Parsha Tazria-Metzora – 5777

Parshat Tazria-Metzora In-Depth

“G‑d spoke to Moses, saying: . . . A woman who shall seed and give birth (Leviticus 12:1–2)

Rabbi Simlai said: Just as man’s creation was after that of cattle, beasts and birds, so too the laws concerning his [ritual impurity and purity] come after those concerning [the impurity and purity of] cattle, beasts and birds. Thus it is what is written (Leviticus 11:46–47), “This is the law of the beasts and of the birds and of every living creature . . . to differentiate between the impure and the pure”; and immediately thereafter, “A woman who shall seed . . .”

Why was man created last among the creations? So that if he is not meritorious, we say to him: “A gnat preceded you, a snail preceded you.” (Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)”

Torah Sparks: Tazria-Metsora 5777

“The book of Leviticus (Sefer Vayikra) entails many difficulties for the modern reader. First, it can easily be conceived as a cluster of ritual laws that have little to do with our modern Jewish experience. Second, the priestly image of the world depicted in it seems quite detached from our world outlook; for example, the forces of purity and impurity that play such a fundamental role in the metaphysics of Leviticus. Though they can still be relevant in some areas of our lives, their influence has diminished significantly over the centuries, for many reasons.”

Judaism, Medical Science, and Spirituality: A Brief History

“It rarely fails. B’nei mitzvah families come to me three, four, five years in advance. “Is it possible,” they ask, “that our child not be assigned the portion in the Torah on leprosy? We’re just not sure,” they continue somewhat disingenuously, “it will be meaningful.” So, we talk about leprosy as metaphor and explore questions like, “what is the leprosy of our era?” and the parental anxiety slowly relaxes. By contrast, only twice in 30 years families came to me and actually asked to be assigned the portion that discusses leprosy, Tazria. “Why?” I ask them. Both times either one or both parents were dermatologists eager to accept the portion, and equally ready to disprove the biblical diagnosis and suggest an alternate skin disease.”

Tzara’at and Selfishness

“Parshat Metzora deals with a peculiar condition called tzara’at that afflicts skin, surfaces of walls and clothing. This condition has long been erroneously translated into English as “leprosy.” However, tzara’at is not Hansen’s Disease, the clinical name for leprosy. For starters, the symptoms are not at all similar. Moreover, the rules associated with tzara’at do not make sense if the disease is contagious. For example, while someone whose skin is partially covered with the lesions of tzara’at is considered ritually unclean (tamei), a person who is entirely covered with the malady is not! Moreover, the malady affects architecture as well as skin: if the walls of a house show tzara’at then all of the contents of the home are put outside! (Leviticus 14:26). This is not the way to halt the spread of a contagious illness people are afraid of contracting. Rather, our ancestors in the ancient world saw it as an external symptom of a spiritual, even social malady. It is through this lens — not a contemporary perspective of infectious disease — that we can find some meaning in the study of tzara’at today. ”

Haftarah Parshat Tazria-Metzora

“The heroes of this week’s haftarah are in a tragic situation. It was not enough that they were lepers, forced to live outside of the walls of the city on account of their condition, they were equally threatened by the Aramean army which had laid siege to the city, leaving the city’s inhabitants in a state of famine. None of their alternatives were satisfactory. If they entered the city, they would be subject to the famine which faced the inhabitants of the city. Their only other alternative was to enter the enemy camp and fall on its mercy. This obviously also had its risks. What were these poor souls to do? Their dialogue informs us of their decision: “Why sit here until we die? If we say we will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city; and if we sit here, we also die. Now therefore, let us fall on the Aramean camp; if they allow us to live, we will live and if they kill us, we will die.” (7:4-5) Miraculously for them, the enemy had abandoned their encampment, allowing the lepers to find the food they so desperately needed.”