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THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING-A FIRST GLANCE
TAZRIA and MTZORA- LEV. 12:1-13:59 14:1-15:32
A short study of the reading by Yaakov Fogelman,
who lectures on Torah and Zionism


ELY LEVISOHN sponsors this study, in memory of his father, KURT DAVID LEVISOHN Z"L


These Torah readings deal with the technical details of the biblical laws of ritual impurity. Here are some Biblical Hebrew terms, used in this study: "TUMA" is RITUAL IMPURITY. "TAHARAH is RITUAL PURITY". "MILA" is JEWISH RITUAL CIRCUMCISION. "NIDA" is A MENSTRUANT WOMAN. "TZARAAT" is A MYSTERIOUS BIBLICAL AFFLICTION, AFFECTING PEOPLE, CLOTH AND HOUSES, ENGENDERING TUMA; "MTZORA" is A PERSON SO AFFLICTED. "OLAH" is A "RAISING UP" BURNT OFFERING.

NOTE: Laws of tuma are commanded only to Jews-- they're not part of God's universal Noachide religion. Likewise, except for corpses, the bodies of non-Jews only engender rabbinic tuma. Most of these laws do not apply today, until the 3rd temple will be built, yet contain deep symbolic messages, relevant in every age- Rabbis S. R. Hirsch & David Hoffman explain them especially well.

Per RAMBAM (Guide III:47), laws of tuma and Temple service toned down Sabian magic religion's over-reactions in these realms-- if you think sacrificing a pigeon is unpleasant, compare it with burning a child! God's true religion isn't such a burden (Mica 6:5, Jer. 2:5, 31; should verbal negation suffice for a Jews' inner detachment from mere crumbs of chometz during Pesach week? Should Jews wear ugly red strings as magic bracelets?). God wanted people to approach His Sanctuary with awe and fear (Lev. 19:30). If they frequent the Temple, familiarity will breed contempt!-- cf. enthusiastic kotel visitors, having a "date" with God, with many apathetic "regulars", "married" to Him; also cf. the monthly separation of spouses: "Make your foot rare in your neighbor's house (the Temple- Chag. 7a), lest he be sated with you and hate you" (Prov. 25:17). Thus some people won't live near the Wall. So God made going to the Temple, only allowed during daytime, difficult and cumbersome-- one ritually impure may not enter; yet it's terribly hard to avoid tuma, engendered even by sexual intercourse and nocturnal pollution (Lev. 15:16-8; Deut. 23:11-2). The more frequent the occasions for communicating tuma, the longer and harder it was to be rid of it (see Friedlander, "Guide", III, p. 246). Tuma laws also distanced Jews from disgusting things. They were NOT to interfere with everyday life-- ONLY the priests had to be in the Temple and consume holy food; only they (not even Ms. Cohen) had to worry about tuma.

TAZRIA-- A SYNOPSIS: AFTER the laws of which creatures a Jew may eat, and of the tuma caused by their carcasses, the Torah turns to tuma engendered by humans. Contact with dead animals only bans one's entry into the sanctuary; tuma of human beings may force one to leave the Levite and/or Israelite Camps too (Rav Y. Schneider). Animals also precede man in the order of creation, and in praising God (Ps. 148:10f; listen to birds and animals at sunrise and sunset). Yet Man, tho source of the greatest tuma, can also be the crown of Creation and its redemption. His soul, idealized in that of the Messiah, a great, yet human, teacher, may indeed have heralded all creation-- "AND THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD HOVERED OVER THE WATERS" is so interpreted. Man is first, the leader of creation, IF he develops his Divine Image-- then nature will serve him, and the animals consumed by him rise to a higher level, according to "Tamar D'vora" (by Rav Moshe Cordovero). But man is the lowest of creatures, if he just focuses on his physical side-- a gnat beats him in animal instinct: "AFTER AND BEFORE YOU'VE CREATED ME... (Ps. 139:5)".

