Tazria-Metzora (She Conceives-Infected One)
Leviticus 12:1–15:33; 2 Kings 7:3–20; Luke 7:18–35; Matthew 23:16–24:2, 3–31
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period.’” (Leviticus 12:1–2)
While last week’s Parasha (Shemini) discussed the importance of offering sacrifices with a pure heart and mind, this week’s study deals with the laws of tumah (ritual impurity) and tahara (ritual purity).
The laws pertaining to purification, including childbirth, purity in marriage (niddah), and leprosy are discussed.
These regulations may be understood in purely hygienic terms, for the religious significance, or both.
The issue, however, is not one of clean versus unclean, but pure (tahor) versus defiled (tameh).
The Biblical Regulations of Childbirth
“Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.” (Leviticus 12:4–5)
The Bible specifies a waiting period for purification after childbirth—33 days if a male child is born and 66 days if a female child is born.
It provides no explanation why the period of impurity (tameh) is double when a woman gives birth to a female child instead of a male child.
After the specified period of ritual impurity (as in the menstrual period), a burnt offering was brought to the priest.
“When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. He shall offer them before the Lord to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood.
“These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl.” (Leviticus 12:6–7)
Today, for ritual purity, a Jewish woman customarily visits the mikvah (ritual water immersion) after childbirth before resuming sexual relations with her husband.
There are mikvahs in every Orthodox Jewish community throughout the world.
As well, instead of the prescribed offering that was to be made at the Temple, today parents generally visit the synagogue in order to give thanks to God for a speedy recovery from childbirth and for the blessing of their newborn child.
This is when the female child is given her Hebrew name.
The male child, however, is named at his Brit Milah (circumcision) on the eighth day.
“And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (Leviticus 12:3)
In keeping with the Law of Moses, the Messiah was named Yeshua (Jesus) when He was eight days old, on the day of His circumcision (Luke 2:21).
“On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, He was named Yeshua, the name the angel had given Him before He was conceived.” (Luke 2:21)
The English name for Yeshua, Jesus, comes from the Latin spelling of His name, Iesus.
Biblical Regulations Concerning Leprosy
Much of this week’s Parasha concerns leprosy.
The word for leprosy in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Tanakh [Old Testament]) is lepra. In Hebrew, however, the original word that is translated lepra in the Septuagint is tzaraat.
This word comes from tzara, meaning “to have a skin disease,” although the root of tzaraat may actually mean smiting. Indeed, the Talmud explains that tzaraat is a punishment for sin.
While we tend to think Biblical leprosy is like modern-day leprosy, which is accompanied by swelling of organs and rotting of limbs, a better translation of tzaraat might be scaly affliction.
Three types of tzaraat are mentioned in the Torah: an affliction of human skin (Leviticus 13:2); an affliction of garments (Leviticus 13:47); and an affliction of houses (Leviticus 14:34).
A person afflicted with tzaraat of the skin was called metzora, and had to be isolated from the community in order to prevent defiling and infecting others through contact.
“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ [Tameh! Tameh!] As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:45–46)
The second type of leprosy concerns wool, linen and leather garments.
When a garment was infected with a moldy spot, the priest would examine it for seven days and either burn it or clean it, depending on if the mold seemed to spread.
The third type of leprosy was found inside the house.
When a house was infected with “leprosy,” the stones and timber infected with mildew or dry rot would be removed and carried off to a designated place outside the camp (Leviticus 14:44–45).
If that didn’t work, then the house was totally dismantled.
Likewise, sometimes a situation in our lives or relationship has become so defiled and unhealthy that it must be leveled to the ground. We must start over in a new place, trusting that God will help us to begin anew.
Physical leprosy was considered an indication of a spiritual problem—sin!
