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Parasha Tazria-Metzora: Tzaraat, Purification, Restoration, and the Messiah

Tazria (She Conceives) / Metzora (Infected One)
Leviticus 12:1–15:33; 2 Kings 4:42–5:19, 7:3–20; Matthew 8:1–4, 11:2–6; Mark 9:14–15

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives (bears seed) and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean [tameh] seven days.  As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean.’”  (Leviticus 12:1–2)

In last week’s Torah portion (Shemini), God commanded the kosher laws, identifying which animals were fit for consumption.  It also discussed some of the laws of ritual purity, instructing the Israelites “to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean.”   (Leviticus 10:10)

This week’s double portion of Scripture (Tazria-Metzora) continues with the laws of ritual purity (tahorah) and impurity (tumah).

Open Torah scroll

Open Torah scroll

The Purification of Tzaraat

“And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and the hair of his head shall go loose, and he shall cover his upper lip, and shall cry: ‘Unclean, unclean [tameh, tameh].  All the days wherein the plague is in him he shall be unclean; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his dwelling be.’”  (Leviticus 13:45–46)

Both Tazria and Metzora focus on the laws of leprosy, a spiritual condition that causes the afflicted to become impure.

These portions outline laws regarding how to handle the metzora, the one who is infected, as well as how he or she may be purified once healed.

The Hebrew word that is translated leprosy, tzaraat, does not actually correspond to the modern day affliction of leprosy.  Its origin is spiritual, but it obviously has a physical manifestation.  The condition is identified by a priest, not by a doctor.

In fact, tzaraat can afflict a person, house, or article of clothing.

Synagogue in Germany

Synagogue in Germany

How does the community of Israel deal with a person afflicted by tzaraat—a metzora?

Once it is confirmed through a series of tests that the condition is indeed tzaraat, the metzora is declared tameh (impure or unclean).  The afflicted one is then isolated from the community in order to prevent defiling and infecting others through contact.  The metzora must dwell alone outside the camp until completely healed.

It is the role of the priest to periodically check on the afflicted person to determine when he or she can return to the community, so it can once again be whole.

In terms of a house, however, if the tzaraat spreads after a week of quarantine, the infected stones are removed and thrown in an impure place.  If the lesions reappear after the stones are replaced and the house is scraped and re-plastered, then the entire house is destroyed.  Its stones, wood, and dust are carried away to an impure place.

“Behold, if the plague be spread in the house, it is a malignant leprosy in the house; it is unclean.  And he shall break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the mortar of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place.”  (Leviticus 14:44–45)

Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem

Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem

Once a metzora is healed, he or she then goes through the purification process outlined in the Torah.

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This shall be the torah [instructions] for the leprous person [תּוֹרַת הַמְּצֹרָע] for the day of his cleansing.’”  (Leviticus 14:1–2)

For the healing process to be complete, and the metzora reintegrated into the community, a complex series of offerings are made, beginning on the first day with two clean birds—one that is killed and one that is released.

Although the metzora may now return to the community, he must live outside his tent for seven days.  On the seventh day, the metzora shaves off all hair, including the eyebrows, and bathes in water.

As part of the ceremony, on the eighth day of the purification process, the priest (Kohen) places some of the oil and blood of the guilt offering (male lamb) upon the tip of the right ear of the one being cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot. (Leviticus 14:10–14)

This represents atonement and cleansing of everything we hear, everything we do, and every path we take.

Jewish men gather to pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Jewish men gather to pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.  (Photo by Israel Tourism)

The Cause of Tzaraat

“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)

Judaism considers gossip and slander a type of “moral leprosy,” and the rabbis regard tzaraat as an affliction from God as punishment primarily for destructive communication such as slander or gossip, although pride and self-centeredness may be at the heart of this sin.

Gossip and slander might be caused by the speaker’s baseless hatred (sinat chinam, literally hatred of their grace, beauty, or charm).  Moreover, evil communication leads others into hatred.

The account of Miriam’s leprosy is evidence of the connection between evil speech and tzaraat.  After she and her brother Aaron dared to speak evil of their brother Moses and his Cushite wife, she was afflicted with tzaraat.

“Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.  ‘Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?’ they asked.  ‘Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’  And the LORD heard this.”  (Numbers 12:1–2)

God’s anger was kindled against Miriam, and He afflicted her with tzaraat, saying to her:

“Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?’  The anger of the LORD burned against [Miriam and Aaron], and He left them.  When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous—it became as white as snow.  Aaron turned towards her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease.”  (Numbers 12:8–10)

This should be enough to give each of us a healthy fear of gossiping about or slandering anyone—especially those anointed of the Lord to serve Him in a position of public leadership or ministry.

A Palestinian Christian and a Jewish Orthodox man have a discussion at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

A Palestinian Christian and a Jewish Orthodox man have a discussion at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.  (Photo by James Emery)

Yeshua, Purification, and Restoration

“Now on His way to Jerusalem, Yeshua (Jesus) traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him.  They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Yeshua, Master, have pity on us!’  When He saw them, He said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’  And as they went, they were cleansed.”  (Luke 17:11–14)

Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, during the time of His ministry on earth, healed many unfortunate people who were afflicted by this terrible condition.

Yeshua upheld the process of purification found in this Parasha when He healed a leper, declaring him tahor (clean).

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’  Yeshua reached out His hand and touched the man.  ‘I am willing,’ He said.  ‘Be clean!’  And immediately the leprosy left him.”  (Luke 5:12–13)

Keeping the Jewish law, Yeshua told the man, “Show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

Messiah and the Lepers, by Gebhard Fugal-tzaraat-leprosy

Messiah and the Lepers, by Gebhard Fugal

In Luke 17, Yeshua heals ten men of leprosy, but only one returns to thank Him.  Again, Yeshua sends them to report their healing to the priest.

Just as these lepers needed to report to the Jewish priest, so too do those who have been defiled by gross sin need a system of accountability to those in positions of spiritual leadership.

There needs to be a process in the Body of Messiah for restoration of those who have fallen into immorality and have been healed through repentance and the ministry of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit).

Leading the prayers from the bimah (podium) in a synagogue in Canada.

Leading the prayers from the bimah (podium) in a synagogue in Canada.

The Messiah: Humble and Exalted

According to Sanhedrin 98b of the Talmud (Jewish oral tradition), the Messiah is called “chivara-the leper.”  

Another Jewish interpretation of the Messiah, however, expects Him to be high, mighty, and exalted; not lowly, afflicted, or one who associated with sinners or lepers.

This latter idea is based on Isaiah 52:13: “My servant shall be wise, exalted and lofty, and shall be very high.”

How can we reconcile these two images of the Messiah?  In His first coming, Yeshua came as a lowly servant, entering Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey.

He ate with sinners and associated with tax collectors—behavior for which He was misunderstood and despised.  He died as the humble lamb led to the slaughter to make atonement for our sins.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:5) 

The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem, by James Tissot

The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem, by James Tissot

Yeshua did not come for the proud and righteous, but for the lepers of society—those who are poor, humble, sick, and outcast.  He did not come to associate with the rich and famous; but to cleanse those who had been defiled (made tameh) by sin.

To illustrate this truth, Yeshua told a parable to some who were confident in their own righteousness and who looked down on everyone else:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 

“But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:10–14)

An Orthodox Jewish man wearing a shtreimel prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

An Orthodox Jewish man wearing a shtreimel prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

According to Jewish thought, the Moshiach (Messiah) Redeemer suffers the agonies of tzaraat by taking upon Himself and personally suffering the pain of His people in exile (galut).

It is traditionally believed that the day of purification in this Torah reading, refers to the day of redemption when the Messiah comes.  As Believers, we understand that Yeshua did fulfill this.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the stake, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness—by his wounds you were healed.”  (1 Peter 2:24)

As well, Messiah will come again to heal all tzaraat in our world.  

On that day, He will be exalted to rule and reign forever upon the throne of His Father David in Jerusalem.  Jewish exile will be a thing of the past, and His people will dwell securely in their own land.

“Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”  (Isaiah 9:7)

When that day comes,

“Justice will be the belt around His waist, faithfulness the sash around His hips.  The wolf will live with the lamb; the leopard lie down with the kid; calf, young lion and fattened lamb together, with a little child to lead them.”  (Isaiah 11:5–6) 

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