Friday, April 28, 2023

Isaiah and Caiaphas Speak

 We just celebrated Israel's 75th Independence Day. On that day Psalm 107 is read, with its many appropriate and one may even say, prophetic descriptions of what has been fulfilled, in no less than miraculous ways, in the very establishment of the State and in the course of the past 75 years of its existence. Here are a few of those excerpts from Psalm 107:

"Give thanks to YHVH, for he is good, and his loyal love endures!  Let those delivered by YHVH speak out, those whom he delivered from the power of the enemy, and gathered from foreign lands, from east and west, from north and south" (v. 1-3).  "They cried out to YHVH in their distress; he delivered them from their troubles.  He calmed the storm, and the waves grew silent" (v. 28-29). "…and he led them to the harbor they desired.  Let them give thanks to YHVH for his loyal love, and for the amazing things He has done for his people!" (v. 30-31). "As for his people, he turned a desert into a pool of water and a dry land into springs of water.  He allowed the hungry to settle there, and they established a city in which to live. They cultivated fields and planted vineyards, which yielded a harvest of fruit. He blessed them so that they became very numerous. He would not allow their cattle to decrease in number" (v. 35-38).

 And here is another citing, this time from Isaiah:

"Let the desert and dry region be happy; let the wilderness rejoice and bloom like a lily!  Let it richly bloom; let it rejoice and shout with delight! It is given the grandeur of Lebanon, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon" (Isaiah 35:1- 2). With a few modifications to this text, it may also be declared as having a contemporary fulfillment. However, if one reads carefully the rest of this chapter (only 10 verses), it has to be said that we still have a way to go before its beautiful predictions become a full reality. Yes, "water is flowing in the desert, streams in the wilderness.  The dry soil has become a pool of water, the parched ground springs of water" (Isaiah 35:6-7 italics indicate my tense changes). Once again, these declarations by the prophet have had some fulfillment. However, if one reads the previous and following verses, one will not fail to notice that much of what is stated there is yet to become a reality. This is especially true for the following: "A thoroughfare will be there– it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it; it is reserved for those authorized to use it– fools will not stray into it… Those delivered from bondage will travel on it, those whom YHVH has ransomed will return that way. They will enter Zion with a happy shout. Unending joy will crown them, happiness and joy will overwhelm them; grief and suffering will disappear" (Isaiah 35:8-10).


The organized return to Zion (the Zionist Movement) began decades before the founding of the State, at the end of the 19th century, and has continued ever since, with a varying ebb and flow. But there has definitely not been a "way of holiness" which was or is "not trodden by the unclean", and neither has there been so far massive waves of immigration of the "delivered/redeemed" and "ransomed", or the disappearance of grief and suffering.


In spite of the fact that millions of Jewish people have already made Aliyah (immigration) to Israel, and more are expected to come in great numbers from those places that have so far yielded relatively few immigrants, let us ask: "What and who is the prophet referring to when he describes a highway of holiness and the redeemed and ransomed who come to Zion with joy and happiness? Will it be the Jews who are still "sitting on their lees" and may be forced one day to come willy nilly to Eretz Yisrael? Under such circumstances, there will not be such great joy and happiness…


Or are these (whom Isaiah is describing in chapter 35), perhaps the ones being referred to in John chapter 11? Subsequent to the dramatic raising of Lazarus from the dead on the 4th day after this man's passing, it says that "many of the people, who had come with Mary and had seen the things Yeshua did, believed in him" (John 11:45). This, of course, threatened the authority and control of "the chief priests and the Pharisees [who] called the council (Sanhedrin) together and said, 'What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs.  If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our Temple and our nation.' Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, 'You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.'  (Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Yeshua was going to die for the Jewish nation, and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of Elohim who are scattered.)" (John 11:47-52 emphases added).


Wait… wasn't the (Jewish/Judean) nation spoken of in this excerpt about to go into a two-thousand-year exile? So how could Yeshua's death become useful in making these people "one with the children of Elohim who are scattered", that is, if the Jewish people were about to lose their home? And who at that time were "the children of Elohim who were/are scattered"? Moreover, how is this connected to the above-cited Isaiah prophecy?


Is there some mystery that is being presented here, to be unraveled and unveiled sometime down the road (the "road of holiness")? Is there a people that is scattered (and therefore from a national point of view are dead in a tomb), but who at some point, when redeemed and ransomed will be nationally resurrected by He who is the Life, be led in great joy on and by the Way to the land of their ancestors?  At such a time "the people" that Caiaphas was speaking about, will recognize that Yeshua indeed has died "for the one nation" (for them), while the "children of Elohim" (see Hosea 1:10) will be gathered into one. "Then the people of Judah and the people of Israel will be gathered together. They will appoint for themselves one leader, and will flourish in the land. Certainly, the day of Jezreel will be great!" (Hosea 1:11 - 2:1).  


