Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Stricken, Smitten of G-d, Afflicted

INTRODUCTION

G-d spoke to Moshe saying: this shall be the matter of the Metzora on the day of his purification: he shall be brought before the Kohen.  The Kohen shall go out of the camp and see that indeed the afflicted one has been healed from the plague of tzara'at. The Kohen shall command that two clean living birds be brought for the individual undergoing purification, along with cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop.  The Kohen shall command that one of the birds be slaughtered, upon water from a living spring that has been gathered within an earthenware vessel.

He shall then take the (remaining) living bird, along with cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop, and he shall immerse them along with the living bird into the blood of the slaughtered bird that is upon the water from a living spring.  He shall then sprinkle seven times the one undergoing purification from tzara'at, and when he has purified him, he shall release the living bird into the wide open field…
(cf. Leviticus 14:1-7).

Thus begins Parashat Metzora, with a detailed account of the purification rites for one who has emerged from the condition of tzara'at and now waits to rejoin the community.  In many respects, these rites are particular to the metzora (or to the related situation of house tzara'at – (cf. Leviticus 14:33-57) but there are also a number of points of contact between these rites and those associated with other sufferers from various forms of tum'a (ritual uncleanness).

THE PROCESS

From the Mishna, Tractate Nega'im Chapter 14:

First of all, the Kohen must ascertain that the metzora has indeed been healed from his condition, much as the Kohen was responsible for initially declaring him tamei and causing his banishment from the community.  Then, while the metzora is still residing outside of the encampment of Israel, two birds are to be taken, of a tahor (fit for consumption) and undomesticated species.  Additionally, the Kohen must take a new earthenware vessel, and fill it with a small amount ("revi'it" – approximately 100-150 ml) of water drawn from a flowing spring. 

One of the birds is then slaughtered above the vessel, and its blood is drained into the waters.  The Kohen then takes the cedar wood, hyssop and a ribbon of wool dyed scarlet, and bundles them together, securing the grouping with part of the scarlet ribbon.  The living bird is brought together with the bundle, so that its wingtips, head and tail are all in contact with it, and then all of the items are ceremoniously immersed into the earthenware vessel.  The Kohen then sprinkles the liquid seven times upon the hands of the metzora, and then the living bird is released to its freedom.

Afterwards, of course, the metzora must follow the rest of the ritual as it is described later in our text: he must shave all of the visible concentrations of hair upon his body and immerse himself, before entering the confines of the camp. In this transitional stage, he may not have relations with his wife for a period of seven days. On the seventh day, he must again shave the hair of his body and immerse a second time, but he remains unfit to partake of sacrificial meats until the presentation of his offerings on the eighth day. 


These eighth day offerings consist of a sin offering, a burnt offering and a guilt offering, the attendant meal offering and a special presentation of oil.  The specific species for the offerings are adjusted in accordance with the financial state of the supplicant, and the exact ceremonial of the presentation that includes the placement of some of the blood and oil upon parts of his body is described in Leviticus 14:10-20.

CONSIDERING THE PRECEDENTS

What might the significance of these things?  Why must the metzora present two birds at the outset and why is one of them then set free?  What about the three species of cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop, as well as the need for the living waters of a free-flowing spring?  

We may begin our investigation by noting that at least in so far as the basic scheme is concerned, we have already encountered a similar ceremony.  Recall that as the people of Israel were poised to leave the land of Egypt and the plague of the firstborn was about to strike, G-d commanded the people to prepare the Pesach lamb.  This special sacrifice, a statement of Israel's trust in G-d as they took their first tentative step away from Egyptian polytheism, was to be slaughtered on the eve of the fourteenth day of Nissan.

The blood of the lamb was to be gathered into a receptacle and then smeared upon the lintel and doorposts of the Hebrew houses in order to ward off the destroyer from their households.  But the Torah specifies in that context that the people were to take "a bundle of hyssop and to dip it into the blood that is in the receptacle…" (cf. Exodus 12:22), thus providing us with a precedent for the purification rites of the metzora that also include a dipping of hyssop into a mixture of blood and spring water.

On the other hand, we also find a similar series of steps associated with the purification rites of one who had come into contact with a human corpse.  As spelled out in Parashat Chukat ( cf. Numbers  19), corpse tum'a can only be relieved by the puzzling ceremony of the para aduma or red heifer.  In this scenario, a perfectly red-haired cow that had never been utilized to draw the plow, is slaughtered beyond the confines of the camp.

