This week’s portion opens with the ritual laws of a woman who gives birth, but the bulk of the content discusses the identification, quarantine and purification of the metzorah, or leper. Unlike the medical affliction, Biblical tzaraat, or leprosy, can also affect clothing or buildings.
After discussing which animals are Kosher for consumption in last week’s portion, the Torah moves on to several cases of ritual impurity. These situations render a person unable to participate in holy rituals, such as attending or partaking of the sacrificial services. The Torah identifies what contaminates a person and how they can be purified.
The first circumstances of these is childbirth. A woman who conceives and delivers a male child is impure for seven days. On the eighth day the child is circumcised, in accordance with the command God gave to Abraham in Genesis 17. The mother waits another 33 days, during which she is considered otherwise pure but cannot enter the Sanctuary or touch anything holy, after which she brings a yearling sheep as a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove as a sin offering. If she cannot afford the sheep, she brings two birds. After this, she is purified. Should the mother conceive and deliver a female child, the waiting periods are doubled: fourteen days of impurity and 66 days of partial purity.
As the Israel Bible points out, circumcision serves as a constant reminder of God’s covenant with Abraham and His promise to give the Land of Israel to his descendants.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think the waiting periods for purification are different for baby boys and girls?
Tzaraat of the Body
The Torah next tackles the topic of tzaraat, a spiritual affliction typically translated as leprosy. It lists various lesions that need to be examined by a priest to determine whether one is infected. A leprous lesion, according to the Torah, is one which extends beyond the surface of the skin and contains white, or on certain parts of the body, golden, hairs. Its appearance is white or white with red streaks. However, if the individual’s entire body turns white, he is considered pure. If the appearance of the lesion is not decisive, the afflicted individual is quarantined for up to two week-long periods to see if it changes.
If the lesion is determined to be leprous, the afflicted individual must separate himself from the community during the period of his contamination. He tears his clothes, stops cutting his hair or shaving, and covers himself entirely with his cloak. He must also warn everyone he encounters that he is contaminated and dwell outside the communal camp.
Points to Ponder
Tzaraat is a fascinating disease. Some of the details provided suggest a medical element to it, but most point to a purely spiritual affliction. What evidence suggests a medical problem? What evidence suggests a spiritual disorder?
Tzaraat for Clothing
It is not only the human body which can acquire tzaraat; it can appear on clothing, as well. A garment of wool, linen or leather upon which a red or green mark appears must be examined by the priest. He quarantines the garment for a week, then reexamines it. If the mark has spread, the garment must be burned. If it has not, the garment must be washed and rechecked. If the mark remains unchanged by washing, the garment must still be burned. If the mark fades, the owner may simply remove the affected section of the garment. However, if the mark returns to any other part of the garment, it must be burned. If washing removes the mark entirely, the garment is considered pure and need only be immersed again.
Thus ends the section on “diagnosing” tzaraat of clothing. The Israel Bible mentions the teaching of the Sages, that tzaraat is a punishment for a number of sins, most notably lashon hara or slander. This serves to emphasize the importance God places on treating others with respect.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think a garment can get tzaraat? What might God want us to learn from this?