Tag Archives: tazria

The Consequences of Being Chosen: The Laws of Tumah

Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: Any man who will have a discharge from his flesh, his discharge is contaminated.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 15:2

It is learned from this verse that only the Children of Israel are subject to the laws of tumah; people of other nations do not become tamei with the onset of any of the symptoms described in these laws. The severity with which the Jewish people are treated with regard to tumah is reflected in the term “speak to,” a term that implies a severe or stringent communication (see Rashi to Shemos 6:2).

A Torah Thought for the Day, p.215
Thursday’s commentary on Parashas Metzora
A Daily Dose of Torah

heal meAccording to this commentary, only the Jewish people are susceptible to what one person has called “spiritual skin disease,” not the people of the nations. We don’t have this disorder with us today to test that belief even though we know that these conditions did exist in the time of Jesus (Yeshua):

While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17:11-19 (NASB)

Well, wait a minute. A Samaritan was among those men of Israel who were healed of tzara’at? How can this be if the commentary above states only the Children of Israel suffer from this affliction?

And this isn’t the only incident:

Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly respected, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper. Now the Arameans had gone out in bands and had taken captive a little girl from the land of Israel; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.”

It happened when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent word to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Now let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and his chariots and stood at the doorway of the house of Elisha. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and you will be clean.” But Naaman was furious and went away and said, “Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.’ Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean.

2 Kings 5:1-4, 8-14

the leperA non-Jew, Captain of a foreign army, and a pagan was afflicted with this disease and cured by the Prophet Elisha. How can this be? Especially given the following from the same “Torah Thought for the Day:”

However the verse immediately adds [Hebrew phrase]. The root of [Hebrew word] can carry the connotation of “distinguished.” Klal Yisrael is thus told that their being subject to more tumah than others is a sign, not that they are on a lower level, but that they are being held to a higher standard. For when there is no tumah, there can be no exalted level of purity either.

As I mentioned, this condition doesn’t exist among the Jews or anyone else in the modern era, probably because the proscribed cure involved submitting one’s self to the Levitical priests, which as an organized body, are not currently present.

I can see the line of reasoning regarding only Israel being vulnerable to becoming tamei due to their special chosen status and, being given the Torah, having a much higher obligation to Hashem than the people of the nations.

But in Messianic times, upon the Temple being rebuilt and the priesthood being restored, will the laws of tumah also be re-established?

This might be the only way to test whether or not Gentile believers, disciples of the Master, Rav Yeshua, will endure such a visible indicator of their/our sins.

Of course, in the resurrection and under the New Covenant, people will possess an unparalleled apprehension of the Holy Spirit and it will become natural for them to not sin, so perhaps the whole point is moot.

The curing of Naaman by Elisha led the foreign Captain to the worship of the One true God of Israel, so his becoming tamei was ultimately for his benefit.

The Samarian who was unclean was also healed for the glory of the Almighty.

I can believe that the Jewish people are expected to exhibit a higher level of spirituality, and the consequences of failing that results in a greater level of discipline from their God than for the rest of us. However, when a Gentile comes to faith in God through the faithfulness of the Jewish Messiah, we are grafted into the blessings of the New Covenant (indwelling of the Spirit, promise of the resurrection), so who is to say that more isn’t expected of us as well, not necessarily in the manner of the Jews, but more nonetheless?

whisperIf Hashem were to reinstate this class of afflictions tomorrow, would Gentile believers be as vulnerable to them as the Jewish people and for the same reasons? Perhaps we are fortunate in never knowing for sure.

Sorry it’s taking so long to submit my next review from the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle. I’m currently in the middle of an essay written by Mark Nanos and it’s rather verbose. Hopefully, I’ll have the article read and a review written by early next week.

Tazria-Metzora: Time Out

whispererTzara’at, the skin discoloration mistranslated for millennia as “leprosy,” is a curious disease. It is not contagious—it was only acquired by virtue of speaking badly of other people. It was a physical skin discoloration caused by a spiritual defect. The “metzora,” the sufferer with tzara’at, had to stay outside the city and inform all that he or she was spiritually impure.

-Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe
“Healing Hubris”

Judaism does not believe in free speech.

Talking ill of your neighbor, even if it is the truth, is unequivocally banned. In fact, the Talmud (Erchin 15b.) equates gossip-mongering with idolatry, licentiousness and murder—the three cardinal sins—combined!

Moreover, the Jerusalem Talmud tells us that “King David’s soldiers would fall at war, for although they were completely righteous, tale-bearing was widespread among their ranks… Ahab’s militia, however, although they were notorious idol-worshippers, were victorious on the battlefield because of their exceptional camaraderie . . .” (Pe’ah 1:1.)

Apparently, G‑d takes greater offense at the badmouthing of His children than at the badmouthing of Himself!

In some ways, then, the gossiper is the worst sinner of all. As such, his “punishment” teaches us much about the nature of all the punishments prescribed by the Torah.

-Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson
“Spiritual Rehab”

Commenting on this week’s Torah Portion TazriaMetzora is a difficult task, at least if I don’t want to seem repetitive. After all, I’ve been “bashing” lashon hara or “evil speech” for a few days now as a problem I have with religious people and in how such speech destroys God’s reputation and all our lives.

