Parashat Metzora

Recipe For Purity

An internal process of repentance must accompany the external, physical cleansing for leprosy.

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Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

In Jewish tradition, childbirth, leprosy, discharges, and assorted unseemly substances threaten an individual's purity and, consequently, his or her holiness. The verses within Tazria and Metzora detail ways to handle these impurities. Elaborate procedures ritualize the transformation from someone who is "tameh" (impure) to someone who is "tahor" (pure). Opening up to the very beginning of parashat Metzora, let's look at some of the ingredients and rituals involved in one of the purification processes. Perhaps some of these odd ingredients can provide insight into the crimes that cause someone to be punished with leprosy in the first place.

Vayikra/Leviticus 14:2-9

2. This shall be the ritual for a leper at the time that he is to be cleansed. When it has been reported to the priest,

3. the priest shall go outside the camp. If the priest sees that the leper has been healed of his scaly affliction,

4. the priest shall order two live clean birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop to be brought for him who is to be cleansed.

5. The priest shall order one of the birds slaughtered over fresh water in an earthen vessel;

6. and he shall take the live bird, along with the cedar wood, the crimson stuff, and the hyssop, and dip them together with the live bird in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the fresh water.

7. He shall then sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the eruption and cleanse him; and he shall set the live bird free in the open country.

8. The one to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and bathe in water; then he shall be clean. After that he may enter the camp, but he must remain outside his tent seven days.

9. On the seventh day he shall shave off all of his hair--of head, beard, and eyebrows. When he has shaved off all his hair, he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water; then he shall be clean. [The procedure concludes with the priest offering two male lambs as a sacrifice.]

Your Torah Navigator

1. Where is the "metzora" (the leper) while he undergoes the "scaly affliction"?

2. Name all of the ingredients in the priest's healing concoction. Which components strike you as particularly unusual?

3. What could be the significance of including both the wood of cedar--a tall tree--and hyssop--an herb that grows close to the ground?

4. Once the live bird has been set free, how does the "metzora" change his own location?

5. What final step ensures that the "metzora" is clean?

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Hannah Pressman is a doctoral student in modern Hebrew literature at New York University, where she has earned an advanced certificate in Poetics and Theory. An alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship program, she is currently a MacCracken Fellow at NYU. She has presented her research at National Association of Professors of Hebrew conferences, and her reviews of contemporary Israeli literature have appeared in Lilith Magazine.