Its body is then completely incinerated in a specially prepared bonfire, and the ashes are then carefully gathered.  These ashes are subsequently mixed as needed into a vessel containing spring water (living waters), and the Kohen then takes a bundle of hyssop, dips it into the mixture and sprinkles it upon the tamei individual on the third and seventh day.  After the sprinkling of the seventh day, the person immerses himself in a mikvah and after nightfall is tahor, clean.

DRAWING THE LINKS

In all three situations, a liquid that is either exclusively blood or else at least includes it as a main ingredient, is first gathered into some sort of receptacle, typically earthenware.  A bundle of organic material that includes hyssop is next dipped into the liquid and some sort of sprinkling or smearing is then done with it.  Afterwards, the status of the afflicted individual is transformed.  Interestingly, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra not only links the various ceremonies together, but maintains that the paradigm for them all is the Pesach sacrifice of Exodus Chapter 12:

Behold, the purification rites of the metzora, the house stricken with tzara'at, and the individual who has come into contact with a human corpse are all similar.  Behold all of them are modeled after the Passover sacrifice in Egypt (commentary to Leviticus 14:4).

EXILE AND REDEMPTION

In more general terms, when considering the experience of Egypt, one may speak of exile and redemption.   They were not only far from their land and their familiar landscape, but from their G-d as well. In Egypt, Israel fell prey to self-alienation, becoming estranged from their mission and destiny in the world (cf. Ezekiel 20).

The metzora as well, stricken with a condition that our Sages maintain is a consequence of spiritual deficiency, is banished from the camp.  In effect, he too must suffer the estrangement of "exile" as he ponders his sorry state and begins the process of spiritual repair.  How he pines for restoration to his family and community, eagerly anticipating the day when the Kohen will pronounce him fit!

Though he too may succumb to temporary despair, the memory of his former life will sustain him until he is remembered by others in turn.  As that day finally dawns, he too takes the ritual objects of the Exodus from Egypt, the blood and the hyssop, and marks the moment of his self-transformation, before he begins the arduous process of returning to the camp in complete form.

PURIFICATION FROM DEATH

Any man who has come into contact with a human corpse is unfit to stand before G-d.  The Mishkan as the place of experiencing G-d's presence is the source of all life and, as such, represents our ultimate destination; tum'a is the antithesis of those things.  We do not blame the human being for being mortal, but we protest against the state of death that our moral choices have introduced into the world.  While in a state of tum'a, we suffer spiritual estrangement and experience a form of exile, exile from life and from vitality.

When we are ready to emerge from that state to once again stand in the presence of G-d, we prepare by undergoing the rites associated with the red heifer.  Once again, a mixture of living waters and ashes, life and death, is sprinkled upon the individual with the aid of the organic hyssop, a tenacious plant that thrives in even the most arid and ashen environments.  Thus, the threshold of experience is once again marked by the taking of these items that mark the passage from death to life, as the tamei person transcends morbidity to once again secure life.

Though we tend to associate blood with death, the rites of the Passover and the metzora relate it to life, to the organic life force that is bound up with the oxygenated sanguine cells.  The living waters, drawn from a flowing spring, are also symbols of life, for where there is water there is vitality.  We may of course also relate the Passover and the red heifer to the metzora. The two birds, presumably, signify the two antithetical states and the emergence from the one to the other.

Thus, the Mishna (cf. tractate Nega'im 14:5) relates that at the outset, they must be equivalent in appearance, size and value.  And they must be of an undomesticated species in order to emphasize the vital spark that animates and invigorates.  At the conclusion of the first stage of the ceremony, the live bird is set free into an open space, "the field", signifying the metzora's re-emergence and rebirth into a state of pristine potential.

The three situations, then, the slave in bondage in Egypt, the metzora banished from the camp, and the person who has experienced death, all share a common fundamental link.  All have experienced, in one form or another, the sting and the stupor of mortality, whether physical and real, or spiritual and no less real.

MESSIANIC PICTURES

The pictures of the Messiah, the latter Redeemer couldn't be clearer.  Two doves are used in the cleansing ritual.  The doves must be perfectly identical to one another in every detail so that one cannot tell them apart.  One of the birds is slaughtered over and earthen vessel, a vessel that contains living water.  And so one of the birds is killed and it's blood is shed and mixed with living water.  The live bird is then tied with a scarlet thread to the woody hyssop plant, wings outstretched and dipped into the vessel containing the blood and living water.  The metzora is sprinkled with the blood and water and declared clean as a result.  The live bird is then released into an open field.

