Parshat Tazria-Metzora: Weekly Torah Portion Summary, Questions, Resources

If a person is found to have real, his clothes should be torn, his hair should be grown and he should act otherwise like a mourner. He should cry out: "I am ritually impure! I am ritually impure!" Over and over.
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Editor's note: The HuffTorah is an overview of the Torah reading of the week, which is a double portion found in the Book of Leviticus 12:1-15:33, and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. Read the full text of Parshat Tazria-Metzora with interlinear Hebrew/English.

Parshat Tazria

God tells all of the following to Moses, telling him to speak to the Children of Israel:

These are the laws for a woman who gives birth. If she gives birth to a male, she is ritually impure for seven days, just as she is ritually impure during menstruation. On the eighth day, the boy is to be circumcised. For 33 additional days, she may not touch or eat anything holy or enter a sanctuary. If she gives birth to a female, she is ritually impure for two weeks, and has an additional waiting period of 66 days.

After these days of waiting, she should bring offerings: a male lamb in its first year as a burnt-offering and a young dove as a sin-offering. (If a lamb is unaffordable, two doves will do.) The priest will offer it to God and atone for her.

If a man has any of the following on his skin, he should be brought to a priest: a white blotch, a creamy blotch or a bright spot.

If the priest finds at least two white hairs (that were previously black) in the splotch, and if the spot is also quite white, this is tzara'at. The priest should inform him that he is ritually impure.

If there is a white spot, but no white hairs and the spot does not appear deeper than the surrounding skin, the man should be quarantined for seven days. The priest examines him again. Still no white hair? He should be quarantined for another seven days. If the spot has remained the same all this time, the priest should declare him ritually pure. (Out of quarantine, the person must wash his garments.) If the spot has spread, the priest should declare him to be ritually impure. This is tzara'at.

If the priest find a patch of healthy-looking skin within the white blotch, this is some sort of scar tissue and the man is to be declared ritually impure. But he need not be quarantined.

If the white blotch spreads to cover every inch of the person's skin, the priest should examine and declare it ritually pure. If healthy-looking skin later appears amid the white, he is ritually impure.

These procedures should be followed even for a splotch that is suspected scar tissue or the result of a burn.

If a person thinks he has tzara'at under his beard or under the hair on his head -- that is, if hair that was once black has turned golden -- the priest should inspect him. This is a netek lesion. If the priest finds no golden hair, he should quarantine the person for seven days. If, after inspection, the spot has not spread, the person should shave everywhere around it, and then be quarantined for another seven days. If it still has not spread after this, the person is ritually pure. If it has spread, he is ritually impure.

If a person has white spots on his or her skin, but the priest sees that they are dull in their whiteness, the person is ritually pure.

If a person goes bald, he is ritually pure. If, however, there is a spot of suspected tzara'at, he priest should examine him.

If a person is found to have real tzara'at, his clothes should be torn, his hair should be grown and he should act otherwise like a mourner. He should cry out: "I am ritually impure! I am ritually impure!" Over and over. He should be placed outside of the camp.

If a garment has tzara'at, it should be shown to the priest, who should examine it and quarantine it for seven days. He should examine it again on the seventh day. If it has spread, the priest must burn the garment in fire. If he examines it and the blotch has not spread, that part of the garment should be washed and quarantined for another week. After another examination, the garment should be burned if the lesion has not faded but has not spread either. It is impure. If it has faded, the spot should simply be torn from the garment. If another spot appears on the garment after this, it should be burned in fire. If another spot does not appear, the garment should be washed and declared pure.

Questions and resources:

Why is the period of ritual impurity longer for a baby girl? And what is this ritual impurity anyway? Why isn't a person quarantined if his blotch is declared to be tzara'at? Why should a person who has tzara'at declare this so openly? How can a garment have this affliction? Why is no real physical treatment applied to the afflicted person? Wait, this affliction is leprosy, right?

Ritual impurity, holiness, family purity laws -- it's all very misunderstood. The physical affliction is, at root, the result of a spiritual ailment. This is true on an individual level and on the global stage. And no, tzara'at is not leprosy.

Parshat Metzora

God speaks to Moses about the person suffering from tzara'at: the metzorah.

The priest should go outside the camp to examine the lesion. If it has healed, then the following happens under the priest's guidance: two live, pure birds, a stick of cedar wood, a strip of crimson wool and hyssop should be gathered. One bird should be slaughtered, its blood falling into an earthenware contained filled with spring water. The cedar, wool and hyssop should be tied together and, together with the live bird, dipped into the blood of the slaughtered bird in the spring water. Some of this mixture should then be sprinkled seven times on the sufferer. The live bird should be sent away into an open field.

The sufferer should immerse his clothing in a ritual pool. He should shave his hair. He should bathe in the ritual pool. He may now re-enter the camp, but should remain separate from his wife for an additional week.

