, was a token of thankfulness to the Almighty for having preserved her through the labor pains and hazards, and for having been granted the strength to bear a child. "The new life within her made [the mother] deeply conscious of the greatness of the creator, as also of her insignificance as 'dust and ashes' and impurity; hence the need for a sin-offering. [3].

The sin offering may be linked to the fact that we are "brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" (Ps. 51:5), as expressed by David. He was not singling out his mother as a sinner for having conceived him but emphasized the fact that man's sinful nature is hereditary, and simply passes through the bloodline. The fact that it is transmitted from generation to generation is illustrated by what we have already observed, that contained in Man is the seed for the perpetuity of his (sinful) race, and thus the fruit will resemble the parent plant. The unusual usage of "tazri'a" could therefore be the clue to unraveling the 'mystery' of the mother's "impurity" after giving birth, and the requirement of a sin offering. Incidentally, Miriam, Yeshua's mother, did likewise (ref. Luke 2:24), even though her son's conception had been totally different. In this case, following the Torah ruling was most likely performed in the same vein as Yeshua's immersion, which was for the purpose of "fulfilling all righteousness" (Mat. 3:15). The usage of "seed" in connection to bearing an offspring, therefore, underscores the heredity nature of sinfulness. But the "Seed of the woman" (Gen. 3:15) is a reminder that the sinless Seed will likewise be propagated after His own kind.

In one breath with the birth of "a male", mention is also made of the eighth-day circumcision (12:3). When we reviewed Parashat Shmini mention was made of the significance of the figure “eight” which stems from the root sh.m.n, being the root for “fat” (hence “oil - shemen"), following the fullness of seven ("sheva"), thereby indicating an overabundance (at times with negative connotations, such as "and Yeshurun waxed fat…" Deut. 32:15, emphasis added). The eighth-day circumcision also indicates that it takes precedence over Shabbat, and a child who is born on Friday, notwithstanding, will be circumcised on the following Shabbat. In this regard, take note of the connection between the “seventh” and the “eighth” day.

Having just encountered the “seed conceiving” woman, we are now looking at the act of male circumcision, which denotes the covenant in the flesh marking the organ of procreation, so that the seed (“zera”) issuing forth would be ‘enrolled’ in the process of redemption from the hereditary sin that we have just noted.  If “tazr’ia,” as used for a woman, is indicative of the perpetual seed of sin, then circumcision is a symbolic act pointing to the beginning of the solution to the problem of inbred sin in the present condition of Man. This sign of the covenant, being applied to the organ of procreation foreshadows the entire removal of sin by the spiritual circumcision (of the heart), aimed at the circumcised seed which is the recipient of the ‘chain’ of covenants of promise - all the way to the ultimate one. In the same way that the ‘covenant-marked’ seed (still) comes forth sin-ridden, it will one day come forth in the image and likeness of its Creator. And so, the promise stands: “And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1st Cor. 15:49).

The next part of the Parasha (chapter 13) is also devoted to issues of purity and impurity, this time relating to skin diseases, as well as to contaminated houses and clothes. Since dealing with this variety of conditions was up to the priests' discernment, they are the ones mentioned, and it is, therefore, A'haron who is addressed here (whereas he was not mentioned in the first part of the Parasha). The various conditions described and elaborated upon all come under the general heading of "tza'ra'at" (tz.r.a, tzadi, resh, ayin).

In spite of the many regulations regarding "tzarat", there are no instances cited in the entire Tanach of these regulations being put to practice and of lepers turning to the priesthood. However, in the Brit Chadasha texts, in the Gospels, there are several instances of lepers being cleansed by Yeshua, who then admonished them to show themselves to the priest (e.g. Matt. 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-44; Luke 17:12-14).

The root tz.r.a (tzadi, resh, ayin) means “project outward”. If the sins resulting in this affliction are mostly committed in secret, then this condition reveals them, whether on one’s body, clothing, or home. The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon defines the root verb "tza'ro'a" as "to throw down, prostrate, humble oneself". [4] The various forms of "tzara'at" certainly placed the one declared as contaminated in a humbling, if not a humiliating state, described in verses 45 and 46: "Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, `Unclean! Unclean!' He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp". The word for "unclean" is "tameh" (t.m.a, tet, mem, alef) with its literal meaning being "ritually polluted". 

 The concept "outside the camp," like many others in Scripture, is twofold. Whereas here the "tameh" is separated from the community, in Shmot (Exodus) 33:7, after the Golden Calf episode we read: "Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought YHVH went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp" (italics added). Likewise, in Hebrews 13:12-13: "Therefore Yeshua also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach". Hence this separation can be dual – disconnecting one’s self from a sin-contaminated camp, or, removing one’s self so as not to contaminate the camp.

In our recent reading of the book of Esther, we read the following: "The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman" (7:6). In Hebrew "adversary" and "wicked" are denoted, respectively, by "tzar" and "ra". If combined, these two words form "tzar-ra", which are also the consonants that form the root "tzara'at" (tz.r.a, as we saw above), and can be read (in Hebrew) as "a wicked adversary".

The latter part of chapter 13 deals with “tzara’at” as it contaminates leather or clothes (vs. 47-59). Several times mention is made of “sh’ti va’erev”, that is, the “warp and woof” of the cloth (the threads woven lengthwise and crosswise respectively). The woof which is threaded through the warp is thought of as being “mixed in” and is therefore designated by the well-known term “erev” (ayin, resh, vet), which we have been following in many instances, but primarily in the word for “evening”, which is a state of light being mixed with darkness.

Nechama Leibowitz concludes: "According to most commentators tzara'at is not a common disease, but supernatural infliction by Divine Providence through which man is reminded of his sinful ways, and called upon to abandon them". The appended footnote says: "It is noteworthy that medical research fails to associate the Biblical tzara'at with any known disease. Its diagnosis as leprosy is rejected by modern medicine". Earlier the commentator pointed out that plagues in general had a special role as warning signs against sinful behavior [5], or were its consequences (e.g. 2nd Sam. 24:1, 15; 2 Ch. 26:16-21).

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 above-mentioned 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 (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 of not only 'hearing', but also of inner obedience, and 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] All four Gospels present Yeshua's act of cleansing His Father's House, saying: "Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!"(John 2:16). But just as the house mentioned in our Parasha was found to be plagued by "active leprosy" and therefore had to be demolished, after several examinations of the priest (14:44), so did Yeshua the priest had to make the inevitable declaration: "See! Your house [the Temple] is left to you desolate" (Luke 13:35)  

The passage under discussion not only deals with the tza'ra'at which pertains to buildings, but also with the type which affects clothing (14:55), 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/plans 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 (cf. "strange/foreign" fire – esh zara – of Nadav&Avihu, 10:1-5). 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[  Ibid

]3[  Ibid

]4[ The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson, Publishers Peabody, Mass. 1979.

]5[  New Studies

[6] 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.

[7] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.

[8] Gill Commentary, Online Bible





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