Tuesday, March 25, 2014

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 (see 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 other skin conditions), 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," being the name of our Parasha, 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 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 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 see also Gal. 3:16). Thus, by one word the “purely material physical character” of birth is brought out, and at the same time, in a contrasting manner, an allusion is made to the future “Seed of Woman” who will remove the sin inherent in every child born. The seven initial days of the woman's "impurity" mentioned, are linked here to the week of impurity during the menstrual cycle (“as in the days of her customary impurity.” See also Lev. 15:19). The numbers of days of impurity, upon the birth of a daughter, are to be twice as many as these days upon the birth of a son. The reason for this appears to be that, this daughter will also be “impure” during her menstrual cycle and when she gives birth.

"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 2:22-24), 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" 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’s circumcision. When we reviewed last week’s 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 day (on Shabbat that is). 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 Aha’ron 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 that were committed (and resulted in this affliction), were mostly done in secret then this condition will have revealed them, whether on one’s body, clothing or home. Doesn’t this illustrate our lives too? We may think, contemplate or even say something secretly, thinking that we can cover up iniquity. However, we cannot hid from YHVH, not to mention the fact that affliction of one form or another is “built into” the very action of sin, especially as 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 His new life 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, as described in 13:45, 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 paradox of “separation outside the camp” because of sin versus the set apart place “outside the camp” may be compared to another irony in our Parasha. The characteristic of tza’ra’at (a sin related condition) is the skin’s discoloration, turning it white, while in Yisha’ya’hu 1:19 it says: “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow,” in this case “whiteness” marks purity.  

The latter part of chapter 13 deals with “tzra’at” as it contaminates leather or cloths (v. 47-59). In this connection it refers to wool in the last verse of the Parasha (13:59): “the leprous plague in a garment of wool,” while the second part of Isaiah 1:19 says: “though they [the sins] are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” In this case “wool” implies “whiteness” or “purity.”  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), a term 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." She also points 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; and 2nd Chro. 26:16-21, where the plague mentioned is “tza’ra’at”).

 [[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