This week’s reading is one of the various double readings, Tazria-Metzora, Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33; the haftarah reading is from Ezekiel 20:2-20.[i]The reading from the Apostolic Writings is Luke 13:1–17,[ii]according to the MJRC – Chayyei Yeshua Cycle.[iii]
Reading through Tazria-Metzoraa couple of times, a few things become noticeable. Most prominent is that all of the situations in this week’s portion deal with ritual impurity. Ritual impurity is so important that this week’s passage closes with a warning
וְהִזַּרְתֶּ֥ם אֶת־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִטֻּמְאָתָ֑ם וְלֹ֤א יָמֻ֙תוּ֙ בְּטֻמְאָתָ֔ם בְּטַמְּאָ֥ם אֶת־מִשְׁכָּנִ֖י אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּתוֹכָֽם – ויקרא טו,31
You shall put the Israelites on guard against their uncleanness, lest they die through their uncleanness by defiling My Tabernacle which is among them. (Leviticus 15:31)
The first notable situation that causes defilement is the various conditions that are described as natural occurrences in life—things that happen to all humankind: childbirth, hair loss due to skin conditions, seminal discharges and, menstrual discharges. These are natural processes of life, yet they cause the individuals in each and every case to become tamei(טָמֵא; ritually impure, ritually defiled).
The second situation is the disease, tzara’atצָרָעַת)), which is often translated as some type of leprous skin condition. It applies to conditions that separate people from the community so as not to contaminate others or to bring defilement to the Mishkan. But nowhere in these four chapters, one hundred and fifty-seven verses, do we read that the people separated become unholy. There is no exhortation in this parasha to be holy as there is in Lev. 11
For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. … For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44-45)
There are situations, such as the food laws in Leviticus 11, that cause one to be tamei(טָמֵא). These are things/situations that we are to avoid–you might even say with extreme prejudice– because they separate us from HaShem, by our own actions. But in this week’s portion, the things that separate us are natural bodily occurrences over which we have little or no control.
Interestingly, the Sages asked a question similar to the one the disciples asked of Yeshua concerning illness,
As Yeshua was passing by, He saw a man who had been blind since birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi (or Teacher), who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?”
Generally speaking, all disease was regarded as punishment from God for some wrong doing. In the case of tzara’atspecifically, Jewish tradition understands it as a punishment from God for acts of malice such as Miriam’s malicious criticism of Moses, reported in Numbers 12:1-3.[iv]I do not doubt this understanding and if malice is one of the causes of tzara’atthen for sure we are responsible for dealing with it, just as we are responsible for watching what we eat (Leviticus 11). In fact, remember one of Rav Shaul’s admonitions during Passover, “…let us celebrate the feast not with old hametz, the hametz of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened bread – the matzah of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8). In other words, malice, as well as wickedness or disobedience, are things with which we can and should deal; by our choice and through the enabling power of Ruach HaKodesh. However, in situations where natural occurrences separate us not only from the LORD but from the community, we can only trust in the mercies of ADONAI. Just as the blind man did nothing wrong, there are times and situations in which we too are error-free but still stand in need of a touch from the Master.
In this week’s Apostolic Writings, we read of a woman “with a disabling spirit for eighteen years, bent over and completely unable to stand up straight” (Luke 13:11), who was attending the same synagogue that Yeshua chose to visit. We are told nothing about the source of her condition, only that she was in need of a touch from Yeshua. As with the man in John 9, Yeshua reached out and touched her, healed her. Even though there were some in the synagogue who tried to chastise Yeshua for healing on the Sabbath, He fulfilled the words of the Psalmist,
The LORD supports all who stumble and makes all who are bent to stand straight.
The LORD cares for His people. His word reveals those things we should do to walk in His care and grace. For those situations that are beyond our control, He remains the one who heals, who straightens, and who restores to fellowship – with Him, with families, and with our communities.
[iv] Sarna, Nahum M. (gen. ed.), The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus, Commentary by Baruch A. Levine, Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society, 1989, p 75.