It is thought in some circles of Judaism, that the cause of tzara’at in ancient times was evil or ill speech. The consequence was that, after the condition was confirmed by a Priest (with the cry of “Unclean!”), the metzora was set outside the camp. There was a period of waiting and then re-examination. If the metzora was declared clean, then he or she undertook a certain set of rituals and then could re-enter the camp. If not, then they had to wait some more and the process would repeat itself. Presumably, anyone who was a metzora would eventually be declared clean and then re-enter the camp of God.

But what if someone was never declared clean? What if the disease wouldn’t go away? I guess that would mean not only the symptoms would remain, the skin disease, but the underlying cause would keep hanging around: talking ill of your neighbor (and your neighbor ultimately could be anyone).

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Matthew 18:15-17

I suppose that’s the closest New Testament equivalent to the condition of the metzora who sinned against his or her neighbor by gossiping against them. Well, it’s not as if the metzora didn’t exist in the days when Jesus walked in Israel:

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

Matthew 8:1-4

The word rendered as “leper” in verse two is probably a rather poor translation or there was no Greek word that captured the Hebrew “metzora.” It seems that, in one fell swoop, Jesus forgave the metzora of his sin and cured his physical and spiritual ailments.

the_leperIn some sense, it’s a shame we don’t suffer from tzara’at today. If our sins were as plain as the noses on our faces, perhaps we would be much more diligent in avoiding sin. Then again, to the degree that there was such a law that required the metzora be examined and isolated from the camp, I guess people under such a law weren’t able to avoid such a sin, even knowing the consequences.

Still, it seems cruel. Why isolate someone from the community if they’ve sinned? We see examples in both the Tanakh and in the Apostolic Scriptures. The metzora endured temporary (hopefully) exile, while the passage from Matthew 15 teaches that a person gets “three strikes” before they are “out.” Do they ever get back in? How did the metzora get back into the camp?

Rather than talk to others, he needed to talk to himself.

This wasn’t about revenge; it was about reflection.

He wasn’t being hurt because he’d hurt others in the past. He wasn’t even being isolated so that he wouldn’t come to socially isolate others in the future. He was simply being given the opportunity to get to know his present self.

People who hurt and isolate others are lonely and in pain themselves. Those who try to destroy other people’s security and happiness are themselves often sad and insecure.

The Torah—which is concerned with kindness, not power—sees the sinner as a victim, not an enemy, and therefore recognizes his need to be strengthened rather than weakened. This, the Torah perceives, cannot be done in the presence of others, but has to be done alone.

In the presence of others, he would see that which he lacked. Alone with himself, he was able to see that which he possessed.

-Rabbi Kalmenson

This isn’t hard to understand. Any parent who has put their child in “time out” understands what is happening. This is what parenting experts and educators call “logical consequences.” If you can’t get along with your community (your brother, mother, playmate), you don’t get to be with them for a certain period of time. If you sin against your brother (in Christ), and you don’t repent, you don’t get to be with your brother or any of your brothers, presumably until you are able to repent.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:21-22

Oh, yes. When they do repent, you take them back. That’s what happened to the recovered metzora and what was supposed to happen to the brother who sinned against you. When they repent, you take them back. Even if they sin against you later and then repent, and then sin against you later, and then repent, and then…

Gee, really? Is this like a sin and repent and forgive revolving door? I suppose there must be limits.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

That sounds pretty harsh, but then again, if someone is willfully and habitually sinning, are they really saved at all? Are they really members of Messiah’s “sheep pen?” Can we flaunt the will of God to His Face and still expect that He will write our names in His book of life?

Why are we sometimes exiled from the community of brothers?

And so, ultimately, this was a therapeutic time for the metzora, focused not on hurting him but on curing him. Rather than confine him, this procedure aimed to free him.

Could this be the reason that the Torah portion which describes the metzora’s impurity, likened in Jewish literature to spiritual death, (Talmud, Nedarim 64b.) is called Tazria, which means “conception,” or the beginning of new life? (see Likkutei Sichot, vol. 22, pp. 70ff.)

-Rabbi Kalmenson

isolationI suppose there’s a certain merit in the idea of isolating yourself when you realize that you are living a double-minded life. Why wait to be publicly humiliated when you can stop it now, take a “time out,” and turn to God to get yourself straight. How that’s implemented depends on your sins. Are you a gossip? Are you a drunk? Are you into “inappropriate adult material?”

For some of that, you might not be able to deal with it alone and in fact, being alone might make it worse. Sometimes you have to withdraw from your usual social avenues and connect with a group or individual who is there specifically to help you out with your specific problem.

The closest ancient analogy is the Priest, who was responsible for the initial and subsequent examinations of the metzora. The metzora’s counselor during isolation was God. In modern times, we continue to need God, but sometimes he sends us additional, human help.

And there’s hope for life after “tzara’at.”

Life isn’t out to get you.

It’s out to be gotten by you.

And if and when in life you are forced to punish, do it like a pro.

Imitate G‑d.

Don’t hurt out of weakness; repair out of strength.

-Rabbi Kalmenson

A life under repair might not look pretty, at least in the beginning, but if the life is truly being repaired, that means productive work is being done. Give it time. Give God time to work with you (and me). Jesus told Peter to forgive repeatedly, over and over again, so that none should perish but everyone come to repentance.

Good Shabbos.