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Ruminations

Rumination #28: He is the Leper Messiah. He identifies and cares for those afflicted with death.

There is profound misunderstanding in many circles concerning the issues of "clean" and "unclean" - and out of that misunderstanding comes many false theologies. The fact that Yeshua "put on flesh" and became subject to death is seen not only in His atoning work, but also in His life, both then and now. "Leprosy" is seen as the ultimate expression of the frailty of humanity – stopping just short of death. It is the "walking death" – the nearly the worst in "clean" versus "unclean" with only death itself being more defiling. And yet Yeshua identifies with the leper. He touches him. He heals him. This is the mark of Messiah: Who bravely goes to those afflicted with "death" and cares for them… and heals them.

An account in the Talmud speaks to this as well. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, was a Third Century teacher who is said to have had an encounter with Elijah (not uncommon in the Talmud). Rabbi Joshua asks Elijah,

"When will the Messiah come?" - "Go and ask him himself," was his reply. "Where is he sitting?" - "At the entrance." "And by what sign may I recognize him?" - "He is sitting among the poor lepers [caring for them]...

So he went to him [Messiah] and greeted him, saying, "Peace upon thee, Master and Teacher."  "Peace upon thee, O son of Levi," he replied. "When wilt thou come Master?" asked he, "Today," was his answer. On his returning to Elijah, the latter enquired, "What did he say to thee?"... "He spoke falsely to me," he rejoined, "stating that he would come today, but has not." He [Elijah] answered him, "This is what he said to thee, today, if ye will hear his voice."
 b.Sanhedrin 98a (Soncino edition)

With echoes of Psalms 95:7ff, and by extension Hebrews 4:7ff, we hear the challenge of the "Leper Messiah" - do you hear His voice? He came and sat among us, we lepers. He bound up our sores. He healed us from our "death" disease. Do you hear the "Leper Messiah"? He is coming today.

Parashat Tazria - "Conceived" (Leviticus 12:1-13:59)

The name "Tazria" comes from the second verse of Leviticus 12:

Vayedaber HaShem el-Moshe lemor.
Daber el-b'nei Yisrael lemor isha ki tazria v'yalda zachar v'tama shivat yamim kimei nidat d'vota titma.

Then HaShem spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, saying, 'If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean.'"

Leviticus 12:1-3

The Sages remarked that Leviticus 12:2 has a redundancy in it. If a woman gives birth, did she not conceive? Beloved, these little things in the Torah are intended to get our attention. We are meant to ask some questions about "conceived" [tazria] and its root "zara" [seed]. We were meant to roll back the scroll to Genesis 3:15 where the word "zera" [seed] is first used (it also comes from the root zara). Something occurs in Genesis 3, which will help us understand these verses of Leviticus.

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." To the woman He said: "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."
Genesis 3:15-16

Something took place in the Garden. Man sinned for the first time. In so sinning, man clothed himself in corruptible flesh, and was subsequently driven from the Presence of the Almighty. In the day that we first sinned... we surely died. Even though Adam and Eve did not immediately die physically - the stench of death was all about them. Everything regarding their mortality was offensive to the Holy One, blessed is He. The "seed" sown in the Garden bore fruit. Yes, later Eve conceived and bore a son, Cain. In pain she birthed Cain. The very act of giving birth revealed mortality, and hence death - blood is present at birth. The very act of bringing forth new life, displays death and its corruption.

But it is not only blood that represents death. It is the very material of conception that represents death - because man does not bring forth immortality, but frail mortality just like himself. The physical materials from both father and mother represent death – and yet that conception brings about life. Such is the irony of the state of man: living in a dying state, from the moment of conception.

Death was Conceived

What was conceived in the Garden, because of sin, was death. Death is the antithesis of the Living Creator of the Universe.

Also in the Garden something else was made evident: the Seed that was sown for man's redemption from the state of living death. That Seed is alluded to in Genesis 3:15. It is Messiah Himself, the ultimate Seed. He is the same Seed promised to Abraham. The same Seed promised to King David. He is the Seed that brings life.

For that reason alone, Parashat Tazria should remind us of the Master, whose mother and adopted father faithfully obeyed the Torah.