Did the Messiah not urge the thirsty to come unto Him and drink of living waters that would result in eternal life?  Did the Messiah, in the form of an earthen vessel, not shed His blood after being stretched out upon a tree, and did not blood and water flow when the Roman soldier later pierced His side when they came to remove His body from the tree?  The Messiah, as represented in the two identical doves considered to be one bird, died, sprinkling the sinner with His blood, and like the bird that was released into the field, conquered death and rose victorious three days after His death to set all who would place their faith and trust in Him free.

We, like the metzora, who have been afflicted with the stain of sin and covered with the shadow of death have been cleansed, purified, and brought near again, restored back into a proper relationship with the G-d Whom we had so grievously offended.   Some of the Sages liken the process of the cleansing of the metzorah to being born again.  The metzorah shaves his body completely, immerses himself in a mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) and emerges from the process much like a newborn babe into the world, born from above, as it were.

We all like sheep have turned to his own way and gone astray.  We are all afflicted with the tzara'at of sin and death.  Interestingly enough the Torah tells us that once we are completely covered from head to toe with tzara'at that the priest declares us clean.  How can that be?  The lesson is clear: it is only when we acknowledge our complete sinfulness and unworthiness that the process of cleansing can begin.  As long as we are pointing to the clean spots and patches here and there we remain unclean and banished outside the camp.  There is no one who has not sinned, no not one.

And so the latter Redeemer, Y'shua the Messiah, the Great High Priest, was able to achieve what no earthly priest ever could: offered himself without spot to G-d, to purge our consciences from dead works to serve the living G-d, for the Messiah came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.  Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.  (cf. Hebrews 9).

*I am indebted to Rabbi Michael Hattin for providing the insights into the connections between the metzorah and the Passover.   

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Leper Messiah

It is in the most unlikeliest of places that we often discover the most precious of treasures. From time to time I hear from people who read the Bible how they skip certain sections when reading because those sections seem tedious and boring, or even irrelevant.  When expressing this sentiment they often cite the lengthy genealogies or the detailed laws concerning sacrifices or laws pertaining to cleanliness.  

Although I understand and sympathize with the sentiment somewhat, I often respond by reminding them that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of G-d, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of G-d may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (cf. II Timothy 3:16).   And all means all, including the passages we are about to consider in this and subsequent posts.  

I believe that G-d's Word is inspired, literally "G-d-breathed," all of it.  Not just some of it, or just the part starting with the Gospels, but all of it, very single word, every single syllable.  I also believe that in the beginning was the Word, that the Word was with G-d, that the Word was G-d, and that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (cf. John 1).  That being said, I believe that we can find the Messiah being proclaimed on every page of the Bible. Let's begin by taking a look at one of those long, tedious, and detailed sections of the Torah and see what we might discover.

I.

Immediately after the deaths of Nadav and Avihu in Leviticus 10, Moshe received an important communication from G-d regarding the requisite conditions for entering the holiest part of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). 

And the L-rd spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon, who died when they drew too close to the presence of the L-rd.  And the L-rd said to Moshe: Tell Aharon your brother that he should not come at will into the holy place within the curtain in front of the covering upon the ark, lest he die, for I appear in the cloud over the cover. Thus only shall he enter the holy place… (cf. Leviticus 16:1-4). 

The Torah does not place this passage (Lev. 16:1-4) in chronological sequence with the death of Nadav and Avihu which is recorded in Leviticus 10.  We finds an intervening bulk of text (chapters 11-15 of Leviticus), primarily consisting of the laws of tzara'at (erroneously translated 'leprosy' in most English translations, is not leprosy at all, but rather a physical manifestation of a spiritual condition in the form of various afflictions visible on the skin of the afflicted one), that can be categorized as the laws of tum'a (contamination) and tahara (purity).

