Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Tazri'a –Vayikra (Leviticus) 12-13

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Tazri'a –Vayikra (Leviticus) 12-13 Aside from dealing with the purification rites of a post birth woman, the beginning part of Parashat Tazri'a also touches on the eighth day circumcision (12:3). Last week's Parasha was called "Shmini," meaning "eighth." And while the bulk of Parashat “Tazri'a” deals with regulations of "tzarat" (leprosy and similar skin diseases), it is the next Parasha which bears the name of the leper ("Me'tzorah"). Thus, even when there appears to be no connection between two successive Parashot (plural of Parasha), one is often threaded into the other (even if it is only by a very thin cord). That, however, will be not true of (next week's). Parashat Me'tzorah, which forms a sequel to this present one and is therefore very closely related to it.

"If a woman conceives seed [literal translation] and gives birth to a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days…" (12:2). "Conceives seed" is "tazri'a," after which our Parasha is named, is a very unusual form for "becoming pregnant," since its root word "zera" - z.r.a. - (zayin, resh, ayin) is "seed" or "semen" (and by implication also "offspring"). S.R. Hirsch translates it: "When a woman has matured a human germ…" and goes on to comment: "Germ, basically the seed of plants and hence herb-yielding seed (Gen. 1:11), the seed-forming activity of plants for the continuation of their species, when applied to human beings is the usual term for the offspring by which Man continues his generation. By the use of the expression "tazri'a" here, which only occurs in B’resheet (Genesis) 1:11 and 12, referring to the activity of plants for the continuation of their species, the mother's role in producing progeny is looked at in the purely material physical character of its physiological process, and with that one word the whole idea of the uncleanness spoken of here is shown,"[1] In this manner Hirsch also provides one of several answers supplied to the question, "Why should a mother be declared 'unclean' for fulfilling a Divinely-ordained mission?" The sages especially question the need for a sin offering. [2] The expression "tazri'a," however, brings to mind not only B’resheet (Genesis) 1:11 and 12, as Hirsch points out, but is also reminiscent of the usage of the term "zera," “seed” in B’resheet 3:15, where there is reference to the "Seed of the woman" Who is destined to crush the head of the serpent (ref. Gal. 3:16). The seven initial days of the woman's "impurity" are comparable to the week of impurity during the menstrual cycle (see Lev. 15:19).

"When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting" (12:6). The burnt offering, according to some of the sages, was a token of thankfulness to the Almighty for having preserved her through the labor pains and hazards, and for having been granted the strength to bear a child. "The new life within her made [the mother] deeply conscious of the greatness of the creator, as also of her insignificance as 'dust and ashes' and impurity; hence the need for a sin-offering."[3]

The sin offering may be linked to the fact that we are "brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" (Ps. 51:5), as expressed by David, who was not singling out his own mother as a sinner for having conceived him, but was emphasizing the fact that man's inherent sin nature is hereditary, and simply passes through the blood line. The fact that it is transmitted from generation to generation is illustrated by what we have already observed, that contained in man is the seed for the perpetuity of his (sinful) race, and thus the fruit will resemble the parent plant. The unusual usage of "tazri'a" could therefore be the clue to unraveling the 'mystery' of the mother's "impurity" after giving birth, and the requirement of a sin offering. Incidentally, Miriam, Yeshua's mother, did likewise (ref. Luke 2:24), even though her son's conception had been totally different. In this case, following the Torah ruling was most likely performed in the same vein as Yeshua's immersion, which was for the purpose of "fulfilling all righteousness" (Mat. 3:15). The usage of "seed" in connection to bearing an offspring, therefore, underscores the heredity nature of sinfulness. Thus, the "Seed of the woman" (Gen. 3:15) is a reminder that the sinless Seed will likewise be propagated after His own kind.

In one breath with the birth of "a male," mention is also made of the eighth day circumcision. When we reviewed Parashat Shmini mention was made of the significance of the figure “eight” which stems from the root sh.m.n, being the root for “fat” (hence “oil - shemen"), following the fullness of seven ("sheva"), thereby indicating an overabundance (at times with negative connotations, such as "and Yeshurun waxed fat…" Deut. 32:15, emphasis added). The eighth day circumcision also indicates that it takes precedence over Shabbat, and a child who is born on Friday, notwithstanding, will be circumcised on the following Shabbat. Take note, in this respect, of the connection between the “seventh day” and the “eighth”.

The next part of the Parasha (chapter 13) is also devoted to issues of purity and impurity, this time related to skin diseases, as well as to contaminated houses and clothes. Since dealing with this variety of conditions was up to the priests' discernment, they are the ones mentioned, and it is therefore A'haron who is addressed here (whereas he was not mentioned in the first part of the Parasha). The various conditions described and elaborated upon all come under the general heading of "tza'ra'at" (tz.r.a, tzadi, resh, ayin). Another word which stems from the same root is "tzir'ah", meaning “hornet”. Both "tza'ra'at" and "tzir'ah" appear to be used symbolically, as we see for example in Shmot (Exodus) 23:28: "And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you" (for a similar reference to hornets refer to Deut. 7:20 and Josh. 24:12).

The root tz.r.a. means “project outward.” If the sins committed, which result in this affliction, are mostly done in secret, then this condition reveals them, whether on one’s body, clothing or home. Doesn’t that illustrate each of our lives? We may think, contemplate or even say something secretly, thinking that we can hide away our iniquity. However, YHVH sees all, not to mention the fact that affliction, of one form or another, is “built into” the action of sin, and especially it affects our bodies. Anything, which is not of the nature of the One who indwells us is constituted sin, and thus, by not being conformed to the new life that now indwells us we bring on ourselves plagues and malaise, and every form of dis-ease.

The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon defines the root verb "tza'ro'a" as "to throw down, prostrate, humble oneself"[4]. The various forms of "tzara'at" certainly placed the one declared as contaminated in a humbling, if not a humiliating state, described in verses 45 and 46: "Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, `Unclean! Unclean!' He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp." The word for "unclean" is "tameh" (t.m.a, tet, mem, alef) with its literal meaning being "ritually polluted."

The concept, "outside the camp," like many others in Scripture, is twofold. Whereas here the "tameh" is separated from the community, in Shmot (Exodus) 33:7, after the Golden Calf episode we read: "Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought YHVH went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp" (italics added). Likewise, in Hebrews 13:12-13: "Therefore Yeshua also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach."

The latter part of chapter 13 deals with “tzra’at” as it contaminates leather or cloths (v. 47-59). Several times mention is made of “sh’ti va’erev,” that is, the “warp and woof” of the cloth (the threads woven lengthwise and crosswise). The woof which is threaded through the warp is thought of as being “mixed in,” and is therefore designated by the well known term “erev” (ayin, resh, vet), that we have been following in many instances, but primarily in the word for “evening,” which is a state of light being mixed with darkness.

Nechama Leibowitz concludes: "According to most commentators tzara'at is not a common disease, but supernatural infliction by Divine Providence through which man is reminded of his sinful ways, and called upon to abandon them". The appended footnote says: "It is noteworthy that medical research fails to associate the Biblical tzara'at with any known disease. Its diagnosis as leprosy is rejected by modern medicine". Earlier she pointed out that plagues in general had a special role as warning signs against sinful behavior [5], or were its consequences (e.g. 2nd Sam. 24:1, 15; 2nd Ch. 26:16-21).

[1] New Studies in Vayikra Part 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson, Publishers Peabody, Mass. 1979.
[5] New Studies