And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Yeshua, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. Now when the days of her purification according to the Torah of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the L-rd.
Luke 2:21-22

Remember as you read these Scripture passages, that these are among the first things that young Hebrew children learned in the time when Yeshua was a young boy. In our modern Western "sensibilities" these things seem beyond the pale. In the next Torah portion it seems to get even worse. The topics in these two parashot (Tazria and Metzora) contain topics that can make one uncomfortable. They are all about tamei, and tahor. These words often translated into English as "unclean" and "clean." Those words denote matters of hygiene, but that is not what these words are about. Some English translations render them "ritually pure" or ritually impure." Those words denote matters of morality or ethics. That is not what these words are about either. Tamei and tahor are about being in a state ready to meet with the Holy One, blessed is He. Not a sinless state. Not a hygienic state, but in a state that HaShem Himself prescribed. G-d wants His people tahor when they come into the Tabernacle/Temple.

Modern commentators who tend toward anti-nomianism (against Torah) simply would have you skip over these and chapters like this with comments like, "This does not apply any longer" - thereby annulling, and taking away from G-d's Word. Oddly, many modern commentators go to great lengths to make practical application for the instructions that Paul makes regarding meat offered to idols, as if that has any more applicability today (for the record it does, as does the Torah). Have you ever wondered why they ignore such painfully detailed passages as we read in this portion? Well, let me give you a hint: in many people's estimation, these chapters represent "what was wrong with the old religion." This is truly sad, because in so thinking, and acting... they remove themselves from the only religion of the Bible - and living as Yeshua lived, and lives.

In preparation for your reading this parasha and the next, let me offer you just a few things to begin to reset your mind to the things of G-d's Word instead of the religious culture of today.

First, always remember: to be tamei (usually translated "unclean") is not to be sinful itself. While it is a sin to enter the environs of the Tabernacle or Temple in a state of tamei; tamei itself is not sin. Look at our first example in Leviticus 12:1 - childbirth. Rather, this state was in obedience to the command to be fruitful and multiply!

Next, remember tamei/tahor have nothing to do with hygiene. When you read about women's time of "separation" [niddah] it is not speaking of being physically clean or not.

Lastly, in matters involving tamei and tahor it is about pictures of mortality and death.  Remember the sin of the Garden? Death was the consequence. There is only one picture of death permitted in the Presence of the Almighty, and it is the symbols that further illustrate Yeshua's death, the offerings themselves. And remember, the offerings are not really about death either - they are about life. They all point to Yeshua's life. With the offerings the point was not that some innocent substitution must die - the point was that its blood, its life, must be offered up; and to do that it must die.  This is as it was with Messiah’s death. It does not end with Yeshua's death... it is about His resurrected, and eternal life! The Holy One of Israel permits only life in His Presence - and anything hinting of death apart from the perfect work of Yeshua is to be kept out of His Presence.

As you read parasha (and the next) note the number of times that water is used to indicate the change in status... from tamei, to tahor. Always remember that mixed into these Temple-dependent instructions are some instructions that are not Temple-dependent, and learn to differentiate between them. 

Parashat Metzora - 'Leper' (Leviticus 14:1-15:33)

The name 'Metzora' comes from the second verse of Leviticus 14:

Vayedaber HaShem el-Moshe lemor.
zot tihye torat ha-metzora b'yom tahorato v'huva el-ha-kohen

 

Then HaShem spoke to Moses, saying,
"This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest."

Leviticus 14:1-2

Previously, in Parashat Tazria we are given some detailed instructions regarding what our English Bibles call "a leper." Continuing in Parashat Metzora, the topic of "leprosy" continues. If you ever hope to unravel these passages, and the passages in the Gospel accounts you must learn to look beyond this English word. The people in Scripture who are afflicted with tza'arat do not have "Hanson's Disease" or what is known as "leprosy" In fact, if one examines the use of this Hebrew word in Scripture you will find that it is not even a physical disease in the normal sense. Yes, it has physical attributes, which make it appear that the person who is afflicted is a "dead man walking" - but it is not the disease that is being addressed in these passages.

A common misunderstanding of those reading these passages (and the Gospels) is that the person with tza'arat has a communicable disease, and hence G-d is mandating quarantine for medical reasons. Nothing could be further from the truth. We read in last week's parasha that a priest was to examine a person who suspected they had tza'arat, and determine if the person had tza'arat or not [were "unclean" or not]. If they had tza'arat, they had to withdraw from the community and were forbidden to approach G-d in the Mish'kan or the Temple. However, if tza'arat were only a disease, the following would make no sense:

And if tza'arat breaks out all over the skin, and the tza'arat covers all the skin of the one who has the sore, from his head to his foot, wherever the priest looks, then the priest shall consider; and indeed if the tza'arat has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean who has the sore. It has all turned white. He is clean.

Leviticus 13:12-13

So, someone with a "little" bit of tza'arat was considered unclean, but someone with it covering their whole body, was welcomed back into the community and could approach the altar in the Mish'kan.

