M’tzora – “Leper”

Our Parasha this Shabbat is titled M’tzora meaning ‘Leper’. It primarily deals with ritual impurity, covering topics such as cleansing from skin diseases, houses with mold, male genital discharges, and female menstruation. While these laws might seem rather irrelevant today, they were critical for Israel, because ritual impurity would limit a person’s participation in worship at the tabernacle.

One of the functions of the priest was to identify various forms of leprosy. Leprosy isn’t just a skin condition, but can be used to describe ritually impure conditions of the human skin, clothing, and even houses. In humans, it encompassed a variety of skin problems. In clothing and buildings, it was an invasive condition that could compromise and even destroy structural integrity.

If leprosy was suspected, an individual was not free to self-diagnose, nor could a concerned family member or friend make that diagnosis. Simply having the symptoms of leprosy did not automatically make a person ritually unclean or impure. Only the priest was qualified to inspect, diagnose, and then pronounce the individual or item leprous; hence the need for the considerable details in these verses.

The goal of the pronouncement was to protect the community and eventually restore the individual or the home. If it was a person who was ritually impure, they would have to leave the camp and be isolated until the disease went away. The priest would go outside the camp to visit and provide continuing care to the affected individual. Once the priest observed that there were no longer any signs of uncleanness, a second examination would be scheduled seven days later. If he were found free of disease, the process of “Tahara” or purification would begin. This was an elaborate procedure that involved a scarlet thread, a hyssop branch, a stick of cedar wood, a bowl of water, and two birds of the same type.

By the end of the ritual, one bird is sacrificed, and the other is released. The sprinkling of the hyssop by the priest recalled the blood of Passover. The two birds mirror the scapegoat of the Yom Kippur ritual. In this manner, the individual purification process mirrored the purification of the community of Israel, and healing ultimately meant restoration and to being reidentified as a redeemed child of God.

If a house was suspected to be unclean, the occupants would first remove all its contents, and the priest would be summoned to verify that the house was indeed unclean. If verified, the priest would lock up the house for seven days. If the mold disappeared the house was fine, but if nothing happened, or if the mold spread, the afflicted stones were removed and replaced, the walls were replastered, and the house would remain locked up for another seven days. If after the second the mold had continued to spread, the priest would declare the house ritually unclean, and it would be destroyed by burning.

The end of the parasha discusses how men and women were to be purified from bodily discharges.

So, how can we apply these lessons to our walk with Messiah Yeshua?

The New Testament teaches us that we are now Adonai’s temple and that His Spirit resides in us. Which makes me wonder: how does He remain in us when we fall short and sin, as inevitably we do? I believe the answer comes to us from the encounter Yeshua had, recorded in Luke chapter 8, with a woman whom He healed from a condition of chronic bleeding.

Had Yeshua been a mere man, according to the laws of the Torah her impurity would have transferred to Him, and He would have become unclean. But that didn’t happen. Instead, she was cleansed and healed, and Yeshua was unaffected.

Likewise, in Matthew chapter 8, Yeshua healed and cleansed a leper, yet He Himself never contracted Leprosy. In fact, the way in which Yeshua chose to heal this leper is significant. He deliberately reached out His hand and touched the man to heal him. For Yeshua to willingly touch a leper was a powerful statement, not only demonstrating His deity – that He cannot be made unclean, but also it shows us the depth of His love for humanity.

One of Satan’s biggest lies is to not only make us feel like Yeshua can’t heal us, but that He doesn’t want to. We begin to tell ourselves that if we could just get our act together, that we’ll finally be worthy of His help.

But nothing could be farther from the truth. Like the Leper or the woman with the issue of blood, we are incapable of “fixing” ourselves and desperately need Yeshua to heal us. No matter how many chances you think you’ve missed, however many mistakes you’ve made, the Bible assures us that you are not beyond the reach of Yeshua’s love.

It’s natural in moments where we feel we have fallen short to run away from God. Learning to stay put, and to keep our eyes fixed on Yeshua can be a challenge. But for me, knowing there is someone who will not only touch me, but fully embrace me during my “leprous” torment is an empowering and encouraging truth. Rabbi Paul tells us (Romans 2) that it is God’s kindness that moves us to repentance.

That kindness helps me to continue to run the race and not give up. The ministry of the Levitical priests in Parasha M’tzora is an earthly picture of the greater heavenly ministry and Priesthood of Messiah, who is even now, today, interceding on our behalf, in whom we are declared clean!