Is the following, spoken about "Yeshua [who] no longer went around publicly among the Judeans, but went away from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples" (John 11:54) still true today? Or has He started to show up also in Judah's camp, in order to fulfill all that has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets of old? (ref. Acts 3:21). 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashot Acharey Mot/Kdoshim – Vayikra (Leviticus) 16-20


This week’s first Parasha's opening verse: "Now YHVH spoke to Moses after the death [“acharey mot”] of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew close to YHVH, and died" (Lev. 16:1, literal translation, emphasis added) underscores the combination of "drawing close" to YHVH and "death". Thus, in verse 2 we read: "Tell Aaron… not to come [just] at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die…” (italics added). This is the solemn introduction to the long and detailed account of the necessary preparation and sanctification process of the High Priest’s entrance to the Holy of Holies, culminating with: “This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all… For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you that you may be clean from all your sins before YHVH. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever… This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year…" (16: 29-31, 34).

Without actually pronouncing the term it is, of course, the description of Yom haKippurim. But rather than commence with that special day, its purpose, timing, and varying procedures, the text first deals with the needed course of action in relation to the High Priest, while the theme of Yom haKippurim unfolds gradually and inductively, ultimately bringing to light its goal. What is more, as we saw above, in this particular context the instructions are mentioned against the backdrop of the death of Ah’aron’s two sons, which enhances the seriousness and solemnity of the day, albeit without calling it by its explicit name.

The term “atonement” in its various forms (which includes “kaporet” – translated “mercy seat”, but in Hebrew is rooted in k.p.r – “to atone” or “cover” as we saw in Ex. 25:17), is repeated many times over in chapter 16, as is the blood of the atonement, with which many of the items mentioned were to be sprinkled. What is the purpose of sprinkling blood on inanimate objects? “So he shall make atonement for the Holy [Place], because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel” (Leviticus 16:16, 19 italics added). In carrying out the requirements for sin atonement, the articles used had become contaminated by the people's sins.

In 16:2 we encounter the expression “inside the veil - parochet - before the mercy seat - kaporet".  The veilparochet - is made up of the same letters as “kaporet”.[1] The rest of verse 2 says, "I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat - kaporet". Thus, the rendition of the mercy seat and the veil in the same verse makes for an alliteration (kaporet and parochet), highlighting the connection of these two articles and the position of the mercy seat within the veil, where the High Priest may enter only under very strict and special conditions. “Parochet”, stemming from (pey, resh, kaf), means both “separating” and “covering” and together with “kaporet” points to the ‘cure’ for sin by the provision of the covering and the requirement of separation.

After readying himself and making a sin offering as atonement for his own person and household, the High Priest was to take two male goats, which he was to obtain from the congregation. These two were to be placed "in front of YHVH" at the opening of the Tent of Meeting where lots had to be cast for them, "one lot for YHVH and one lot for Aza'zel" (ref. 16:5-10). The goats mentioned here are “s'eerim” ("hairy ones," s'eer = "hairy"). The casting of lots is "goral", which is of the root g.r.l. (gimmel, resh, lamed), meaning "stone” or “stony place", since the lots are comprised of stones shaken after being put into a piece of cloth or a container [2]. Thus, in Matthew 27:35 we read the following about Yeshua: "Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, 'They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots'" (Ps. 22:18). In the same chapter of Matthew (v. 15-17 and 21b) we read the following:  "Now at the Feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Yeshua Bar Abba (Barabbas). Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, 'Whom do you want me to release to you? Bar Abba, or Yeshua who is called Messiah?'… They said, 'Bar Abba!'" The verdict was pronounced. The goat on which YHVH's lot fell was to be a sin offering, as it is written: "Elohim by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3b).