Beloved, there is more to this "leper" stuff than meets the eye. Much more. For instance, the Talmud has some interesting titles for Messiah. One of them is "Leper Messiah," which draws from Isaiah 53 (yes, many of the Sages did consider Isaiah 53 to be a Messianic passage, no matter what you have been told [b.Sanhedrin 98a]). If we revere every word that G-d has spoken, these chapters regarding "leprosy" are worthy of some deeper investigation. There is much here, and like all things that "make no sense" in Scripture... it is all Messianic.

We can learning something from the word tza'arat itself. The root is tzara (tza'arat is a grammatical variation of "tzara"). Your handy Strong's will be of little help. It simply says, "leprous, having a skin disease". A better approach is to examine context, and every usage. Some very interesting things will come from that. First though, let's look at the pictograph that the ancient Hebrew makes for us. Tzara is spelled tzadi-resh-ayin. The letter tzadi looks like a man kneeling in humility. The word for "righteous one" comes from this letter/word. The letter resh represents a head of a man and most often represents pride. The letter ayin looks like an eye. In fact, that is the Hebrew word for "eye"= ayin. The pictograph tells us, "whether a man (or woman) is humble or proud will be seen". Tza'arat is about taking what is unseen, and inside a person, and making it visible. A metzora [incorrectly translated "leper"] is a person in the process of having what is inside brought to the surface, or their skin.

Let's see if a look at context bears this out. The first usage of tzara is found in Exodus 4:6-7. This is where Moses is being sent by G-d to the elders of the Children of Israel to tell them that G-d is going to redeem them from slavery. Moses protests that they will not hear his voice; so G-d gives him three signs that he can show the elders:

  1. His rod into a serpent.
  2. His hand turns leprous and then back.
  3. Water to blood when poured on dry land.

Now because the first and the last sign were used with Pharaoh, you may not have caught that these three signs were to be shown to the elders of Israel. What are these three signs? They all relate to the Garden and they are all related to tamei [unclean].

  1. The Serpent in the Garden = the serpent, an unclean animal.
  2. The day they ate of the Fruit, they "died" = Tza'arat, the walking death.
  3. Blood of the animal that died to clothe them, poured out on the ground = water turned to blood, poured out on the ground.

What you see is the beginning of a hint that this whole tamei tahor thing is related to the Garden of Eden because it is related to the Mish'kan, the Tabernacle. The Garden is the last place where man and the Holy One, blessed is He, walked together - where man could approach G-d and not be consumed. The serpent has an interesting connection to tza'arat. It sheds its skin.

Essentially, tza'arat is the worse form of tamei that a person can come into contact with. It is only outdone by a dead human being. It is why tza'arat is considered a picture of death.

The next place after these passages in Leviticus that we see tza'arat is in Numbers 12:1-16. This is where Moses' sister Miriam spoke against Moses being 'G-d's spokesman'. Miriam was a prophetess, had spoken G-d's words - and yet she spoke against Moses because she did not consider the fact that G-d spoke to Moses in an entirely different way: face to face. Listen how this passage describes Moses:

Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.
Numbers 12:3

But Miriam was the opposite in this instance (bitterly prideful). She was struck with tza'arat. Aaron immediately cries out:

Please do not let her be as one dead, whose flesh is half consumed when he comes out of his mother's womb!
Numbers 12:12

Moses also pleads for Miriam and after seven days she is clean and permitted back into the camp.

From these and other instances, the Sages derived their position that internal bitterness, expressed often by bitter words against a brother, is the source of tza'arat. It is an interesting position. When one examines the instructions for being removed from the community and then returning to the community it does seem to indicate that tza'arat provides a time for "what is inside" to get out. Tza'arat, is one reason that lashona hara [gossip, and complaining against a brother] is so strongly spoken against in Judaism and some Messianic communities. Hmm, a peek into the Apostolic Scriptures will reveal the same seriousness regarding bitterness and evil-speaking against one another. Apparently we all need a little caution before we "share a prayer request" about a brother or sister in Messiah.

So, now that we have a framework for tza'arat, what is this process we are reading about in Leviticus 14 regarding how a metzora [one afflicted with tza'arat] is to be declared tahor [clean] and able to return to the community and approach G-d in the Mish'kan? It is about the "Leper Messiah."