A new mother is treated as a nida in Jewish Law, tho she emits NO vaginal blood! She's both ritually impure and forbidden to her husband sexually for 7 days if she has a boy, 14 if a girl; then she's permitted to him, THO BLEEDING, for 33 and 66 days respectively (per Torah law; but she's NOT so permitted today, under subsequent rabbinic law, based on ambiguities in our tradition and/or perceptions; her blood during that period is called "dam tahara", pure blood). Yet she's still impure vis-a-vis entry into God's sanctuary. ON THE 8th day, a baby boy (unless in danger) must be circumcised. After the 40 or 80 day period, the new mother brings a yearling sheep as a burnt offering, and A turtle dove or common dove FOR A SIN OFFERING (a mtzora brings two doves; if she's poor, 2 doves suffice for both offerings).

The Torah then describes certain skin afflictions, tzaraat, engendering tuma, not applicable today- but maybe tomorrow! Determinants of tzaraat include the color of a skin mark and the hair within it, and areas being below skin-level, or swelling above it. The cohen examines and rules if the victim has tzaraat; he quarantines a doubtful victim for further examination. If ALL the victim's skin turns white, HE/SHE IS CLEAN! (13:13; likewise, when all nations are heretical, Meshiach will come!-- Yal. Sh.). Tzaraat can also occur within infections, burns or baldness-- many factors influence a given situation; it's hard to tell which cause specific effects, e.g. moldy walls and religious Israeli immigrants from Arab lands, who were adversely affected by both modern life and secular Zionism.

WHEN TZARAAT IS DETERMINED, the victim must tear his clothing, refrain from haircuts, as a mourner, and cover his head down to his lips, proclaiming: "UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN"; such unclean persons stay alone, outside the camp. Wool, linen and leather afflicted by a green or red mark are set aside 7 days to determine tuma; if it spreads, the item is burned (compare today's cattle diseases). Otherwise, it's set aside another 7 days after washing; if there's then no change, it's burnt. If it changes color, the mark is removed; the garment is then burnt only if the mark reappears. If the mark goes away in scrubbing, the article is re-immersed and then clean.

HAFTARAT TAZRIA is II Kings 4:42-5:19. A man brought a bit of first-fruits offering; Elisha promised that it would feed 100 sons of the prophets-- with leftovers! So it was (cf. the poor woman's pot of oil, 4:1f). General Naaman of Aram was afflicted with tzaraat; his wife's captive Jewish maiden recommended treatment by the prophet of Samaria. Aram's king sent Naaman to Israel's king with gifts and a written request to cure him (cf. Israel's hospital for Kosovo victims)! Israel's king tore his clothes in mourning-- he assumed that this mission impossible was a pretext or set-up to destroy him. Elisha told him to relax and send Naaman along; the prophet told Naaman to dip 7 times in the Jordan; Naaman left enraged, expecting a big ceremony-- the Jordan isn't even much of a river (except to Syria!). His servants urged him to give it a try; he did; it worked-- his skin was again as soft as that of a youth! Naaman, now duly impressed by the LORD (of nature), tried to pay Elisha, who refused payment (despite his poverty and famine?); he is teaching Naaman non-exploitative holy values, his true cure. But Elisha's Sexton, Gechazi, took the proffered money for himself and got tzaraat! Naaman took Israel's holy earth to build a Syrian altar-- to sacrifice only to GOD. He begs forgiveness for escorting his master to idol worship; Elisha replies: "GO TOWARD PEACE" (step by step). He left.

SOME OBVIOUS ??: Just what are tuma and tahara? Are they physical or metaphysical entities? Why does tuma interfere with temple service? Why does a new mother bring a SIN offering- Catch 22? Why is her period of tuma doubled for a female baby? Is childbirth indeed "impure", animalistic? Per the Large Lamaze Lie, father is having the baby too!!!-- so why isn't HE impure? Why isn't the baby? Why is mila interjected here, amidst laws of tuma, and not taught together with other mitzos? If tzaraat is LEPROSY, why does just that disease engender tuma? Is the priest "Dr. Cohen", besides being Rev. Cohen? Why must the "leper" mourn and proclaim his state? IS THERE PEACE IN THIS WORLD? Where? Why doesn't tzaraat exist today? Is this good? Why still study it? Why does one quarantined for tzara'at still have to purify himself and wash his clothing, when it is proven, after his quarantine period, that he did not have tzara'at (13:6- see Rashi)?

