This week, we have a double Torah portion. The first passage is called Tazria, which means “she bears seed,” such as when a woman gives birth to a child. This passage is from Leviticus 12:1–13:59. Our other Torah portion is called, Metzora, which can be translated as “infected one” and takes us from Leviticus 14:1–15:33. In brief, Tazria covers what needs to be done after the birth of a child as well as how to identify various skin diseases. Metzora looks at the healing process for those skin diseases as well as the various offerings associated with a healing.
Leviticus, Chapter 12 discusses the process a woman must go through to become clean after giving birth to a child. If a woman gave birth to a son, she was unclean for 40 days and if she gave birth to a daughter she was unclean for 80 days. After that period, she needed to offer both a burnt offering and a sin offering as an atonement. I am sure that non-believers and perhaps even some of us here today reading Leviticus, Chapter 12 would find this process is ridiculous. I mean, when a woman goes into the hospital to give birth today, she can be in and out in a couple of days and back to work not too long after that. Yet, here the Torah is talking about a 40 or 80 day period of purification.
We need to dig a little deeper to find out the meaning behind these two periods of time. First off, various sections of the Torah deal with bodily discharges. A woman giving birth is considered in the same way as a woman having her menstrual cycle. In other words, that discharge of blood through the birth must be brought back to pre-birth levels. Let’s take it a step further. When a person was considered unclean, that person was separated from daily life. Well, after giving birth, do you think that the new mother would need some time away from everyday chores and time to bond with her baby? By being considered unclean, this period would be a chance for the new mother to have time to recover and draw close to her new child.
The other key point about this section is that we need to think back to Adam and Eve and the sin issue. Ever since leaving the Garden of Eden, men and woman have been in a sinful state. The birth of a child is no different. The process of giving birth is not a sin, and God certainly does not have a negative attitude towards child-bearing. After all, God instructs us to be “fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28), and that children are a gift of The Lord (Psalm 127:3). However, every birth brings a new sinner into the world; another person that needs to find the atoning Grace of Messiah Yeshua. So, the purification and the sacrifices that follow also point to the need for atonement of sin in a person’s life even from the time they are a newborn.
Chapter 13 provides instructions for identifying skin infections, generally called leprosy in the Torah. This leprosy is not the terrible condition that is called Hansen’s Disease, which can lead to a loss of fingers and toes. Rather, leprosy in the Torah is a swelling, scab or a bright spot that appears on the skin. Someone with this type of skin marking is to be brought to the priest and the priest determines if the person has an actual skin infection that could spread or not. The priests did not have the ability to cure or heal this infection, only to identify when it had appeared and when it had been healed. If the priest determined that the infection was not spreading, the person was kept in isolation for a period of time and then re-examined by the priest. If, after that period of isolation, the infection had not spread and was fading, that person would be considered clean by the priest.
However, if after a period of isolation, the infection was spreading, the person would be considered unclean and have to be separated from the rest of the people. In fact, 13:45 – 46 tells us about how the people with continuing skin infections were to be treated: “As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ “He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” The custom was to keep at least 6 feet away from a person with this type of skin infection.
Again, from our perspective today, there are probably people who think that this was very harsh treatment. Digging a little deeper, however, we can find the wisdom of dealing with infections in this manner. With the priests acting as public health officers, any type of skin infection could be discovered quickly, thus keeping the rest of the community from an outbreak of disease. And did you know that smallpox, measles and scarlet fever can begin with the type of skin infection described in Leviticus, Chapter 13? Due to the quick action required by these infections, serious outbreaks affecting the whole community could be avoided.
While Chapter 13 discusses how a priest identifies when a person is infected, Chapter 14 discusses how a priest identifies when a person has been healed from the infection and the various offerings associated with that healing.
If a person was eventually healed from the skin infection, or leprosy, the priest was the one who would confirm the healing. Remember, only God had the power to heal the infection. The priest only confirmed the healing. Once the healing had been confirmed, the healed person needed to be sprinkled with the blood of a turtledove or a young pigeon after which the person needed to shave off all the hair on the body and bathe. Then the person could re-join the camp, however, that person could not enter his/her tent until the 8th day when additional sacrifices were offered regarding the healing.
The rest of Chapter 14 deals with a home that has a “leprous” condition, in other words a type of mildew or mold that had been found on the walls. The priest comes and identifies that this type of condition exists and declares the house unclean. The owner then empties the house of his possessions, and then the area of the house that has the condition is torn out and the plaster on the rest of the walls is scrapped off and replaced. If the mildew or mold condition does not come back after the replastering, the house is declared clean and the ritualistic sacrifices are offered. If the mold or mildew comes back, or spreads to another area of the house, then that unclean house is destroyed.
Obviously, the leprous condition would have been quite a fearful thing in ancient Israel. If one got leprosy, they were put outside of the community, had to physically dress to show they had leprosy and were shunned by all. Those who did not have leprosy totally avoided those who had it, even to the point of never getting close to the person with leprosy.
So, what was our Messiah’s taken on this? Messiah stayed with lepers, like Simon in Bethany (Mat 26:6), healed lepers (Mat 8:2-3) and even touched them (Mat 8:2 – 3 and Mark 1:40 – 41). In a way, this is symbolic of His ministry on earth. For all human beings, even today, are infected with the leprosy of sin. Messiah left heaven to come into this world that contained the leprosy of sin to touch and heal us so that we can figuratively rejoin the camp, rejoin the community, that offers the right worship to God. Messiah truly is the great physician, healing both physically and spiritually.