There were three main periods of tza'arat in Israel's history. There was the time around the coming out of Egypt and slavery. There was the time around the ministries of Elijah and Elisha; and there was the First Century during the three year ministry of Yeshua. During each of those periods, there was a Mish'kan or a Temple. Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, there have not been significant instances of tza'arat. Tza'arat was an affliction that the metzora had to experience outside the community - essentially cut off from the people, but more importantly: cut off from the manifest Presence of G-d in the Mish'kan or the Temple. That is why the following account is so precious:

And behold, a metzora [leper] came and worshiped Him, saying, 'L-rd, if You are willing, You can make me tahor [clean].' Then Yeshua put out His hand and touched him, saying, 'I am willing; be tahor.' Immediately his tza'arat was tahor. And Yeshua said to him, 'See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.'
Matthew 8:2-4

The metzora could not go into the Temple... so the "Temple" came to him. The "Leper Messiah" - One who heals and cares for metzorim. But wait, the Holy Spirit wants the reader of Matthew to reflect on this week's parasha when they read this. We are supposed to hear Yeshua's words, "show yourself to the priest," and automatically know that we are in a Leviticus 14 situation. If you read it this week, you will find that it is not the priest in Leviticus 14 that makes the metzora "clean" - he only declares it to be so. G-d is the only one who can take away tza'arat and make one tahor. But notice in Leviticus 14:4-7 a seemingly odd way of declaring him tahor. It involves:

  1. Two birds (one live, and one killed with its blood dripping into water).
  2. A cedar plank.
  3. Some scarlet woolen thread.
  4. Some hyssop.
  5. An earthen jar.
  6. Running water.

Watch the process. One bird is killed over running water in an earthen jar. Its blood mixes with the water. The live bird is tied to a cedar plank with a red woolen thread and dipped into the water with the blood. Sprinkle the metzora seven times with the mixed water and blood and then set the live bird free in a field to fly away. Then the metzora is declared "clean."

No wonder some confused "Christian" commentators chalk up so much of this book to "the old religion." How sad, for in so doing they are missing the very pictures of the Messiah they claim to know.

Beloved, as you read these words in this week's parasha, reflect upon the metzora made clean by a touch from the Master's hand. How the Master laid down His life only a short later - water and blood coming from His side. How He was fastened to a plank which came from a tree that was meant to reflect life, but now held Him for death. How the scarlet thread of the blood trickled down His face. How the hyssop was used in applying the blood of the Passover lamb to the door post. How the hyssop held up the sour wine to the Master's lips. How that same Master was raised three days later and "flew up" to Abba. Reflect upon those things, beloved.

He did it for you. You were that metzora. You were afflicted with tza'arat. You were tamei and were rightfully excluded from His Presence. You were that proud one who spoke against G-d's beloved. You were that one who had all the bitterness on the inside brought outside for all to see and recoil from. But then the Master came. You could not reach out to Him, so He reached out - and you are now tahor. You are clean. Thank Him for these passages in the Torah.

Haftarat Metzora - 'Leper' (2Kings 7:3-20)

As we've seen, the cause for this condition called tza'arat is lashona hara [gossip, or bad speech against a brother/sister]. It is the external evidence of an internal bitterness.

Additionally, the Sages consider pride, greed, and selfishness to be part of the same root cause of tza'arat. That comes from our first reading from the Prophets this week, regarding the healing of Na'aman. Na'aman was the Aramean general who was healed of tza'arat. It comes after he obeys Elisha's instructions to bath in the Jordan River seven times. Na'aman is the picture of pride. But in the process of his healing, he is a changed man. What is on the inside has been brought to the surface, when his bitterness, pride, and greed were revealed on the outside of his body in a condition known as tza'arat. When he dips into the Jordan River and comes out healed, his outer condition is healed, and his inner pride, greed, and bitterness are gone. He was healed inside and out.

Where our haftarot are connected to each other is found in some verses between the end of Haftarat Tazria and Haftarat Metzorah; specifically after Na'aman was healed.

And he [Na'aman] returned to the man of G-d [Elisha], he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, "Indeed, now I know that there is no G-d in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant." But he said, "As HaShem lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing." And he urged him to take it, but he refused.
2Kings 5:15-16

Elisha will not accept payment for Na'aman's healing. That should be the end of the story, but sadly, it is not.