SOME APPROACHES TO THE ??: TUMA is not a medical realm-- much of tuma applies only to Jews, who are apparently not biologically unique. We indeed don't quarantine those afflicted on holidays, just when infection would spread quickly (Hirsch); victims have to leave only ancient walled Israeli cities! (cf. Shushan Purim). The cohen ignores other diseases, and doesn't TREAT tzaraat, only diagnoses it. Tho Rav Yochanan gives medical reasons for the absence of lepers in Babylon (Ket. 77b), he traced the origins of tzaraat to the 7 abominable acts of Proverbs 6:16-19 (Lev. Raba 16:1-- see Yoma 38b). His first statement may indeed refer to medical leprosy, as its context suggests. The sages spoke about a "spirit of tuma" (San. 65b) and "impure art" (91a), but didn't connect them to the laws of tuma. Yochanan Ben Zakai explained tuma magically to a Gentile, but then told his pupils: "By your lives! The corpse doesn't cause tuma, nor do the waters purify-- it's a Decree of the Supreme King of Kings (to act as tho they do; PdRK 40-cf. Rambam below)".

The Kotzker Rebbe defined tuma as the negative filling of a vacuum, left after departure of God's Spirit; the departure of a Jewish soul, with the highest Divine potential (per Kuzari, Rav Kook, etc., who view Jewish souls as unique, as opposed to Rambam), generates the greatest tuma in the remaining body; we especially sense His spirit in great positive teachers of Torah and the kindest people, e.g. Rav J. B. Soloveichik, Arye Levine, Rav A. Y. Kook, The Lubavitcher and Bostoner Rebbes and Shlomo Carlebach. Leaders who accentuate the negative, attacking others, do not so inspire us (Shas?). Rav Norman Lamm (in "The Royal Reach", Ch. 38) views childbirth as pure and holy-- the very first birth is indeed a joint venture of God and Woman- "I've created a man with the Lord!" (Gen. 4:1, see Cassuto, 14:19)-- only God's partial "departure" from the mother, together with the new baby, engenders her tuma, a tribute to her prior super sanctity. Birth of a female ends an even holier process-- creating a human who will herself so create. Menstruation, expulsion of an unfertilized egg, a "soul potential", also engenders tuma; a soul contaminated with the sins causing tzaraat has also expelled God's Presence. "Zav" and "zavah", unusual or untimely flows from the sexual organs, are attributed to similar sinful causes.

Thus the new baby is not unclean; unlike his/her mother, but like his/her father, he/she has lost nothing. But a holy soul, recently part of mommy, has left, never to return (see Freud; life is a one way street). She "mourns" this loss only 7 days for a male baby; he won't produce life-giving sperm until puberty- procreation is not his main theme. His sister, however, is born with all the eggs of the next generation, to be gradually released monthly from the onset of menstruation (cf. time release anti-histemine capsules)-- her prime role is nurturing. Her mommy thus loses two generations of holy human life, doubling her impurity and "mourning". Some midrashim imply that she mourns the inevitable death of all life, even that of her baby; this dampens the birth experience for the sensitive new mother (cf. post-partum depression), who must nevertheless give her all to her infant's hopefully positive forthcoming life, in cooperation with her husband and God, The Third Partner. So God told the Jews to go calmly forward into the Red Sea (of life) toward Israel, freedom and redemption, despite their fears and its real dangers-- some wanted to cop out via return to Egypt, others by Quixotic war, and pietists by escapist immersion in prayer and holiness, e.g. 100 days at the Wall (The Lubavitcher Rebbe, via Y. Tauber). One doesn't really live until he confronts death (Freud). So, in every age, when Judaism seemed to face total destruction, some Jews jumped into a "Red Sea Refuge", which opened up to them, e.g. Israel, USA for European Jews. Like the Jews of Egypt, according to some Midrashim, only a small number may survive.