The other goat was to be for Aza'zel (sometimes translated as “scapegoat”). “Aza’zel” is a compound word, made up of the word “az” (ayin, zayin), meaning “strong”, but can also be read as “ez” – goat, and “azal” (alef, zayin, lamed) - “that which is used up, or “is no more”. The goat that was “to be no more” was sent to the wilderness by the hand of a suitable ("eeti”, meaning “timely”; "et" = the "right or appointed time") person (ref. 16:21). Thus, Yeshua Bar Abba the criminal and counterfeit of Yeshua the Son of the Father, stood in proxy, as it were, for the goat that was allowed to live for the purpose of being sent to the wilderness, or “eretz grzera” ("land of separation" or “verdict” 16:22) with all the sins and iniquities.  The root g.z.r (gimmel, zayin, resh) is literally “to cut off, remove, decreed”.  And while it was decreed that the unrepentant Bar Abba would be cut off and removed from the Father with his sins (see Is. 59:2), Pilate was the timely person who facilitated the whole process and scenario.  Yet, it also says about the “Suffering Servant” of Yishayahu (Isaiah) 53:8: “For He was cut off [nigzar] from the land of the living” (emphasis added). We see, therefore, that in spite of our above comparison of Yeshua and Bar Abba, respectively, to the two goats, Yeshua also fulfilled the role of the second goat, as is confirmed by 16:21: “Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat...” (italics added). Yeshua Bar Abba, although partially fitting the role of the goat that was sent to the wilderness, definitely did not act the part of carrying vicariously sins and iniquities for the purpose of their removal.

And just as Pilate washed his hands after having succumbed to the demand to crucify Yeshua (Mat. 27:24), so was it commanded that the person who was to send the goat of azazel, would have to “wash his clothes and bathe his body in water” (Lev. 16:26).

Whereas chapter 16 began with a strong exhortation and command to the High Priest regarding the time, place, and procedures of coming before YHVH, chapter 17 enjoins the ordinary people not to sacrifice according to their own whims, lest they should be suspected of sacrificing to idols or be even led astray and carry out such acts. And so. we read in 17:7: "They shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons, after whom they have played the harlot…" "Demons" here is “s'eerim”, being the word that we have just encountered in the previous chapter for “male goats”. Goat worship prevailed in Egypt and it is thought that the demons worshipped there were in the form of male goats. [3] And as we see quite often in the Hebraic world and mindset - in the very essence of the transgression the solution is already provided (such as the word “chet” – sin – illustrates, with the same root forming a verb which means “purification”). Here we see that for the sin of serving the goat/demon – s’eer – a provision has already been made by the usage of two goats (s’eerim). The connection between the “s’eer’ that was sent to the desert and the “s’eerim’ which are constituted demons may be found in Luke 11:24, where it is written: "When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places [desert], seeking rest…” (emphasis added).

Parashat Acharey Mot is made up of four sections. Aside from the part which leads up to Yom haKippurim, and the section regarding the right place for the offerings (most of chapter 17), there are two more sections concerning the prohibitions of eating meat with blood (17:10-16), and incest (Ch. 18). In the four sections, all so different one from the other, one phrase is repeated like a refrain (see the italicized words in the following): "In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you" (16:29 italics added); "…this shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations. Also you shall say to them, ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice’…" (17:7-8 italics added); "And every person who eats what died naturally or what was torn by beasts, whether he is a native of your own country or a stranger…” (17:15 italics added). Finally, "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you" (18:26 italics added).

"Stranger" here is “ger”, and originates from the root “gur” (gimmel, vav, resh), meaning "to dwell, tarry, sojourn", as well as “to fear (see Ps. 22:23 for example: “fear Him all you offspring of Israel”). The stranger’s defenselessness and vulnerability may be a cause for fear (hence the oft-repeated reminders as to the proper attitude toward him and the inclusiveness with which he is to be treated). 

The last section of Parashat Ahcarey Mot deals, as mentioned, with the prohibitions against incest and other sexual offenses. It is sandwiched between statements regarding the practices of the inhabitants of the land which the Israelites have just left, and the practices in the land which they were about to enter (see 18:3, 24-25). Presently we observed that YHVH’s people were commanded to include the strangers living among them, while here they are solemnly warned not to defile themselves with that which their neighbors were defiling themselves (v. 27). We see here a fine line between including the ones who choose to come into the household of Yisrael, and between keeping firm and clear boundaries of separation from other non-Israelites. 

According to Torah, when one comes in contact with anything which is (ritually) unclean, one is contaminated by it. The converse, however, is not true; i.e., coming in contact with that which is holy does not make one holy. The land, therefore, by reason of the practices of its inhabitants would be subject to spiritual contamination with the resulting consequences that “… the land [will] vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you" (18:28). The following Parasha (Kdoshim) closes off with the same warning, as part of the command to stay separate (ref. 20:22).