According to the Talmud (Oral Law), leprosy, which was a broad number of ailments that included ringworm and psoriasis, could be caused by several sins:
“For TEN things plagues come [upon a person]: for idolatry, for forbidden sexual relationships, for bloodshed, for the desecration of God’s Name and for cursing God, for stealing from the public and stealing that which is not his, and for vulgarity of spirit, for speaking badly of others, and for an evil eye.” (Vayikra Rabba 17:3)
According to rabbinical tradition, tzaraat is an affliction from God as punishment for the very serious sin of lashon hara (evil tongue), which is defined as true speech for malicious purposes.
For example, in Numbers 12:10, Miriam was stricken with tzaraat after speaking evil of Moses because of his Cushite wife.
Although lashon hara is an extremely serious sin, slander or defamation, which is called hotzaat shem ra (spreading a bad name), is a graver sin.
“Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:16)
Gossip, called rekhilut, is also forbidden by Jewish law.
“Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.” (Psalm 34:12–13)
According to Jewish belief, malicious gossip is a type of moral leprosy and an evil contagion: it is wise to be aware of this when we are with people who insist on tearing down others with their speech so that we do not imitate their ways.
“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” (Titus 3:1–2)
How does this apply to Believers in Yeshua (Jesus) today?
When it comes to slander or other sin among Believers, we must have an attitude of grace toward the faults and weaknesses of others, but also apply Biblical wisdom.
The Bible tells us to not fellowship with those who call themselves Believers and yet persist in serious sins—not even to eat with them!
They must remain outside the camp until they repent (change their mind and behavior) or else they could infect the whole camp.
“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (Corinthians 5:11)
Anyone who repents, however, can be cleansed of their sins through the blood of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus).
Haftarah (Prophetic Portion)
The Haftarah (prophetic portion) for Tazria and Metzora both deal with tzaraat. However, because the two readings have been combined, only the Metzora portion will be read this week.
In the Tazria portion, we read the story of Naaman, captain of the army of the King of Aram—a land where Syria now stands. He was a mighty man of valor but also a leper (metzora).
Naaman’s wife had an Israelite servant girl who was captured during an Aramean raid on Israel.
The girl advised Naaman to see the prophet Elisha in Israel for healing.
Naaman eventually did go, but the experience was nothing he expected.
Elisha didn’t personally meet with Naaman, but sent a messenger who instructed him to dip seven times in the Jordan River.
In the Bible, seven is the number of perfection, rest, completion and wholeness.
At first, Naaman took offense, since he expected a more personal reception. He was, after all, the captain of an army.
And then, to add insult to injury, he was told to wash in the insignificant, tiny Jordan River!
“’I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage.” (2 Kings 5:11–12)
Fortunately for Naaman, his servants had the courage and faithfulness to challenge him:
“If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” (2 Kings 5:13)
Naaman repented of his attitude of pride and superiority, and obeyed the prophet.
The Healing of Naaman’s Leprosy
This ritual water immersion is called the mikvah—the Jewish custom from which the Church developed the rite of baptism.
After Naaman entered the mikvah and was immersed seven times, his flesh became like that of a little child (na’ar katan), and he was made clean (tahor—ritually pure).
He emerged from the water with new skin and a new spirit, believing in the God of Israel!
After Naaman was healed, he returned to Elisha with gratitude, proclaiming his faith and offering gifts.
Elisha, however, would not accept Naaman’s gifts of money, silver, and clothing because Naaman needed to know that salvation is a free gift from the Lord.
“Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.’” (2 Kings 5:15)
In the Metzora portion of the Haftarah, Israel is under siege by Ben-Hadad, King of Aram. The king of Aram, however, did not know what Naaman knew.
Because the siege is so severe, the people within the walls of the city resort to cannibalism when the food runs out.
Four men with tzaraat, who sit outside the city, decide to defect to the Aramean camp so that they can have food to eat.
When they arrive at the camp, however, it is silent. The army had already fled leaving their treasures behind when they thought they heard the sound of a great army approaching. Of course, the Lord had miraculously intervened to help His people. (2 Kings 7:6)
These ritually unclean men can’t believe their good fortune. They eat until they are full and take some of the silver, gold and clothing.
After eating twice, they realized they must share the news with those starving inside the confines of the war-torn city or they would be guilt letting them starve.