On the eighth day, he should take two perfect male lambs, one perfect female lamb in its first year, the proper amount of fine flour mixed with oil and some more olive oil.

The priest should place the person and all of his offerings at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. One male lamb and the olive oil are brought as a guilt-offering; waved before God. This offering should be slaughtered in the same place as the sin- and burnt-offering. The priest should take some blood of the guilt-offering and place it on the person's right ear, right thumb and right big toe. The priest should place some of the oil on his left palm and, after dipping into it with his right index finger, sprinkle the oil seven times before God. He should then place some of this oil on the person's right ear, thumb and big toe. The rest of the oil in his palm should be placed on the person's head. The priest should then make the sin-offering. Then the burnt-offering and the meal-offering. Thus, the person is atoned for and becomes ritually pure.

If the person is poor and cannot afford the above offerings, he should bring one male lamb, the fine flour mixed with oil, the additional olive oil and two doves.

God speaks to Moses and Aaron now, saying: When you come to Canaan, I will place tzara'at on the houses that the Children of Reuben and Gad will come to possess.
Whoever owns the house to inform the priest that there is a lesion. The priest should instruct them to clear the house, and then he should inspect it. If the lesion on the walls appear as dark-green or dark-red sunken sort of stains, then the priest should exit the house and quarantine it for a week. Afterward, if the priest returns to find the lesion has spread, they should remove the infected stones and throw them some place impure. He should scrape out the inside of the house and pour the accumulated dust someplace impure. They should replace the stones and plaster the inside of the house anew.

If the lesion returns even after all of this, the house is ritually impure. It should be demolished and the rubble taken to an impure place. Anyone who enters the house while the lesion is there is ritually impure until evening. Anyone who sleeps in the house then should immerse his or her garments in a ritual pool. If the priest returns to inspect the house and the lesion has not returned, the house is ritually pure.

To purify the house, the same bird-cedar-wool-hyssop remedy is used (without the sprinkling).

God speaks to Moses and Aaron, telling them to speak to the Children of Israel:

Any discharge from a man is ritually impure. His bedding and seat and spit and riding gear becomes ritually impure. Any person who touches this man -- or his bed or chair or gear, or is spit on by him -- should immerse both himself and his garments in a ritual pool and wait until evening, when he will again be pure. Earthenware vessels touched by the man should be broken. Wooden vessels should be immersed in a ritual pool.

When the man's discharges cease, he should count seven discharge-free days and then immerse himself and his clothes in spring water to become ritually pure. On the eighth day, he should take two doves and give them to the priest before God. One is a sin-offering and one a burnt-offering. The priest will atone for him for God.

If a man has a seminal emission, he should immerse himself in the ritual-pool. He becomes ritually pure again in the evening. Any garment with semen on it should also be immersed. If a woman is with him, they should both immerse themselves.

If a woman menstruates, she should physically separate herself from one week. Whatever or whoever touches her becomes impure. The same recommendations for immersion apply as for a man who discharges. A man who is with her during menstruation becomes impure for seven days.

If a woman has an unusual menstruation or discharge, she is impure during this time. When it stops, she should count seven days, immerse herself, and on the eighth day bring two doves to the priest, who will atone for her before God.

Moses and Aaron, you must know this in order to keep the Children ritually pure so that they will not defile the Tabernacle. These are the laws of emissions and discharges.

Questions and resources:

What spiritual ailment causes the tzara'at to arise? Why are the birds and other objects mentioned the ones used to overcome this condition? Why is one bird killed and one set free? Why are the laws surrounding menstruation immediately after the laws for an affliction that seemingly comes from sin? Why should a natural process be considered sinful, or is it?

The sages teach that gossip causes this affliction and the doves and wool and cedar and hyssop each teach a unique lesson. The doves represent the death of the spiritual affliction and the release of a "new" person back into society. There was perhaps a stigma in biblical times associated with menstruation, a reality that persists in some developing countries. Still, menstruation is not itself a sin, but is associated with a temporary, relative absence of holiness.

Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection:

  • Haftorah Shemini Summary -- In the supplemental haftorah, found in II Kings 7:3-20, famine has afflicted the land of Israel and four lepers sit discussing their prospects. (My Jewish Learning)
  • Rashi on Parshat Tazria-Metzora -- The classic commentator in all his interpretive glory. (Chabad)
  • The Animated Parshat Tazria -- A tour of biblical skin disease. (G-dcast)
  • The Animated Parshat Metzorah -- A tour of biblical ... clothing and house disease? (G-dcast)
  • Healing Ourselves, Healing Our Planet -- Just as physical ailments are considered manifestations of spiritual problems, worldwide brokenness has spiritual origins. (Canfei Nesharim)
  • Natural Healing -- Why is there such a strange line-up of objects necessary to overcome the tzara'at? (Canfei Nesharim)
  • Marking Transitions -- "This week we acknowledge and mark endings. We are imbued with the energy to close the chapter on something whose time has come." (IYYUN)
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