Parashat Metsora – Shabbat Hagadol
April 15-16, 2016 – 8 Nisan 5776
Annual (Leviticus 14:1-15:33): Etz Hayim p. 660; Hertz p. 470
Triennial (Leviticus 14:33-15:33): Etz Hayim p. 663; Hertz p. 473
Haftarah (Malakhi 3:4-24): Etz Hayim p. 1296; Hertz p. 1005
Rebbi Meir and Finding Balance in Niddah
Joel Goldstein, CY alumnus, is a Talmud teacher at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and will be starting as a second year Rabbinical student at Hebrew College in the Fall.
Parashat Metsora introduces the laws of menstrual niddah, impurity (post-birth niddah was presented in Chapter 12 last week). Modern commentaries on niddah sometimes explain the practice through a statement of Rebbi Meir in the Babylonian Talmud (Niddah 31b):
Rebbi Meir said, Why did the Torah say a niddah is for seven days? For he becomes used to her and sick of her (מפני שרגיל בה וקץ בה). So the Torah ordained, Let her be unclean for seven days, so she will be as attractive to her husband as when she first entered the wedding canopy.”
However Rebbi Meir’s statement cannot be the explanation for having a period of niddah. Otherwise there should be niddah separation for married women even when not menstruating regularly; niddah would not necessarily need to be tied to menstruation. Rebbi Meir’s statement might be seen as an attempt to balance between multiple facets of niddah which are found in the Torah and continue in the rabbinic period.
In our parashah (Chapter 15) niddah is one of several genital discharges which render a person impure for a period of time, limiting access to the Temple. The Torah here apparently does not forbid her from having sex (v. 24); “her menstrual impurity is transmitted to him and he will remain unclean for seven days.” Yet in parshiyot Aharei Mot and Kedoshim (18:19 and 20:18 respectively), it restricts sex and even physical closeness. As it says in Leviticus 20:18:
If a man lies with a woman during her menstrual period, both of them must be cut off from the community, for they have exposed the source of her blood flow.
Thus there seems to be a conflict in the laws of niddah. Is niddah a period of impurity where spouses may nonetheless engage in sexual contact, or is it a period of strict separation? Is it only about purity or is it also about relationships?
In the Rabbinic period at least two approaches arose, reflecting these two sides of niddah. A story in the second chapter Avot d’Rebbi Natan tells us of a practice where for the first three days of niddah a husband and wife would be totally separated, but they would be more lax for the remaining four. In this story a scholar dies young (“at half of his days”) due to this practice. On the other hand, the Sifra on Metsora tells of a far stricter view: “The sick woman in her niddah [הַדָּוָה בְּנִדָּתָהּ] (Lev. 15:33),” the first opinion states, “should not put on makeup or style her hair until she goes in water,” apparently to makes herself repulsive to her husband during niddah. “Until Rebbi Akiva came and taught, ‘The matter will invite enmity and he will wish to divorce her’.”
Rebbi Akiva begins to strike a balance. For him niddah is still a period of separation, but with limits lest it strain the marriage. Rebbi Meir finds even deeper significance within the approach of his teacher, Rebbi Akiva. For Rebbi Meir the Torah instituted niddah for a full seven days, not three with one practice and four with another, even though that period might be difficult. For he realized that if approached with the proper sensitivity, the niddah separation has the capability to create an even stronger relationship.
A Vort for Parashat Metsora
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
One who suspects that his house has been afflicted with leprosy is to tell the priest (kohen): “I see something like leprosy (כְּנֶגַע) in my house” (14:35). Rashi says even if the owner is very learned and is certain it is such plague, he is not authorized to make such a determination regarding his own house. All the more so, said R’ Mordechai Zondel Rubinstein (Ish Yehudi, Vilna early 20th), we should refrain from making such “diagnoses” about the houses of others or indeed, “the house of Israel.” Sometimes what appears to us “as a plague” appears to others very differently.
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
This week we are continuing with topics related to Tzara’at (known as leprosy) and issues of purity – a state that a person enters and exits under specific conditions. It is not a physical situation. Its main impact is a limiting of participation in holy rituals, and for Tzara’at – a physical removal from the community while the condition persists.
1) After learning about a person being declared a Metzora (=s/he who has Tzara’at), our parasha discusses the end of the period of isolation. An entire ceremony has to take place. Why do you think that the person cannot simply return to what s/he was doing prior to being diagnosed by the Kohen as having Tzara’at? (You may wish to think about what the social implications of Tzara’at had been.)
2) How does a person know that he has been healed from Tzara’at and is ready for the ceremony? (14:2-3)
3) By the end of the ceremony the Kohen achieves atonement for the person cured from Tzaraat 14:18-20). What might the need for atonement tell us about how Tzara’at was understood?
4) Tzara’at is a curious affliction that affects not only people but also their homes. Who identifies the house-Tzara’at (14:35-40)? What has to be done before he comes to render a verdict as to the possibility that this is Tzara’at? Why?
5) While question 4 dealt with the information that the Torah gives us, here are a few things to think about: Does the treatment of the belongings inside the house (14:36) meet the expected standard for disease control? What happens to a person who is in such a house (14:46-47)? Can a house be sick? What does all this tell us about the nature of Tzara’at?