Per RAMBAM (Guide III:47), laws of tuma and Temple service toned down Sabian magic religion's over-reactions in these realms-- if you think sacrificing a pigeon is unpleasant, compare it with burning a child! God's true religion isn't such a burden (Mica 6:5, Jer. 2:5, 31; should verbal negation suffice for a Jews' inner detachment from mere crumbs of chometz? Should Jews wear ugly red strings as magic bracelets?). God wanted people to approach His Sanctuary with awe and fear (Lev. 19:30). If they frequent the Temple, familiarity will breed contempt!-- cf. enthusiastic kotel visitors, having a "date" with God, with many apathetic "regulars", "married" to Him; also cf. the monthly separation of spouses: "Make your foot rare in your neighbor's house (the Temple- Chag. 7a), lest he be sated with you and hate you" (Prov. 25:17). Thus some people won't live near the Wall. So God made going to the Temple, only allowed during daytime, difficult and cumbersome-- one ritually impure may not enter; yet it's terribly hard to avoid tuma, engendered even by sexual intercourse and nocturnal pollution (Lev. 15:16-8; Deut. 23:11-2). The more frequent the occasions for communicating tuma, the longer and harder it was to be rid of it (see Friedlander, "Guide", III, p. 246). Tuma laws also distanced Jews from disgusting things. They were NOT to interfere with everyday life-- ONLY the priests had to be in the Temple and consume holy food; only they (not even Ms. Cohen) had to worry about tuma.

MTZORA-- A SYNOPSIS: Why do God and His rabbis want us to study tuma, of no practical relevance for thousands of years? Perhaps it's to be ready to practice it when the 3rd Temple is built, or to expound its many symbolic messages. In our full study of Shmini (E), we discussed Judaism & Music. The many, often repetitive, technical details of tuma may best be viewed as components of a grand musical composition-- the Torah; not all is crescendos, which need preludes to achieve their full effect- see our full Vayakhel study.

We now deal with the purification and redemption of the victim of tzaraat. The priest must go outside the camp to examine the victim, as he does to prepare the red cow to purify those unclean. True religious leaders follow Moshe's example at the Golden Calf Disco-- descend from your heights to help even those lowest on the spiritual ladder. If he is cured, the priest orders to take, FOR HIM, 2 live kosher birds (symbols of chattering slander-- Erchin 16b), a piece of cedar, crimson wool, and a hyssop branch-- these are NOT a sacrifice, but tools of purification, here! One bird is slaughtered over a bowl of water from a natural source. Everything else is dipped together in the water, mixed with blood of the dead bird; this is then sprinkled 7 times on the victim. The live bird is sent off (if it returns, he must send it again-- even 1900 times-- Tosefta Negaim 8, cf. Noah's birds). His clothing is immersed and the priest shaves off all his hair; he immerses in a mikveh. Cedar and hyssop, and wool dyed red by a worm, represent the highest and lowest in life's plant and animal kingdoms. All eventually dies, is mixed with blood. However, a human soul, which transcends its animal bodily partner, can fly high, free of death, as the live bird ("Birds fly over the rainbow, why then, o' why, can't I?").

So Shabbat's message of the number "7", together with purification, can transform the soul (and then the body) of this person, so tainted by sin. Now he may return to the camp, but he still renders things unclean by contact, and may not yet be intimate with his wife. The process is repeated on the 7th day (cf. the 3rd and 7th day use of the red cow potion-- see our Chukas study). On the 8th day he brings sheep, meal and oil offerings. The male guilt offering is presented first. Some of the blood of the slaughter offering is placed on the right ear lobe, thumb and big toe of the unclean person. A priest sprinkles some of the oil towards the Holy of Holies, 7 times; some is put in the place of the blood, the rest on the victim's head. After sin, burnt, and meal offerings, atonement and purification are achieved. A poor man can bring 2 doves instead of sheep #2, with similar ceremonies.