Finally, in 16:30 we read: "For on this day He [some translations replace “He” with “the priest”] shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you; for all your sins, before YHVH you shall be cleansed," or “before YHVH you shall be purified”, or “before YHVH you shall purify yourselves”. Here is a fervent call to appropriate by faith the atonement enacted by the Almighty, and thus to receive the fulfillment of His promise. However, this could not be achieved without the High Priest, first and foremost, complying implicitly with all of YHVH’s instructions. [4]

 "And YHVH spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: `You shall be holy [plural -kdoshim], for I YHVH your Elohim am holy'" (19:1-2 emphasis added). The rest of this Parasha, like the previous one, constitutes a portrait of the 'holy’ or ‘set-apart’ Israelite, whose Elohim is holy, a fact which could render him of the same status - as it says in Genesis 1:27: "So Elohim created man in His own image; in the image of Elohim He created him" (italics added).  In fact, in chapter 19, “I am YHVH” is repeated 15 times and is tagged to the various injunctions (with “your Elohim” being added in some of the cases). Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the Elohim and Father of our Lord Messiah Yeshua, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Messiah, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (italics added).

In contrast to most of YHVH's addresses in the previous Parashot we have been studying, here the “entire congregation of the sons of Israel” – kol ah’dat b'ney Yisrael (19:2) - is being addressed on the matter of being as set-apart as their Elohim. We have here an assortment of directives, both of commission and omission. The penalties described (and mainly found in chapter 20), even if not exercised and carried out in our day and age, indicate how YHVH views the transgressions to which they are appended.

The theme of Parashat Kdoshim is encapsulated in 20:24b-26: "I am YHVH your Elohim who has separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore distinguish (literally “separate”) between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And you shall be holy to Me, for I YHVH am Holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine". This clearly illustrates the contaminating effect that the unclean has upon Elohim's People. At the same time, it highlights the separateness of those who belong to Him and who are rendered set apart by this fact. The single verb used here for “separate” and “distinguish” is “havdel” (b.d.l, bet, dalet, lamed), used 3 times in the creation account in B’resheet 1, in regards to the separation of the light from darkness (v. 4), the separation of the water above the firmament from the water below it (vs. 6,7), and in creating heaven’s lights that were to divide the light from the darkness (vs. 14,18). Thus, the usage of the root b.d.l points to the distinct category that YHVH has allocated for His people among other people groups, as well as to the way they were to conduct their daily life.

Going back to chapter 19, we will notice that most of the injunctions or clusters thereof end with "I am YHVH your Elohim". We read about reverence for father and mother and keeping the Shabbat (v. 3). This is followed by a command to reject idols. Verse 5 deals with offering a peace offering “lirtzonchem” – translated ‘of your own free will’, but in Vayikra 23:11, regarding the command to bring the ‘beginning omer’, “lirtzonchem” is also mentioned and translated “so that you may be accepted”. Is this also the meaning of “lirtzonchem” in the case before us? If this offering is eaten on the third day (as its remains were supposed to have been burnt by the third day), then it will be considered an "abomination" that shall not be accepted. "Abomination" here is rendered by the very strong term "pigul", and is indicative of the fact that it is not only the 'holy' which is set aside and separated, but so is that which is unclean and unacceptable.

This is succeeded by how one is to treat those less fortunate than one’s self (the poor and the sojourner), by leaving for them the gleanings of the fields and vineyards, for “… I am YHVH your Elohim". The "gleanings" are especially interesting. The verb that is attached to them is "te'olel" (le'olel in the infinitive). It is a term we encountered once before, in Parashat Bo (specifically in Ex. 10:2, where it is translated "made a mockery" – of Paroh ). The root that both of these words share is a.l.l (ayin, lamed, lamed). Thus, if one does not obey the commandment to leave one's gleanings to the poor it is as though he is deliberately disregarding and mocking them, and their Maker.

Theft, deception, lying, and swearing falsely in YHVH's name are enumerated next. These constitute "profaning" His Name (vs. 8, 12, 29, in the latter, the translation says “do no prostitute”), which is “chalel” (ch.l.l., chet, lamed, lamed) meaning, “to make hollow or burrow”, and is also the root for "casualty" (such as in war). Dealing unjustly ( – ayin, shin, kof, oppressing and stealing) with one's fellow man, cursing the deaf and putting a stumbling block in front of the blind, diverting justice in court, tale-bearing ( also serves the noun for a traveling salesman offering his merchandise, e.g. Ezk. 17:4, where it is translated "merchants") and not taking responsibility when a friend's life is in danger, all are sealed by "I am YHVH". Obviously, we are moving here into more subtle matters that may not be necessarily noticed by society at large but will be seen by Him whose "eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth" (ref. 2nd Chr.16:9; Zech. 4:10b). This takes us to even deeper issues of the heart, such as, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart" (19:17).