All of its component parts of Leviticus 11-15 relate to the concepts of "clean" and "unclean," or perhaps more accurately, "pristine" and "defiled."  The overall segment (Leviticus 11-15) breaks down as follows:

Topic
Verses
Sample mention of "tamei" and "tahor"
Section 1- Permissible and Forbidden Animals
11:1-47
11:4-8, 24-38, 47
Section 2- The laws of the postpartum women
12:1-8
12:2, 4-8
Section 3.1- Tzara'at (lesions) of the body and tzara'at upon garments
13:1-59
13:3, 6-8, 11-14, 46, 51, 55, 58-59
Section 3.2- Purification from tzara'at- the post tzara'at procedure
14:1-32
14:1, 4, 7-9, 11, 19-20, 31-32
Section 3.3- Tzara'at of the house-home
14:33-57
14:36, 40, 48, 53, 57
Section 4- The laws of male and female discharges and menstruation
15:1-33
15:2-6, 13-14, 16-18, 19, 25-26, 29-31


For the Sages, an obvious question arises: Why does the Torah choose to "interrupt" the natural flow of the narrative from the death of Nadav and Avihu (10:1-20) to the laws for Aharon's entrance into the holy area (16:1-34) with the laws of tum'a and tahara (11:1-15:33)?   Alternatively, we may approach the problem from another direction: Why does the Torah place the laws of tzara'at, and the overall code, in close juxtaposition to the death of Nadav and Avihu?

II

The answer may well lie in connecting the two concepts, "tum'a and tahara" and "entrance into a holy place," discussed until this point.

Let's consider the purification period of postpartum women.  The Torah states the following:

She shall remain in a state of purification from her blood for thirty-three days, she shall not touch any consecrated thing (kodesh), nor enter the sanctuary (mikdash) until her period of purification is completed. (cf. Leviticus 12:4) 

Given that she is tamei (unclean) and has not yet re-entered the pristine, pure and holy state of tahara (pure), the postpartum woman is banned from contact with sanctified objects and sanctified space. This mutual exclusivity of holiness and tum'a is also present as a theme in the other segments of the overall section outlined above.  The sufferer of tzara'at lesions is banned from the camp, whose center consists of the abode of G-d.  This is not only alluded to by the text of Vayikra (cf. Leviticus 13:46), but stated explicitly in Bemidbar, during the arrangement of the camp:

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Instruct the Israelites to remove from the camp anyone with tzara'at lesions… put them outside the camp so that they do not defile the camp of those in whose midst I dwell (cf. Numbers 5:2-3).

Likewise, in summing up the laws of discharges, section four of the overall code of tum'a and tahara, the Torah reiterates the tension between a state of tum'a and the sanctuary, and mandates the death penalty for the improper mixing of the two:

And you shall warn the Children of Israel regarding uncleanness, lest they die through their uncleanness by defiling My Mishkan which is among them (cf. Leviticus 15:31).  

Moreover, the verse of Bemidbar (Numbers) partially quoted above also mandates the expulsion of the zav and the zava, those suffering from emissions, from the camp.  Finally, this connection, or perhaps need to disconnect, between tum'a and sanctity can be located not just in sections, two, three, and four of the code, but even in section one, the laws of permitted and forbidden animals.  In closing out the segment, G-d informs Israel that he has high expectations:

For I the L-rd am your G-d: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not make yourselves unclean through (eating) any swarming thing… For I am the L-rd… you shall be holy for I am holy. (cf. Leviticus 11:44-45)

Sacredness does not end at the borders of the sanctuary nor even at the borders of the camp. The category of the holy extends to the very person of each and every individual member of Israel.  As members of the holy nation, another type of mobile sanctuary, another method of encapsulating the L-rd's presence in the world, the Israelites are enjoined from improper mixing of the sacred and profane, of contacting or ingesting certain kinds of animals.

To put this all together, the common denominator of Chapters Eleven through Fifteen, the laws of tum'a and tahara, consists not just of the categories of tum'a and tahara but also of the need to separate between the tamei and the holy.  Whether in the context of the sanctuary itself, the camp within which it resides, or the people within whose camp G-d resides, holiness demands special care, and particular conditions for encountering and preserving it.

This brings us back to the sin and death of Nadav and Avihu.  They died because of lack of care for the details of hilkhot kodashim, the laws for the proper treatment of sanctity and approach to sanctified space.  They entered the sanctuary and G-d's space when not commanded.  It is no wonder, then, that in between the story of their death (cf. Leviticus 10:1-20) and the story of the proper conditions for entering the holiest space (cf. Leviticus 16:1-34), the Torah teaches the full corpus of hilkhot kodashim, the laws of sanctity and relation to holiness (cf. Leviticus 11:1-15:33).

