Parashat Tazria & Metsora
April 28-29, 2017 – 3 Iyyar 5777
Annual (Leviticus 12:1-15:33): Etz Hayim p. 649-670; Hertz p. 460-477
Triennial (Leviticus 12:1-13:39): Etz Hayim p. 649-657; Hertz p. 460-464
Haftarah (2 Kings 7:3-20): Etz Hayim p. 675-678; Hertz p. 477-479
Tazri’a-Metsora: A Story of Awareness and Healing
Yardén Raber, Conservative Yeshiva Talmud Faculty
The book of Leviticus (Sefer Vayikra) entails many difficulties for the modern reader. First, it can easily be conceived as a cluster of ritual laws that have little to do with our modern Jewish experience. Second, the priestly image of the world depicted in it seems quite detached from our world outlook; for example, the forces of purity and impurity that play such a fundamental role in the metaphysics of Leviticus. Though they can still be relevant in some areas of our lives, their influence has diminished significantly over the centuries, for many reasons.
One reading Tazri’a-Metsora immediately realizes the difficulties that Leviticus poses. The parashah deals with impurities of physical origin, such as those caused by tzara’at (scale disease) and bodily secretions. The idea that a phenomenon of natural and physiological origins, such as a disease or a secretion, might be considered a source of ritual impurity raises a severe theological problem. How is it possible to conceive a physical dysfunction, over which one has no control, as the cause of grave impurity? Adding serious impurity to the disease itself seems arbitrary punishment for the person who contracted the latter.
Apparently the Sages also were troubled by this idea. In the Talmud (Arachin 16a) Rabbi Yohanan suggests that the infections caused by a scale disease (neg’a’im) should be conceived as the result not of a physical dysfunction but rather of a moral one. He lists seven immoral acts as possible causes, among them lashon ha-r’a, slander or evil gossip. A parallel explanation is found in a story in Leviticus Rabbah (Metsora 16). There Rabbi Yanai suggests that the word metsora is a contraction of the phrase motzi shem r’a, i.e., one who defames or denigrates others. These two Palestinian sages offer similar responses – despite manifesting itself through physical signs, tzara’at is not a physiological disease but rather a sign of moral ill health. Therefore, people do have control over it; one can prevent this disease by refraining from defamatory conduct and communications.
The S’fat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Arieh Alter, Poland, 19th-20th Cent.) elaborates on this idea. Drawing on the K’li Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, Poland, 16th-17th Cent.), he suggests an alternative etymology for the word metsora. According to his view, this term is not a contraction of the phrase hamotzi shem r’a – as suggested by Rabbi Yanai — but rather a part of this phrase: motsi ra’, i.e., he who takes out the evil. As he often does, the S’fat Emet succeeds in bringing up a very profound psychological reading of the text. The infection (neg’a), the wound caused by the disease, indicates that a person afflicted is actually taking out, or digging up, the hatred that resides in his heart. Conceived this way, the infection is not only a sign of the disease, but also a means of its healing. Only by removing the evil from one’s heart can a person truly be cleansed of it. According to this interpretation, instead of avoiding the disease, sometimes we have to immerse ourselves in it; we have to willingly defile ourselves by coming in contact with all that is harmful in order to achieve a true and total purification. The awareness of our own wounds is often the beginning of our healing journey.
A Vort for Parashat Tazria & Metsora
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
On the words “wherever the priest can see” in Lev 13:12, the Mishna (Negayim 2:2-3) says the priest does not examine for leprosy “on a cloudy day” or if he, the priest, has poor vision or is blind in one eye. The Glilei Zahav (R’ David Moshkovits, Romania, early 20th C) says that one should not look for nega’im, blemishes, in the Jewish people, or in a fellow Jew, on a “cloudy” day, when things are bad or there are pressures and troubles affecting us, jointly or individually. One who looks with impaired or limited vision sees only the blemishes, not the troubles (tsarot) which are weighing upon us, and therefore is not qualified to judge what blemish is pure or impure.
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
Following the painful event of the death of 2 of Aaron’s sons during the celebrations for inaugurating the Priesthood, we are taking a double-Parasha (1 week) break from Kohanim in the Tabernacle and learning a bit about purity. Purity is a state that can change, it has nothing to do with hygiene.
1) A woman who gives birth becomes impure (12:1-5). Interestingly, the period of her impurity does not seem to be contingent on her physical condition but rather on a certain amount of time passing after the birth. Why do you think this is so?
2) Starting in chapter 13 we learn about Tzara’at (usually translated as leprosy). Who/what can be afflicted by Tzara’at in this section? What organ of the body is affected the signs of Tzara’at? (13:1-2)
3) Who is qualified to determine that the problem is indeed Tzara’at (13:2-8)? Note the terminology used to describe the status of the person. What does that tell you about Tzara’at?
4) It turns out that not only people can be affected by Tzara’at. What else might be affected (13:47-59)? Why do you think that great trouble is taken to isolate the potential Tzara’at and not destroy the entire garment? (You might want to consider that this was not written in our consumer society.)
5) After a person who had Tzara’at has been declared to be free of it (by the Kohen) he goes through 2 ceremonies as part of the purification (14:4-20). Where does each one take place? What do you think that these locations symbolize? How long does the process take? Where is the Metzora (=person who has/had Tzara’at) during this period? Why?