Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Tazria Metzorah




Larchmont Temple—Har Chayim

The F*-WORD…[F _ _ _ _]…Questions, Conflicts & Connection of FAITH


Tazria-Metsora—Leviticus     14:1-20



WHAT does being tahor teach us about our approach to God/life?

HOW/WHY    does ritual renew/rekindle our faith?






v.2     This shall be the ritual for the metsora at the time he is to be cleansed:

VaYIKRA RABBAH… So even the worst sinner who atones can regain his purity “B’Yom Taharato…

on the day” he begins the process of cleansing…

IBN EZRA… “v’hoovah el ha-Kohen,”  He must “be brought,” for once his skin clears up, the

metsora will not come on his own, claiming he is cured and has no need to go through this ritual.

v.4…..The Kohen shall order two live, clean birds, cedar wood, crimson and hyssop to be brought for him    

RASHI…two live clean birds”—since these plagues are penalties for evil talk, idle chatter, so the birds who continually chirp…”cedar wood”—for the plagues are penalties for overbearing pride, thus the mighty, tall-standing cedar… “hyssop”—like the lowliest of plants, so must he lower himself from his arrogance… [TALMUD, Arachin 15b, 16b]

MUNK…The same objects used in the purification procedure of the parah adumah—the red heifer [Numbers 19:6]

That procedure deals with contamination transmitted through contact with the dead. IBN EZRA reminds us

that a bunch of hyssop was dipped in the blood of sacrifice, then spread on the lintel & doorposts. [Exod 12:22]

The ritual of sprinkling the former metzora 7 times with the blood of sacrifice is to bring the same effect as

putting blood on the doorposts—making the individual or group free of contamination—and thus worthy

of walking before God.

RAMBAM…There is no particular justification to be found behind the selection of these 3 items in the ritual.

v.8-9…The one to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and bathe in water: then he shall be clean. After, he may enter

the camp, but remain outside his tent 7 days. On the 7th day, he shall shave off all his hair…wash his clothes, body: then he shall be clean.

SCHNEERSON…Again he must shave off all his hair?  The afflicted one should not think he’ll be healed by

cutting away the symptoms.  He shaves again, even after he is cleansed, for the hair hides tiny traces…

ABARVANEL…”bathe in water…” Thus demonstrating that no other drugs or other remedy were needed to heal him, as Elisha told Na’aman: “Go and bathe 7 times in the Jordan and you shall be clean.” [II Kings, 5:10]

SEFER HaCHINUCH…The immersion in water symbolizes that the unclean person is recreated at that moment, as the bird is dipped in “living waters,” just as the waters at Creation renew our world.

ABARVANEL…The metsora requires both cleansing, to indicate that he is healthy enough to return to society, and expiation, to permit him to come into contact again with the sacred..

v. 11…15…On the 8th day…The Kohen who purifies shall place the person being purified  along with them before the Lord,

at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting…The lamb shall be slaughtered…Then taking some blood of the guilt offering, he shall place it

on the middle of the right ear of he who is being cleansed, the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot…

Prof E. FOX … This rite of purification “before the Lord” parallels the consecration ceremony of the Kohanim [Lev 8] evident in the fourfold dabbing of blood.  With the Kohanim, the movement took place from the everyday sphere into that of the holy; here, the metsora moves from isolation to reintegration in society.

R’ Elie MUNK…This same procedure is found in the laws for sanctifying the priests, reminding the metsora who is healed that this process, enabling his re-entry, is a kind of priestly installation.


v. 18/20…The priest shall then offer the sin offering, making expiation for the one being cleansed…Last, the burnt offering

shall be slaughtered…and the priest shall make expiation for him. Then he shall be clean.

R’ Moshe FEINSTEIN…It is noteworthy that in the purification process of the metsora, unlike any other such mitzvah where no supervision is required, the Kohen must witness the ceremony and personally instruct the participants.  His involvement is essential…

R’ Moshe ben Chayim ALSHECH…Torah talks about the metzora himself now being the mitaher, that is, the very person who contracted the disease is also the one who rids himself of it…The Priests does not administer the cure, but merely pronounces the afflicted one as cured from the stains that defiled his soul, and which had been reflected on the skin…He is presented to the Priest as the “mitaher—[TaHoR]—making himself pure.”