III

Alternatively, we may wish to link the "laws of tum'a and tahara" (cf. Leviticus 11:1-15:33) to the death of Nadav and Avihu in a slightly different, albeit related fashion.  At the close of the laws of permitted and forbidden animals, section one above, the Torah teaches the following:

This is the Torah of the beasts, and of the birds, and of every living creature… to distinguish between the unclean (tamei) and clean (tahor), between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten (cf. Leviticus 11:46-47). 
The phrase "to distinguish between the unclean and clean" should bring to mind the immediate aftermath of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu.  As mentioned, the Torah follows the story of the deaths with a code of priestly conduct.  The latter part of the code consists of two imperatives:

And you must distinguish between holy and unholy and between unclean and clean. And you must teach (lehorot) the Children of Israel all the laws which the L-rd has imparted to them through Moshe (cf. Leviticus 10:10-11). 

After a summary of the various types of tzara'at (cf. Leviticus 14:44-46), the Torah states the following:

To teach (lehorot) when it is unclean and when it is clean, this is the Torah of tzara'at. (cf. Leviticus 14:57)

While this verse may refer to the Torah's purpose in expounding upon the laws of tzara'at at length, it most probably refers to the role of the priests in making the determination as to whether a particular lesion is clean or unclean.  After all, the Torah elaborates upon this role extensively throughout the one hundred and sixteen verses of the laws of tzara'at (cf. Leviticus 13:1-14:57).

Moreover, the linguistic parallel to the terms "teaching," "unclean" and "clean" found in the code of priestly conduct (10:10-11), and the apparent fusing of the concepts into a montage of teaching, ruling and governing the arena of tum'a and tahara, further strengthens the connections outlined above.  If so, like section one, section three provides a corpus of "differentiation laws" that the priests are charged with guarding and teaching.

In a similar vein, it is Aharon the priest, along with Moshe, who is charged with "warning" the children of Israel regarding their uncleanness and the possibility of death in section four, the laws of emissions (cf. Leviticus 15:1, 31).  Finally, regarding section one, the laws of the postpartum women, it is the priest who plays the key role in restoring her state of tahara (cf. Leviticus 12:6-7), guides her in her passage from tamei to tahor and facilitates her approach to the sanctuary.

In sum, the placement of the "laws of tum'a and tahara" in the middle of the narrative of Nadav and Avihu's death stems from more than just the concern of both of these parts of the Torah with hilkhot kodshim, the rules for the treatment of sanctity. The juxtaposition also stems from the definition of the role of priests in the aftermath of the death of Nadav and Avihu.  It stems from the overarching concern of both segments with the role of priests, their job description and their special responsibility for the "laws of differentiation."

IV
Next, let us begin consider the treatment given to one who manifests tzara'at upon his body.

And the leprous man (i.e. metzorah, lit. 'afflicted one') whom the lesion is upon, his clothes shall be rent, his head shall be left bare and he shall cover his upper lip, and shall cry, "Unclean, unclean." (cf. Leviticus 13:45). 

The four actions required of the metzora, the sufferer of tzara'at, can all be thought of as connected to disgrace and shame.  The rending of the garments and baring of his head constitute symbols of dishevelment and disgrace, similar to the baring of the head of the women suspected of adultery. Similarly, the covering of the upper lip, probably done by the garment worn upon the upper body involves the covering of the metzora's mouth and his silencing. 

Having been visited by an affliction from G-d, the metzora stands speechless in front of divine retribution.  He possesses no explanation and no rationale for his behavior and affliction.  He is like the false prophets of Micah 3:7 who "shall be put to shame" and "cover their lips."  Having been afflicted by a divine plague, the metzora can do no more than proclaim his own disgrace and utter, "Unclean, unclean."

However, some of these actions symbolize not just shame, disgrace and self-negation, but also the related phenomenon of mourning.  This brings us back to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu.  Right after the deaths, Moshe tells Aharon, Elazar and Itamar:

Do not bare your heads and do not rend your clothes, lest you die… But your brothers, all the house of Israel shall bewail the burning that God has wrought (cf. Leviticus 10:6).

Aharon and his sons are forbidden from mourning. They cannot express their pain and anguish nor demonstrate physically the impossibility of continuing normal existence as if nothing has occurred. Consequently, they cannot bare their heads nor rend their clothes.  If so, the acts of the metzora resemble acts of mourning; in other words, they resemble the response of one visited by death.  In fact, tzara'at itself is connected with death numerous times throughout the Torah.  The term nega, translated as "lesion" above, constitutes the Torah's standard term for tzara'at affliction and appears innumerable times throughout the laws of tzara'at.  