"Brother", aside from its obvious meaning, could also relate to one's “fellow man”, just as do the following terms: "Associate" - amit (19:11, in the translation ‘one another, while in vs.15,17b the translation renders it as ‘neighbor’), and "re'ah", that is, “friend or fellowman” (again, more commonly rendered "neighbor" in the English translations. See 19:13,16,18). The utilization of these terms clarifies that ‘others’ are equal to one’s self, and therefore should be treated accordingly. In verse 17 there is also an instruction of commission, relating to the action that should be taken when the need arises to reprimand or rebuke one’s fellow man (rather than harbor hatred and bitterness in one’s heart). If "open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed” (Prov. 27:5), how much more does this apply when hate is the option? One is not to nurse vengeance nor bear a grudge against one's own people, logically leading to the highest dictum; that one is to love one's fellow man as one's self (v. 18), while in Hebrew the word used is “re’ah” – friend, associate. Again, this is sealed by "I am YHVH". Loving one's fellow man as one's self may be enabled because he (or she) is no different from one's self. "Ve'ah'ha'vta le're'a'cha ka-mocha". "Ka-mocha" may also be read: "as you are", that is, he/she is like you. Moreover, the omission commands that precede this one (starting in v. 9 through 19) can only be obeyed if one "loves one's fellow man as one's self".

After the prohibitions regarding the mixing of seeds and improper nuptials, chapter 19 continues with the tending of trees in YHVH's Promised Land - which for the first three years are to be considered “uncircumcised” – “arelim” (pointing to the covenant with Avraham and thus to the land’s importance). The usage of ‘uncircumcision’ in regards to (fruit) trees may be tied to the statement found in Dvarim 20:19, where it literally says, “for man is the tree of the field” (see also Mark 8:24, the blind man who at first saw “men like trees walking”). In the fourth year, the trees are to be “praises to YHVH" - “hiluleem”, and may only be partaken of in the fifth year (ref. 19:23-25). This continues with prohibitions concerning all pagan idolatrous customs. "I am YHVH" seals these passages, and is also appended to the Shabbat’s observance and to the honor due the elderly. The next cluster deals with the sojourner, because of the Israelites’ own experience in Egypt. Chapter 19 ends with the injunction to utilize strictly honest and just measurements, as befitting a Nation of a just Elohim. "You shall observe all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them…" (v. 37) brings this chapter to a close, to which words we must append 18:5 (of the previous Parasha) “…which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am YHVH”.  It is no wonder, therefore, that the Renewed Covenant's mandate is to do just that – to enable His People to live out this Torah of Life (or the life of Torah) through Him Who is the "Torah Incarnate' and the Giver of Life.

Chapter 20 echoes Chapter 18 (in Parashat Acharey Mot), in dealing largely with various forms of incest, forbidden forms of cohabitation, and abominable sexual practices, which are described by the phrase, “exposing the nakedness” (again, nakedness is tantamount to not having a “covering” – “kippur” or "kapara"). “Nakedness” here is “erva” of the root a.r.h. (ayin, resh, hey). A similar word, stemming from the root a.r.r (ayin, resh, resh) and means “stripped” and “childless” is “ariri” (e.g. Gen. 15:2; Jer. 22:30). Thus, we read verses 20 and 21: “And if a man shall lie with his uncle's wife, he has uncovered his uncle's nakedness - erva. They shall bear their sin. They shall die bereft of children – arireem. If a man takes his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing. He has uncovered his brother's nakedness - erva. They shall be childless - arireem” (italics added).  This makes evident the fruitlessness and lifelessness of sin, symbolizing the fact that sin results only in death (or bareness, in this case). This entire section (vs. 10-21) is preceded by: "Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am YHVH your Elohim. ' And you shall keep My statutes, and perform them: I am YHVH who sanctifies you. 'For everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be upon him" (20:7-8). Again, pointing to the sanctification theme, but with an emphasis on the centrality of sound family life by the stern warning against anyone who would dare to dishonor his parents (remember the Parasha's opening words speak of revering father and mother, in 19:3). The rest of the commandments, which deal strictly with incest, relate to and elaborate on the same topic of the family's sanctity, including the very severe penalty against anyone who gives his seed – child – to Molech and against those who shut their eyes in face of this abomination (20:2-5).  


[1]  Notice the "k" and "ch" here denote the same letter, i.e. "kaf".

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

Hendrickson. Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.

[3] Online Bible, Gill Commentary

[4] Thirty verses convey the High Priest’s orders, versus one verse with

 instructions for the people.


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