These two parashiyot detail the issues of tumah (ritual impurity) and tohorah (ritual purity). A woman who bears a son is tamei for seven days, and fourteen days for a daughter. The boy is to be ritually circumcised on the eighth day. There is a subsequent period of tumah for either boy or girl, and then the mother brings a sacrifice to restore her tohorah. Tzara’at is an eruption that affects human skin (and has often been confused with leprosy). It also affects fabrics, leather, and plastered building stones. The Torah speaks of four different categories regarding tzara’at: in humans, in fabrics and leather, a ritual to restore the purity of a person healed of tzara’at; and tzara’at in plastered or mud-covered building stones. The role of the Kohen is strikingly non-magical: He doesn’t “cure” anyone of the illness; he merely diagnoses it and, when it is already cured, restores the person’s ritual wholeness. In cases of acute tzara’at, the sufferer was banished from the camp for the duration of the illness, often for life. Metzora continues the discussion of the ritual response to tzara’at. It opens with the rites for restoring the tohorah of a person who suffered from acute tzara’at. These elaborate rituals were similar to those for a person who comes into contact with a corpse. Like the ordination of the priests, this ritual takes a full seven days plus one (marking a new creation or rebirth of the individual). Also like the ordination of priests, the person has sacrificial blood smeared on his right earlobe, right thumb, and right big toe. Within Eretz Yisrael, this plague also affects homes. The home is then cleared prior to the priestly inspection. If it is indeed infected, the home is closed for seven days. At the end of this period, the priest inspects again, and the affected stones are removed from the home (and from the town). The plaster inside the home is scraped off, and the new plaster is applied. If tzara’at breaks out again, the home is demolished. The ritual for purging a “healed” home is almost the same as for a healed individual. The parashah now moves to consider discharges from sexual organs, male or female. These discharges result from illness or infection, not from menstruation or normal seminal emissions. As with much of Vayikra, illness is subsumed under the category of tumah, making illness a religious concern and equating healing with tohorah. Abnormal male and female discharges are both referred to by the same term: zav. The philosophy underlying this religious attention is expressed at the end of the parashah: “You shall put the Israelites on guard against their tumah, lest they die through their tumah by defiling My Tabernacle, which is among them”.
Questions for discussion 1- Many explanations have been given for the difference on the tumah period for a new mother after having a boy or a girl, the girl’s being twice as long. Do you have your own? 2- How can we interpret the similarity between the metzora’s rites of restoration and the priestly ordination? 3- Why does a tamei person defiles the Tabernacle? It seems natural, but why does this condition precludes the person from accessing holiness?
Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Mijael Even-David