Torah Portions Tazria & Metsora
Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33
2 Kings 4:42 - 5:19, 7:3-20
This year we will be going through the Torah portion cycle with a short teachings under 30 minutes each. Included in this post are the Haftarah portion and the Echoes Through Scriptures from previous years.
In Tazria-Metsora, we will discuss Biblical leprosy and the other conditions which cause ritual uncleanliness
Shalom! This is the twenty sixth portion in the Haftarah cycle. This week we discuss the concept of "leprosy" in the Bible and how it relates to the human condition of mortality. We see that this is all connected to Yeshua and his reversal of the sins of Adam. This year we will be spending approximately one hour on each of the Haftarah portions and investigating them from their historical setting and their ancient Near Eastern context as well as making connections back to the Torah Portion. I pray that you will enjoy these teachings!
In Tazria-Metsora, we will discuss the connections between leprosy and the human condition of mortality. Then, we will take this understanding and connect the leper purification ritual in Leviticus 14 to Isaiah 53 and to the work of Yeshua.
That Uncomfortable Subject
Leviticus 12:1 - 13:59
God created the earth in six days, Abraham proved his faith at Mount Moriah, Joseph became second in command in Egypt, YHWH redeemed Israel from Egyptian slavery, and He appeared to them at Mount Sinai. We love to hear these stories and discuss all the amazing insights found in these stories each week, but then we get to Leviticus and things start to get uncomfortable; God commands that those who desire to approach His presence must do so by bringing an animal sacrifice. The discomfort tends to really hit its peak when we get to the Torah portion Tazria, which is infamously known as "the rabbi killer" due to its dealing with the subject matter of the after birth blood flow of a woman. Despite how uncomfortable this makes us feel, this subject is part of our Bible and is located near the very heart of the Torah in the book that teaches us how to be a holy people! If we can get past our discomfort with the subject matter, we will find that this portion is actually very interesting especially when understood through cultural lenses.
When an Israelite mother gave birth to a male child, she was to be unclean in the same manner as her niddah cycle for seven days and then she remains in a ritually unclean status for another 33 days. This uncleanliness is not a moral issue; she has done nothing wrong. Rather it is a state of ritual impurity which prohibits her from touching any sacred objects or entering the Miqdash; the Tabernacle. This distinction is important because in the Hittite rite of Papanikri for the purification of a childbearing woman, it states "they bring two birds for offense and sin. They burn one lamb for appeasement", indicating that the Hittites actually believed giving birth was a moral sin. While later speculation on the reason why the so-called "sin sacrifice" was brought led to theories that perhaps the mother swore a rash oath during the birthing process, the idea that the woman sinned is not supported in the text. First, the chatta't offering should actually be translated as "purification offering", not "sin sacrifice" and indeed we find in verse 7 that the outcome of this offering is not the forgiveness of sin, but that "she shall be cleansed of her blood flow". Second, according to Leviticus 4:28 it is only after your sin is made known to you that you are to bring the purification offering. It is not brought in cases where you may have sinned but aren't sure.
Ritual impurity was not a unique concept in ancient Israel nor is the concept of impurity associated with birth unique; cultures all around the globe have been found to have impurity connected with human reproduction. However in these other nations, ritual impurity is associated with either removal of demons or the warding off of demons. For example, in the Arslan-Tash inscriptions from 7th century BCE Syria there is an inscription to ward off demons who were thought to strangle infants. For Israel, the impurity is never demon related, instead it arises out of conditions associated with human mortality; the birth-death cycle. Most of the pagan gods of the nations were born, had sexual intercourse, and had the possibility of dying. YHWH is not like these false gods; He was not created, He does not engage in sexual intercourse, and He cannot die. Thus, to make a distinction in the minds of ancient Israel, He requires that all those who have come in contact with birth, sex, or death must wait a specific period after such events so that there is no mixture in the worship of the Holy God of Israel which could lead to false ideas about the nature of YHWH. Other cultures often turned these myths about their gods engaging in sex into cultic plays that would be enacted on their holy days in their temples such as in Ugarit where they would ritually enact the myth where El, the head of the Canaanite pantheon, impregnates and marries two women, one of whom subsequently becomes pregnant and gives birth to the twins Shachar and Shalim, believed to be related to the Gemini twins.
