Parashat Tazria is the twenty-seventh weekly portion in the Torah and the fourth in the Book of Leviticus (12:1-13:59), continuing the examination of the laws of ritual purity (tahara) and impurity (tuma).
In the last chapter of Parashat Shemini, the Torah explains what tahara and tuma mean in terms of animal life and death, both in terms of what one may touch and what one may eat. Here in Parashat Tazria, the Torah takes this concept further, confronting human life and death. Thus, Chapter 12 (the shortest chapter in Leviticus) examines the paradox of new human life: the mother experiences tuma (one week for a boy, two weeks for a girl) because this new life is no longer a physical part of her, but its own entity; but afterwards, she experiences an extended period of tahara (thirty-three days for a boy, sixty-six for a girl). At the end of this period, she brings an offering to God, depending on what she can afford.
Chapter 13 (the longest chapter in Leviticus) discusses what may be seen as the opposite of childbirth; instead of part of one’s body becoming an independent life, part of one’s body endures a sort of death, being afflicted with tzara’at. While this term is usually translated as leprosy, this is not the disease which the Torah describes. Tzara’at is a condition which may manifest in snow-white discolorations or baldness in human flesh, but also as a reddish or greenish stain on one’s clothing or house. One who suffers from such a condition must consult not a physician, but a priest, Aaron or his sons. It is striking that both of Aaron’s siblings are afflicted with tzara’at at some point in their lives: Moses when he criticizes Israel (Exodus 4:6), and Miriam when she criticizes Moses (Numbers 12:10).
The metzora (the one afflicted with tzara’at) acts like a mourner, with torn clothes and uncut hair, cloaked and isolated. The quarantine period is dedicated to self-reflection, with the priest checking the progress of the metzora every week until the individual is ready to rejoin society.
The portion from the Prophets comes from the Second Book of Kings (4:42-5:19), telling the remarkable story of Naaman, army chief of Aram, in the time of the Prophet Elisha. Afflicted with tzara’at, he comes to the Kingdom of Israel looking for a cure; Elisha explains that God can heal him, but first he must humble himself. Thus, the leader of Israel’s greatest foe comes to appreciate the miraculous power of its God.