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Tazria | פרשת תזריע

Sefer Vayikra | ספר ויקרא

Vayikra 12:1-13:59 [Hebcal] [על-התורה] ויקרא יב א-יג נט

Haftarah: Melachim Bet 4:42-5:19 (all traditions) | When read together with Metzora, the haftarah for Metzora is read, unless it is Shabbat ha-Chodesh

[על-התורה] הפטרה: מלכים ב ד מב-ה יט (על פי כל המנהגים) | אם נקרא ביחד עם פרשת מצורע, קוראים את הפטרת מצורע, אלא אם כן זו שבת החודש

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This and the following parsha, Metzora (often doubled and read together), form an interlude between the events of Shemini, among the relatively few events that occur in Sefer Vayikra, and those of Achrei Mot, when the Mishkan is rededicated. Parashat Tazria specifically deals with the laws of tumah, ritual impurity, in three instances: after a woman gives birth, when a person is afflicted with the spiritual-physical skin affliction called tzaraat (often, reductively, translated as “leprosy”), and then when inanimate objects become afflicted with tzaraat.

Ritual Impurity after Childbirth

A woman becomes ritually impure after childbirth. If she gives birth to a male, she is impure for 7 days; on the 8th day, the baby is circumcised, and then the woman is impure for a further 33 days, when she may not approach the Mishkan or touch anything that has been consecrated. If a woman gives birth to a female, she is impure for 14 days, followed by a period of 66 days, that is, double that for a male baby.

After the period of impurity, whether for a son or daughter, the woman brings a korban to the kohen at the Mishkan: a firstling lamb for Olah (burnt offering) and a pigeon or turtledove for Chatat (sin offering). If the woman cannot afford the sheep for Olah, she may bring two pigeons or two turtledoves. After the kohen offers the korbanot on her behalf, she is tahor, ritually pure.

Ritual Impurity from Tzaraat for People

If a person develops a negah tzaraat, an area of skin that is swollen and discolored and becomes scaly, it must be reported for inspection to a kohen. If the affected area has white hairs growing in it and is deeper than the skin, it is tzaraat and the person is immediately tamei. If these two signs are absent, the person is quarantined for 7 days. After the time has elapsed, the kohen again examines him. If there has been no change, the person is quarantined for a further 7 days. After that, if the skin affliction has not spread and has faded, the kohen pronounces the person tahor and all the person does is wash their clothes. If, however, the rash subsequently spreads, another inspection is warranted and the priest may declare the person to have tzaraat. No isolation is needed if it is clear that the person has tzaraat. This includes lesions that are not discolored but do have white hairs growing in them, which are a form of tzaraat. If a person’s skin turns entirely white, they do not have tzaraat, but if any of the skin discolors, then they do. A swelling deeper than the skin streaked with red is an indication of tzaraat and must be presented to a kohen for examination. If a person is burned, and the hair in the burn whitens and the lesion deepens, it is tzaraat also.

For skin lesions that occur on the scalp or under the beard, the concerning signs are that the lesion is deeper than the skin and grows thin yellow hairs. Then it may be declared tzaraat by the kohen. If it is not deep but there is no dark hair in the lesion, then the person is isolated for 7 days. With no spread, the person shaves, avoiding the skin lesion, and then isolates for a further 7 days. If it does not spread, the person is pronounced tahor; if the lesion has spread, even in the absence of yellow hairs, it is tzaraat. Streaks of white in the skin are not concerning. Having hair fall out or becoming bald are not concerning for a man. However, if a white area streaked with red occurs on the bald spot, it needs to be examined by a priest and is to be declared tzaraat.

One who is afflicted with tzaraat must tear their clothes, bare their head, cover their upper lip, and call out that they are impure (tamei).

Ritual Impurity from Tzaraat for Objects

Tzaraat can also occur in cloths and skins. It appears as streaks of red or green. The kohen needs to examine it, and it too is isolated for 7 days. If it spread in that time, it is tamei and must be burned. If the affliction has not spread, the cloth is washed and isolated for another 7 days. The affected part can then be torn out. After washing, the cloth is tahor. If the affliction returns, though, the cloth must be burned.

Haftarah Summary – ואיש בא מבעל שלשה

[Melachim Bet 4:42-5:19]

Though it begins with Elisha’s predicting that a meager amount of bread would suffice for a crowd, the main story told in this haftarah concerns Naaman (נַעֲמָן), a commander of the Aramean army who is afflicted with tzaraat. When a young woman from Yisrael becomes an attendant to Naaman’s wife, she informs her that there is a prophet in Shomron (Samaria) who can cure her husband. The king of Aram not only approves Naaman’s plan, he sends him out with a letter and gifts. But the king in Yisrael fears that it’s a set-up, saying, “Am I G-d that I should put to death and give life?” (אֱלֹקים אָ֙נִי֙ לְהָמִ֣ית וּֽלְהַחֲי֔וֹת). Elisha then sends the king a message, saying that this is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to the Arameans that there is a prophet in Yisrael.

Elisha then sends out a messenger to Naaman, telling him to bathe in the Yarden River seven times. Naaman is offended that Elisha had not come to him directly, and he declares that the waters of the rivers of Damascus are more effective anyway. However, Naaman’s advisors suggest to him that Elisha’s plan is easy and painless, so why not give it a try? Naaman concedes the point and immerses seven times in the Yarden (Jordan River), after which he is completely healed, emerging with the skin of a youth. Naaman tells the Man of G-d: “Now I know that there is no Gd in any land other than in Yisrael” (הִנֵּה־נָ֤א יָדַ֙עְתִּי֙ כִּ֣י אֵ֤ין אֱלֹקים֙ בְּכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ כִּ֖י אִם־בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל). Naaman tries to offer gifts, which are not accepted, and asks forgiveness for any future appearance that he is acting respectfully towards a false god, which he is granted.

Image: “Water” by The-World-According-To-Pleiades is licensed under CC0 1.0

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