Another important distinction is that only the mother receives an impurity in Israel while in Hittite culture it was the infant who was impure. That only the mother receives ritual impurity shows that accountability for impurity only falls upon those who are capable of actually taking care of the situation, much like how the required offerings are reduced from a lamb and a bird to offering two birds if the cost of a lamb is beyond the means of the family. Our God only requires of us that which we are capable of doing and giving. He is not the god of the elite only, He is the God of all of creation! The timing of when the offerings and rituals take place in the Scriptures is also significant. Pagan nations performed the rituals and sacrifices immediately because they perceived the impurity as a demon that posed an immediate threat to the sick person, the mother and infant, or even as a threat that could overpower their gods. YHWH makes a clear distinction; the purification offering is brought well after the time of danger of the birth. Likewise the purification of the leper only occurs after the leper has been cured of his condition. Thus, the Bible's rituals are not intended to cure the condition or to protect the person while they are in that weakened condition (such power comes from YHWH alone), the rituals are done to remove the impurity after the condition has passed.
Let us now address the question that burns at everyone's mind when they read this chapter; why is it that when a woman gives birth to a girl, the impurity period is doubled? This conundrum has been the subject of much debate. Two of the prominent theories are A) the woman has a longer period of lochia-blood flow after giving birth to a girl and B) the longer impurity period is because girls are devalued in Scripture. While it is true that the lochia-blood flow after giving birth to a girl tends to be longer, it is nowhere near twice as long and thus this theory must be discarded. With regards to the impurity period, some rabbis have pointed out that the impurity period for touching a pig carcass is only one day while the impurity period for touching a human corpse is seven days, thus it cannot be that the double impurity period is somehow implying a lesser value for women. If anything it is the opposite! While it may be impossible to ever determine the exact reason why this double impurity period was commanded to Israel, Jonathan Magonet has proposed a very promising theory. In Leviticus 15:18 it is stated that if a man has intercourse who is in her niddah, he becomes unclean for a seven-day period and contaminates anything that he sits upon, exactly like the woman who is in niddah. While such an intentional act is prohibited, it is possible that the intercourse started without realizing the state of the woman. The act of sexual intercourse causes the two to become "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24) and thus the man receives the same impurity as the woman in niddah. There is a phenomenon that sometimes affects newborn girls after the withdrawal of the mother's hormones; it can cause vaginal bleeding in the infant. Since the child was inside the mother, the two were also "one flesh" and thus, since the infant cannot deal with the ritual impurity caused by this blood flow, the mother's impurity period is doubled.
Having considered the portion Tazria through the ancient Near Eastern culture, this Torah reading becomes important evidence of uniqueness of YHWH's Torah and a polemic against pagan practices. It is not demons which cause sickness and death, but human mortality resulting from the sin of Adam. It is not through apotropaic rituals to protect against demons that Israel survives, it is through YHWH's protection and healing. Those who undergo such dangers as childbirth are not sinners, but their humanity must be maintained distinct from the worship of YHWH and so they are temporarily restricted from the Tabernacle and must undergo specific rituals in order to once more approach the King. We live in a vastly different world and do not have the honor of having a temple for YHWH in our midst, but we can still understand the importance of separating our mortal human conditions, birth, sex, and death, from the worship of YHWH. This does not mean that we cannot celebrate YHWH's gift of a child to our family, as ancient Israel celebrated on the 8th day with circumcision, but it does mean making a distinction with these things so that we do not begin to entertain the idea that YHWH was born, engages in sexual relations, or is threatened by the possibility of death.
 Niddah is the Hebrew word used to describe the menstrual period of a woman where she is ritual impure for a seven day period. Sexual intercourse is forbidden during this time, whoever touches her becomes unclean until evening and any object which she sits upon is rendered unclean and a clean person will be rendered unclean if he/she touches that object (Leviticus 15:19-23).
 Miqdash is generally translated as "sanctuary" in our English translation and is from the root word qadash, "holy". Thus, it literally is the House of Holiness.
 Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16, 758.
 For more information on this, please see discussion in the Torah portion Vayikra above.
 Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 765.
 Baruch A. Levine, Leviticus, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 249.
 H. Maccoby, Ritual and Morality: The Ritual Purity System and its Place in Judaism (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999), 49.
 John C. L. Gibson and Godfrey Rolles Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 2nd ed. (London; New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 28-29.
 Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament on Leviticus 12 (complete reference to be added).
 Jonathan Magonet. "'But if it is a Girl She is Unclean for Twice Seven Days…' The Riddle of Leviticus 12.5", Reading Leviticus, pp. 144-153.
 ibid, 152.
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