The term literally means "touch" and is used in the contexts of Bereishit (Genesis) and Shemot (Exodus) to connote a plague from G-d, the concrete manifestation of the "finger" or "hand" of G-d (cf. Genesis 12:17; Exodus 11:1).  Exodus 11:1 uses the phrase od nega echad, one more touch or plague, to herald the plague of the firstborn, the visitation of death upon the Egyptians.  In other words, visitation by a nega, the touch or hand of G-d, logically results in death.

This connection between nega-tzara'at and death is further strengthened by both the story of tzara'at found in Sefer Bemidbar (Numbers).  Upon speaking ill of Moshe and being chastised by G-d, Miriam is stricken with tzara'at (cf. Numbers 12:1-10).  At this point, Aharon, who had been party to the slander, beseeches Moshe not to hold a grudge against them and to pray for Miriam's welfare.

And Aharon said to Moshe: Please my master, account not to us the sin which we committed in our folly. Let her not be as one DEAD, who emerges from his mother's womb with half his flesh eaten away (cf. Numbers 12:11-12). 

Apparently, tzara'at symbolizes death.  The appearance of tzara'at resembles the appearance of a grisly miscarriage or stillborn baby.  The death of the flesh in tzara'at comprises a harbinger and portent of the ultimate punishment soon to be visited upon the sinner.  No wonder the metzora responds to his tzara'at as one responds to death.  In a last-ditch effort to stave off his fate, he proactively mourns his soul and his impending doom.

V

This connection between death and tzara'at should help shed some light on the topics contained within the latter parts of the "laws of tum'a and tahara."

As has often been pointed out, death defiles.  The corpse constitutes the "father of all tumot (contamination)."  Similarly, the shadow of death, the affliction of tzara'at, defiles.  But the metzora is not the only one in these sections of the Torah who has encountered death and had its shadow cast upon him. The people mentioned at the end of Parashat Metzora, those suffering from emissions, have also encountered the shadow of death.  The menstruating women faces the loss of potential life implicit in her bleeding, and zav and zava the "loss of life" implicit in their diseases and consequent inability to procreate.

Similarly, the postpartum woman, mentioned at the beginning of Parashat Tazria, has passed through the harrowing and life-threatening experience of childbirth.  Within her experience of birthing life, she has encountered the shadow of death.  If so, the topics of Tazria and Metzora are united by their connection to death and the consequence of defilement.

But this is not all that unites the postpartum women, the metzora, and the sufferer from emissions.  In general, the texts focus not just on the cause of the defilement, but also on the process of return, the means of restoring a state of tahara (purity).  Each parasha (weekly Torah portion) depicts the process of "passing through," not so much the encounter with death, but the return from its touch, the approach to the sanctuary and the bringing of offerings (see cf. Leviticus 12:6-8, 14:1-20, 15:13-15, 28-30).

Putting this all together and linking up with the story of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu yields something rather interesting.  The dynamic implicit in the legal material of Tazria and Metzora parallels the dynamic implicit in the narrative frame of the text, the story of the death of Nadav and Avihu

From the perspective of narrative, the text is about Aharon, a father who at his very moment of triumph has suffered a devastating loss.  In his own words: "Such things have befallen me" (cf. Leviticus 10:19).  Due to his sacred status he is even forbidden from explicit mourning (cf. Leviticus 10:6-7).  Yet somehow he must pass through, he must continue through death, return to the sanctuary and perform the divine service.  Likewise and in keeping with the implicit theme, the legal material is about "passing through death" and approaching the sanctuary.

Are we not familiar with another Great High Priest Who has passed through death and performed the Divine service in a Sanctuary that was not of this earth:

For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 

For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever. Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,  a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the L-rd erected, and not man.  (cf. Hebrews 7-8)

But this is not all.  In a striking parallel to the story of Nadav and Avihu, a story of the "eighth day" (cf. Leviticus  9:1, 9:23-10:2), each of these "passing through" or "purification" passages contains a reference to a period of seven days and a climactic eighth day. 

