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Parashat Metzora

Parashat Metzora is the twenty-eighth weekly portion in the Torah and the fifth in the Book of Leviticus (14:1-15:33). As its name indicates, it continues to address the case of the metzora, the one afflicted with tzara’at — a spiritual malady with physical manifestations

The previous portion, Parashat Tazria, ends with something of a cliffhanger: once the priest declares that the tzara’at has cleared up, how does the metzora return to normal life? The process is quite elaborate, requiring two birds, scarlet wool, hyssop and cedar. One bird is slaughtered, while the other is set free. The blood of the slaughtered bird is collected in a bowl of fresh spring water, along with the other materials: the scarlet wool is red like blood, while the hyssop and the cedar are, respectively, the lowest and the highest among all flora. This symbolizes the experience of being a metzora, of pride being brought low. At the end of the week, all the body hair of the metzora must be shaved off, and on the eighth day, the metzora brings a sacrificial trifecta: a burnt-offering, a sin-offering and a guilt-offering. What form these offerings take depends on the means of the metzora.

The Torah then describes tzara’at of a house. It appears here because two birds, scarlet wool, cedar, hyssop and fresh spring water are also used for the house’s purification ceremony, although there are no other offerings to bring. Interestingly, the sages of the Talmud argue whether there has ever been a house with tzara’at; some say it never was or will be and is only meant to teach us a moral lesson; others say they personally saw such houses.

Chapter 15 completes the laws of ritual purity (tahara) and impurity (tuma), by discussing the impurity related to sexual function and dysfunction. While there is a misconception that this means that the Torah sees sex as inherently unclean, in fact it reflects the potential for creating life that the human reproductive system, male and female, contains within it. Indeed, the mother of all tahara and tuma is the mother, as we saw in last week’s portion.


The portion from the Prophets comes, as it did for Parashat Tazria, from the Second Book of Kings, this time from Chapter 7. Once again this is a tale of the Kingdom of Israel and its military rival, Aram; but this time, the metzora in the story is not the commander of Aram’s dominant forces, but four people afflicted with tzara’at outside the capital of Israel, Samaria, as it staggers beneath a devastating siege. These four, with nothing to lose, enter the camp of Aram — only to find that the Arameans have fled, spooked by a miraculous cacophony. As Elisha the Prophet had predicted, the siege of Samaria finally ends and the people are saved.


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