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

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.  

3 comments:

  1. Delighted to have you back, R'B. It's been way too long, but I understand you have one or two other pressing responsibilities.

    I had only just written a very little about this passage myself (though for a non-Jewish audience and therefore nowhere near as deeply as what you've offered today. Thank you!). For me, prior to last month the "leper Messiah" was nothing more profound than a line from a David Bowie song. I had no idea it connected to anything in Scripture. So this has been a revelation.

    Thank you for your persistent glorification of Jesus Christ. There is nothing better, brother.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Tom. Yes, I am pressing through the 2nd of 4 legs of the CPA exam, but I try to get something posted when I can. Thanks for the encouragement. I am glad the posts are of benefit.

    His Word is certainly a pearl of great price, to say the least.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am pleased to see a post again. I started working my way through the material on Tuesday but didn't get to finish it until today. Because of your work I'm developing an ever increasing knowledge of the interconnection between my faith and the scriptures.

    ReplyDelete