The postpartum woman who bears a male is tamei for seven days.  On the eight day her son is circumcised (cf. Leviticus 12:2-3).  After a seven day waiting period outside his own tent upon his return to the camp, the metzora brings his climactic offering, approaches the sanctuary and achieves "tahara" on the eighth day (cf. Leviticus 14:8-11). Likewise the zav and the zava count seven days and only then, on the eighth day, bring their offerings, approach the sanctuary and reenter a pristine and undefiled state (cf. Leviticus 15:13-15, 28-30).

Is the eighth day some sort of magic number in Sefer Vayikra?   The eighth day of the miluim ceremony (consecrating the priests for their service) was intended to be the day of G-d's descent to the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the day when the very source of all being, of life itself, came and dwelt amongst the people

If so, we may formulate yet one more reason for the juxtaposing of Tazria and Metzora with the story of the death of Nadav and Avihu.  The "passing through" stories of the postpartum woman, the metzora, the zav and the zava serve as a counterweight to the death of Nadav and Avihu.  The dynamic of passing through death and returning upon the eighth day to the sanctuary and G-d's presence, to full and pure life, reverses the linkage between the eighth day and death in the story of Nadav and Avihu.

The legal material reminds the Children of Israel of the ideal relation between G-d's presence in the sanctuary and the categories of life and death.  Rather than holiness causing death, death causes distance from the presence of G-d.  The transcendence of death and affirming of life finds its concrete expression in approaching the sanctuary and entering into G-d's presence.

Do we know of Another Who 'came down' and dwelt among us?  One who spent a great deal of His time demonstrating plainly that he was here to reverse the effects of sin and death?  One, Who would by His death and resurrection, give life to those who would call on His name and be saved?  It is important to note that one of the ancient rabbinic titles for the Messiah was the "Leprous Messiah", the "Metzorah", ie. the "Afflicted One", which is recorded in Sanhedrin 98b (the Talmud) and is in accordance with the prophet Isaiah:

"The Messiah --what is his name?...The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, `surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b).

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by G-d, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the L-RD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. (Cf. Isaiah 53).

This idea may have arisen from the rabbis as they struggled with Isaiah 53. They either saw the Messiah's sufferings as tzara'at or split the Messiah in two, one a sufferer and one a conqueror. The Hebrew words in Isaiah 53:4, stricken nagua (related to nega, touch/plague) and smitten (mukkay) are interpreted as referring to a tzara'at condition.  Were not some of the Messiah's more prominent miracles related to tzara'at a testimony to Who He was and why He came?

Then Y'shua put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately his tzara'at was cleansed.  And Y'shua 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."  (cf. Matthew 8:3-4) 

And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of tzara'at saw Y'shua; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, "L-rd, if You are willing, You can make me clean."  Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately the tzara'at left him.  And He charged him to tell no one, "But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded."  (cf. Luke 5:12-14)

It is critical to keep in mind that tzara'at is NOT a medical condition treatable by a physician or medical remedy.   The metzora was instructed to show himself to the priest, not a doctor for examination and it was the priest who guided the metzora through the detailed procedures outlined in the Torah.  Y'shua does something interesting.  He commands the people He healed of tzara'at to go show themselves to the priest and go through all of the procedures outlined in the Torah, as a testimony unto them.  

A testimony unto them.  What was this testimony?   That the Messiah had come and was working among them as demonstrated clearly by not simply sending them to the priest for examination and determination of tzara'at, but sending those whom He had cured of tzara'at to the priests.  No where in the Torah do we read that the priests ever healed anyone of tzara'at.  

Their role, as outlined in the Torah, was to determine if the affliction was tzara'at and, if so, to guide and restore the sufferer back to a right standing with G-d Who had afflicted the sufferer in the first place.  Remember, tzara'at is not a physical ailment, but the result of a spiritual problem, an affliction of the soul that manifested itself in a physical manner.  

Is this not precisely why the Messiah came, walked among us, suffered, died and rose again?   Was He Himself not One Who was despised, afflicted, and rejected of men as One Who was considered smitten by G-d?  Touched by G-d with the plague of death?  Did He not endure and conquer death so that we who believe in His name would live and have life in His name? 

But the Messiah came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.  Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.  

For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to G-d, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living G-d? 

And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.  (cf. Hebrews 9)

*I am indebted to Rabbi Chanoch Waxman for providing many of the ideas and themes highlighted in this post, which provided a foundation for revealing Messianic connections with the text of the Torah under consideration.