Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha


April 2, 2011/27 Adar II
Leviticus 14:1-11
Modern Author: Bernard Malamud, “The Silver Crown”

KOSHI: How does healing happen through the prescribed ritual for the Metsora? What can Torah teach us about our approach to healing?

V.2      This shall be the ritual for the metsora at the time he is to be cleansed…

RAMBAN…The translations separate this phrase from the beginning of the verse, but in fact they belong together.  The verse  is making a general statement: “This shall be the ritual for a leper when he wishes to be declared clean and is brought to the priest.”  For he can never become clean except by a priest’s declaration….

V.3      The priest shall go outside the camp.  If the priest sees that the metsora has been healed…

IBN EZRA…Even though the kohen has declared him to be healed, the leper may not enter the camp until he has offered sacrifices for his cleansing and fulfilled the other rituals that are commanded…

V.4      If the priest sees that the metsora has been healed, the priest shall order two live clean birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop to be brought for him who is to be cleansed.

RASHI… “live birds”—and not dying; “clean”—and not from those which cannot be eaten.  The reason for this is that leprous affections come as a punishment for injurious speech, that is, for idle chatter about people.  It is therefore necessary to bring birds that are always chattering so he may be cleansed.

RAMBAM… There is no particular justification to be found in the selection of these specific items in the ritual,…explanations here being mere conjecture.

V.5-6   The kohen shall order one of the birds be slaughtered over fresh water in an earthen vessel, and he shall take the live bird, along with the cedar, the crimson and the hyssop, and dip them, together with the live bird, and dip them in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over living waters.

SEFER HaCHINUCH…Over “mayim chayim”—over “living waters,” for the immersion in water symbolizes the recreation of the unclean person at that moment, just as the renewing waters of creation at the start of our world.

R’JUDITH ABRAMS… Why do we need the water?  For this mixture is intensely symbolic of life; blood and water the fluids without which life could not be sustained…Why “living water”?  For the living water moves as a living person, as opposed to a lake, which is relatively stagnant, and thus like a dead person…

R’ JUDITH ABRAMSParshat Metsora  outlines the way a person, once healed, was brought back into the community….Many Jews today engage in two rituals strikingly similar…One is the ceremony of Tashlich—casting out, when we symbolically transfer our sins to the bread we cast on the waters…In less direct parallel, the Bedikat Chametz, when we rid the house of leaven, collecting the last crumbs with the aid of a bird’s feather, a wooden spoon (like cedar)…then burning it all the following day (like the sin offering)  The same dynamic is at work in these ceremonies as the purification of the metsora, for all are designed to symbolically rid us of the remnants of that which we have already been cured…Obviously, we still need ways of cleansing ourselves of those things that separate us from our communities—from ourselves, and from God.

Dean KERTESZ…There are times reading Torah when I find a passage so alien that I experience a stunning disconnect; the text just sits up and slaps me in the face…We are dealing here with ritual impurity…What’s going on here? My first reaction is just to ignore it all, but I can’t do that.  You take the alienating with the uplifting, that’s the deal…Jacob MILGROM, in his study on VaYikra, points out that disease in general and skin disease in particular was considered divine punishment, which may well explain why it was included in Torah.  Even now, we tend to view disease as moral failing.  At its crudest, some see AIDS as divine punishment for homosexuality…regardless of science to the contrary.  Despite the best of intentions, the healthy shun the sick…At a primordial level, the sick remind us of our own mortality, and the incipient chaos that is all around us.  In that sense, we are not so distant from our ancient ones in our views of the need to maintain the natural order and the boundaries that keep chaos at bay…This is where the portion gets its traction.  Not in its cataloguing of symptoms, but in the provision of a defined ritual to mark the transition from health to sickness and back again.  We have no such rituals to help us…This is what we have lost with the end of the Priestly purity system: the drama of a ritual practice that sustains the conscious recognition of God’s involvement in every aspect of human existence, and the hope that the cosmic order can be restored.


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