Tazria & Metzura - April 29

Parashat Tazria 

Leviticus 12.1—13.59

Parashat Tazria is combined with Parashat Metsora in regular years. They are read separately in leap years.

Parashat Tazria begins with the eight brief verses of Leviticus 12, which deal with the purification of a woman who has given birth to a child. This was a totally natural and regular activity in Israel. However, in Leviticus 13, the text moves quickly into the serious and unpleasant situation of infectious skin diseases (generally identified as leprosy). Very detailed instructions are given to the priests (cohanim) to examine and diagnose this tragic malady. It is their sad responsibility to send anyone infected outside the community to live a life of isolation among other victims of the same disease.

Parashat M’tsora in Leviticus 14, also gives detailed instructions to determine if someone has been healed of this disease and what is the procedure to ritually purify the individual and integrate him back into the community. The remainder of Parashat M’tsora, Leviticus 15, deals with other impurities that are contracted in daily life and the means of purification from them.

The priests of Israel studied these things extensively because it was their duty to apply them. The irony is that Leviticus 13 was common but Leviticus 14 was not. Parashat M’tsora laid out what to do when someone was healed, but made no provisions for getting anyone healed. While there might have been a few here and there over the centuries, the scriptures give no evidence of there being so. In fact, in Luke 4.27, Jesus declared in his home synagogue in Nazareth, “There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them were cleansed, but only Na’aman the Syrian.” (See the haftarah.)

So here we have this odd scenario. Hundreds of years go by. The cohanim study the rules regarding leprosy but never apply them. Then one day someone comes to a local priest and declares that he has been healed of leprosy. The priest examines him according to the instructions of Leviticus 14 and declares him clean. He then asks him the obvious question; “How did this happen? In all my years and in all the years my father and grandfather served in the priesthood I have never heard of anyone needing to apply the instructions of M’tsora.” And the healed leper responds, “A rabbi from Nazareth, named Jesus, touched me, healed me and instructed me to find a priest for confirmation.”

This story is repeated time and time again, and always connected with the name of Jesus. Some were healed by him and others were healed in his name by the hands of his disciples and all were sent to the priests. What had not been seen through the centuries past was suddenly exploding before the eyes of the cohanim. There was much debate and controversy in Israel over what was being heard and seen in relation to the message of Jesus and the coming of the kingdom of God, but there was one group of people who knew it was real. “A great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6.7b)

[MM]

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Haftarah: 2 Kings 4.42—5.19

Haftorah: Ezekiel 45:18-46:15

Parashat Metsora

Leviticus 14.1—15.33

Leviticus 13.42-56: This is the main parashah about impurity, and it tells us something important about the Messiah. The root נג”ע appears 56 times in this parashah, five times in these few verses. Oddly, this parashah gave one of the titles to the Messiah in Judaism. In Sanhedrin 98b the question is asked what will be the names of the Messiah. Here is one of the answers:

“The Rabbis said: His name is ‘the leper scholar,' as it is written, ’surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted’ (Isaiah 53.4).” (Sanh 98b)

To this we can add verse 8 from the same chapter quoted in the Sanhedrin passage: “By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?”

Messiah himself became sin for our sake and so was hung on the wood as a curse. “Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree.’” (Galatians 3.13, quoting Deuteronomy 21.23)

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5.20)

Just as lepers were to be expelled from the camp, so too Jesus, the leper Messiah, was rejected by his people. He still remains outside the camp, where we are called to go to him. “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” (Hebrews 13.11-14)

[BSI/rp]

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Leviticus 14.1-7 prescribes the offering of two birds for cleansing a leper.

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest; and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall make an examination. Then, if the leprous disease is healed in the leper, the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two living clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet stuff and hyssop; and the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water. He shall take the living bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet stuff and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water; and he shall sprinkle it seven times upon him who is to be cleansed of leprosy; then he shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird go into the open field.’”

One bird was killed in an earthen vessel over running water, and the other was to be dipped in its blood and let loose alive into the open field. The first sets forth atonement by the death of an innocent sacrifice; the second bird sets forth resurrection from the dead and ascension into the heavens.

[SW]

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Haftorah: 2 Kings 7.1-20; 13.23

Shabbat Shalom!

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