Metzora ~ Leviticus 14:1-15:33

The weekly Torah portion (Hebrew: פָּרָשַׁת הַשָּׁבוּעַ Parashat ha-Shavua, popularly just parasha) is a section of the Torah read publicly and aloud in weekly Jewish prayer services, usually in full during the Shabbat (Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath). There are 54 such parashiyot in Judaism, and the full cycle is read over the course of a Jewish year. Each week, the ECI Young Adults are providing us with a commentary on the week’s parasha.

Remember that last week’s parasha described the signs of a skin illness, called tzaraat in the Bible. This week parasha is called ‘metzora’ (Leviticus 14-15). A metzora, which we often mistranslate as ‘leper’, is a person who is sick from tzaraat.

The Israelites considered tzaraat to be a spiritual illness which could be seen on the skin, a cloth or the wall of a house, where some dark red, yellow or green spots/stains would appear. It would result in ‘lashon hara’, a term used in derision of another. In the book of Numbers, chapter 12 for example, Myriam speaks against Moses and she contracted tzaraat.

When the illness was diagnosed, the sick person was in a state of ‘ritual impurity’. To understand what ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ means, we need to go back to the Hebrew words. The word tahor refers to clarity and light: to what brings life; what comes from God. On the contrary, the word tame refers to something that is closed to the point of withdrawal and by extension, that which is opposed to life. Therefore, the process of purification presents a chance to reconnect with life.

The last part of this week’s parasha discussed the female menstruation and male genital emissions as causes of impurity. In the light of the definition above, the Jews simply see these two biological acts as a ‘waste of an opportunity of life’: the menstruation being the loss of an ovum that was not fertilised and male genital emissions the loss of his semen.mouth

This week’s parasha, Metzora, also explains how to be ‘purified’ after the priest determined that the person was healed from tzaraat. The ceremony involved a sacrifice of a bird, in which the person had to clean his clothes and shave. After seven days, there was another sacrifice, another shaving and an oil offering. If a house was affected by tzaraat, the priest had to discern if the house could be purified or had to be completely destroyed.

The rabbis comment that our words are like birds: it’s hard to know where there are going and who is going to hear them after we utter them. As you may know, in Hebrew, a letter is also a number. Therefore, the Jews are used to calculate the numerical value of a word. The word tsipor (bird) equals 376, the same numerical value as shalom (peace). To be purified from the illness tzaraat, you had to find inner peace.

It brings death and life to the one the words are spoken to/about but also to the person who spoke.

What can we learn from this?

In this passage, we can see how God is good and slow to anger. He doesn’t judge the sinner right away, but warns him to enter a ‘state of impurity’ so that he can be purified. He gives him a second chance, a new opportunity to behave according to His commandments and live. To live among others to be a source of blessings and not to be a cause for anyone to stumble.

We are in this period of grace since Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross, meaning that we have time to repent before he comes back to bring justice to the nations. Therefore, no one suffers from tzaraat anymore although gossips, slander and defamation are all over the place.

Speaking of such in the relationship between ‘the nations’ and the Jews, we witness the virulent increase of Jew-hatred and antisemitism; albeit in disguised forms which are more hidden and less explicitly visible to the undiscerning eye. For example European Union policy to label goods from Jewish companies in disputed territories (Judea/Samaria), the international Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, disputable resolutions and disproportional votes against the (Jewish) state of Israel in the United Nations (assembly) and so forth. These are examples of collective slander and defamation, fuelled by hatred, conducted by groups and nations’ governments; even churches.

Do you know that the Church is not a building but an organic body: Jesus’ Bride? He has a glorious plan for His beloved before He returns! He will make His Bride ‘without stain ‘ (Ephesians 5:27). The tongue has a very strong power and is too often used to destroy. But the Church is called to be an example within the nations. Let’s open our hearts to this process of purification that God promised to do within His people, a collection of believers from Jews and Gentiles from all the nations who speak love, justice and life.

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