But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of G-d, said, "Look, my master has spared Na'aman this Aramean, while not receiving from his hands what he brought; but as HaShem lives, I will run after him and take something from him." So Gehazi pursued Na'aman. When Na'aman saw him running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him, and said, "Is all well?" And he said, "All is well. My master has sent me, saying, 'Indeed, just now two young men of the sons of the prophets have come to me from the mountains of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of garments.'" So Na'aman said, "Please, take two talents." And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of garments, and handed them to two of his servants; and they carried them on ahead of him. When he came to the citadel, he took them from their hand, and stored them away in the house; then he let the men go, and they departed. Now he went in and stood before his master. Elisha said to him, "Where did you go, Gehazi?" And he said, "Your servant did not go anywhere." Then he said to him, "Did not my heart go with you when the man turned back from his chariot to meet you? Is it time to receive money and to receive clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male and female servants? Therefore the leprosy of Na'aman shall cling to you and your descendants forever." And he went out from his presence leprous, as white as snow.
2Kings 5:20-27

The Sages find it curious that immediately after the account of the healing of Na'aman's tza'arat, and the contracting of tza'arat by Gehazi that we read of four m'tzora'im [lepers]. Who are these four, and why does Scripture make such a point? Beloved, Samaria was filled with death. The city was starving. The people were eating their own children. The city was under siege and the Arameans were encamped around it.

Our second haftarah for this week is placed only a chapter later. It is a time of great famine in Israel and people have resorted to all sorts of barbarism to satisfy their starvation hunger. Frankly, the whole place, inside and outside stank of death.

These four m'tzora'im [lepers], living outside of a city full of despair and death, are likewise filled with despair. How ironic, the four with tza'arat, a sort of "walking death" were excluded from the city filled with death. They were overcome with despair:

Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; and they said to one another, "Why are we sitting here until we die? If we say, 'We will enter the city,' the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore, come, let us surrender to the army of the Syrians. If they keep us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall only die."
2Kings 7:3-4

Their motivation was simple desperation. Like Na'aman, they strike out to find something. However, with the case of Na'aman he sought healing. These four merely want food or relief from the effects of hunger. In the night, the Arameans had fled upon hearing the sounds of an invisible army. Once the four entered the empty camp of the Arameans, we see their poor character:

And when these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they went into one tent and ate and drank, and carried from it silver and gold and clothing, and went and hid them; then they came back and entered another tent, and carried some from there also, and went and hid it.
2Kings 7:2

They hid their loot? These are not merely some poor sick folks. The Sages note the similarity with the account of Gehazi in the previous chapters. The similarities of burying loot and the condition of tza'arat too much. The Sages consider these four to be Gehazi and his sons. There is certainly a measure of greed evident in these four. Even though they go and tell the city of the miracle of the Arameans' departure - they do it with suspect motives.

In the end we are left with a contrast to Na'aman who was healed of tza'arat.

Na'aman

Four M'tzora'im

Beloved, death was conceived in the Garden. We sinned and death permeates our being. Our Messiah brought us life through His resurrection. Those who are content in "death" seeking only to satisfy their hunger, or an end to their suffering will only continue to live greedy lives. It is only those who seek healing and humble themselves to the "cure" will find it.

Now thanks be to G-d who always leads us in triumph in Messiah, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to G-d the fragrance of Messiah among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?
2Corinthians 2:14-16

As you read these Torah and haftarah portions keep this in mind: it is about life, and it is about death. Are you walking around as one dead?

Prayer Focus for Tazria -  A Prayer for Thanksgiving After Childbirth

The women's Siddur has additional prayers in it. One of them is this prayer of thanksgiving after giving birth.

May it be Your will, HaShem, my G-d and the G-d of my forefathers, O merciful and compassionate King, just as you have rescued me from this great distress and from this intense danger, so may Your mercy be aroused to rescue me from this danger [as] all the daughters of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, offspring of those who are beloved by You. Just as You have saved me now, so too, make a sign of goodness for me whenever I give birth.

-- ArtScroll Translation from the Ohel Sarah Women's Siddur

Prayer Focus for Metzora -  'G'vurot' - [G-d's Might]

The Shemoneh Esrei [Amidah] Prayer has a part that focuses upon the resurrection of the dead. Actually, it is not really about the resurrection of the dead, but that G-d's might is clearly seen in the fact that He will resurrect the dead. Tza'arat, that state of "walking death" reminds us that the bitterness, pride, and greed - the sin we conceived in the Garden are what brings death... but our G-d gives life.

You are eternally mighty, my L-rd, the Resuscitator of the dead are You; abundantly able to save.
He sustains the living with kindness, resuscitates the dead with abundant mercy, supports the fallen, heals the sick, releases the confined, and maintains His faith to those who sleep in the dust.
Who is like You, O Master of mighty deeds, and who is comparable to You, O King Who causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout!
And You are faithful to resuscitate the dead.
Blessed are You, HaShem, Who resuscitates the dead.

-- ArtScroll Translation

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