A house in Israel can get tzaraat too. When the owner "spots" it, he tells the cohen: "Something like a plague mark appeared in the house"; the priest orders the contents removed-- then they won't be unclean, tho he declares the house unclean!- clearly, no "disease" is involved here. Mystical entities, unlike physical ones, are determined by the cohen's pronouncement. His holy speech supercedes the unholy tongue of the slanderer, a common victim of tzaraat. If there are bright green or red streaks on the walls (as re cloth), the cohen quarantines the house 7 days; if the spot expands to at least 2 stones, they're removed to an unclean place (the law applies only if ALL the walls of the house are of "building stone", another proof that no "disease" is involved here). The stones are replaced and the house re-plastered. If the affliction returns and spreads, the house is demolished and its stones, wood (the presence of wood in the building is a precondition of the law, another proof that no physical "disease" is involved), and mortar are taken out to an unclean place. A quarantined house engenders tuma- stay away!. If the mark disappears, the cohen orders 2 birds, etc., and processes them to purify the house (as is done for the unclean person, so purified).

A ZAV, a male with a discharge, other than semen or urine, from his penis is unclean, and so renders others in physical contact with him, his bed, seat, saddle or saliva. If he touches the INSIDE of a clay vessel (cf: "...as a clay vessel in the hands of the potter...", "the soul which YOU have placed IN me is still pure"), it must be broken; a wooden vessel so touched may be purified by immersion in water, AFTER CLEANING IT. The zav immerses in a mikveh (or ocean, spring, etc.) 7 days after healing; his clothes must be immersed too. On the 8th day he takes 2 mature turtle doves (who mate with extraordinary devotion), or 2 YOUNG common doves (who turn nasty as they age), one a sin offering, one a burnt offering, for the priest to render atonement. A minor can be a mtzora or zav, engendering tuma; tho his sins are not punishable, they do have their natural and supernatural consequences (Arachin 3a).

A seminal discharge renders the man and any cloth or leather which it touches unclean, but only until evening. Intercourse has similar consequences for both parties (see Shabat 86). A normally menstruant woman is unclean 7 days; touching her or her bed, or sitting where she sat or lay, renders one unclean 1 day; a 3 day flow OUTSIDE her normal period has similar consequences, except that she must count 7 clean days before immersion, and bring sacrifices, as the zav. Today we're afraid to distinguish between nida and zava, so observant Jewish couples separate for at least 12 days if she is bleeding; perhaps a scientist will invent a computer to calculate her periods w/o confusion, restoring the natural Torah cycle; observant family life might then be much pleasanter. One wonders why the Torah doesn't continue here with the main human defilement-- via a corpse; perhaps it waits for the remedy in Numbers 19, the red cow potion.

THE HAFTARA OF MTZORA is IIK 7:30-20. It is also read when Mtzora is combined with Tazria: 4 lepers, allegedly Gechazi & Sons, are excluded from the camp. They're helpless-- Aram holds the Jews in siege and famine. They go to seek mercy from Aram and find the camp deserted, loads of booty left behind. The 4, concerned about their desperate fellow Jews, quickly bring back the good news, rather than looting. After initial doubt, the Jews joyously confirm that Aram fled, hearing the noise of a huge force (God's hoax-- cf. 1948)! Food again becomes cheap and the politician who denied God's power to stop inflation died, just as Elisha prophesied. CONCLUSION: the worst can quickly become the best, both in human character and the physical circumstances which it engenders. Yes, God hurls "the proud" down, but once they're "the lowly", acknowledge their limits and dependence upon Him, He may lift them up again. Man's downfall is to save him, to prod a return to God and self (cf. Israel today).

Mazal Tov to Yaakov Tzi Lepon and his family upon his bar mitzva

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