Rabbi David WOLPE…

At times we are astonished by the Bible’s closeness.  The episodes and characters may step from the past, but they inhabit our emotional world.  At other times, however, the Bible startles us with its strangeness.  What lesson can we learn from a world whose time and beliefs are so far away?  In Parshat Tazria-Metsora, we find the Bible at its most alien…

Modern commentators often restrict themselves to a scientific investigation…But the Bible is not a platform for science, it is a ladder for souls.  How shall we use this Torah to aid our climb?…

The first strategy is to extend the idea of reinterpretation.  The Rabbis midrashically recast the term Metsora to mean Motsi Shem Rah—one who blackens another’s name.  They argue that leprosy was the Divine punishment for evil talk.  Judaism is a tradition that takes words very seriously.  God creates the world through words.  Words are the divine legacy to humanity through the Torah.  Just as words can create, the midrash reminds us, they can destroy people’s lives…

Yet there is another possible approach to these strange rites.  The laws of leprosy are not about morality alone, and they are not ultimately about bodily health.  They are about purity, which is not identical with cleanliness.  Purity was central to the Bible, and to the Rabbis, and it is a realm we have lost.  Modernity does not think of life in terms of pure and impure.  But sanctity, purity and holiness are inextricably intertwined…

To a religious mind there is another dimension between space and time—there is a dimension of sanctity.  In that world strange rules apply.  To be pure—tahor, and so kadosh—holy, you must be good.  But goodness is not enough to achieve sanctity.  There is a mysterious relationship between the individual and God that depends not only on ethics, but on cultic and ceremonial practice.  In ways that are obscure, these practices help shape our souls.  Like the emotion produced by certain ceremonies, we do not fully understand why such ritual moments allign our souls with forces of purity and right, but that belief is central to the practice of Judaism.

Is there a tangible  difference between the one who intones certain words each morning and the one who does not?  Between one who immerses him or herself in a ritual bath and the one who does not?  In other words, do practices such as are described in relation to the Metsora—for the benefit of the leper, or those that observant Jews repeat to this day, make a difference in our lives?  Judaism argues for the difference they make.  It is not rational—it functions in a world where reason is not the ultimate guide.  Judaism has its realm of purity and mystery, beyond the reach of the grasping logician, beyond the categories of the analysts, and the sneers of the materialists.  To a believer in the dimension of the holy, a thoroughgoing rationalist is unreasonable, and one who sees only the visible is blind.

That realm of the pure and holy is the one we reach towards through ritual.  It is the world we are reminded of in this week’s reading.  The reminder is graphic and particular, speaking the language of scales and sores.  But the concept is sublime: that there is an invisible order we can touch, but cannot truly understand.  That we align ourselves with the wishes of God in mysterious ways; and that there are openings in the tradition that can be entered not by reason, not by ingenuity, not by learning, but only by emunah—trust in God, and in this mysterious world God created.





We seem to have lost the ability to discern the difference between being in a state of ritual purity and being in one of ritual defilement.  Indeed, we have even forgotten that defilement comes from contact with death.  But the categories are still there.  All we have to show for our sophisticated amnesia is a nagging sense of discomfort and contamination.   The Bible is, of course, keenly aware of these modes of being and here prescribes a ritual for returning to a state of purity from the inevitable contamination to which we are all condemned.  It grows on the walls of our bedrooms like mold, and in the interiors of our psyches, and alien growth.  It’s immune to cleansers and medicines because it is not evil, or dirt, or illness.  But its still there.

Isn’t that what organized religion is supposed to do?  With water and blood and birds, hyssop and cedar and sacrifice (or whatever)—to make our households and our lives fit for habitation again.

[Five Cities of Refuge, Schocken Books,  pg.  90]




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