Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch.
Kohen – first Aliya – 13 p’sukim – 12:1-13:5
Chapter 12, the shortest in the Torah with 8 p’sukim, deals with “birth”. A woman becomes “ritually unclean” following a (normal) birth – one week for a boy – and on the 8th day the boy is circumcised – and two weeks for a girl. This period of TUM’A is followed by a special “waiting time” of 33 or 66 days for boy or girl respectively, after which the mother is to bring the korbanot of a YOLEDET. The whole issue of the “ritual impurity of a woman having given birth” constitutes a mitzva , as does the bringing of the sacrifices . This portion of the Torah is also the source of the general prohibition of eating “sacred meat” while in a state of “ritual impurity” .
G-d spoke to Moshe… speak to Bnei Yisrael… and on the 8th day you shall circumcise… Sounds like a command. It is. How come it isn’t counted among the 613? It is, but not from here. MILA is counted from Parshat Lech Lecha rather than from here in Tazria. From Tazria, one might think that MILA is the removal of the foreskin, and that’s about it. From Lech Lecha we see the whole idea of a commitment and covenant with G-d symbolized by the performance of MILA. The context of Tazria is post-Sinai and in the language of command, yet the anecdotal context of Lech Lecha and Avraham Avinu define what this mitzva really entails. Brit Mila is unique (?) in having two mitzva-brachot, the texts of which show us the whole picture. First comes AL HAMILA, the bracha for the act of removing the foreskin – something which takes a second or two of the Mohel’s time. Mitzva to do. Slice. Done. Immediately after the Mohel says that first bracha, the father of the baby says the second bracha – to enter him into the covenant of Avraham. This bracha, also a Birkat HaMitzva, is not transferred to the Mohel, as was the first bracha, and does not refer to an aspect of the BRIT that is completed in a very brief period of time. Rather, it expresses the lifelong commitment of the parents of the child to raise him as a Jew in every sense of the word. We can even say that the Torah, Chupa, and Maasim Tovim that we wish upon the baby is actually part of the mitzva of BRIT MILA.
To say it in other words, the mitzva of MILA might be presented in Tazria, but the mitzva of BRIT MILA is best taken from Lech Lecha.
Furthermore, because we have already been commanded on MILA back in Lech Lecha, the Gemara teaches us some “new” aspects of the mitzva from the “repetition” of the mitzva here. E.g. that an 8th day Mila can be performed on Shabbat. (And that this applies only to a birth through the birth-canal, as opposed to a C-section delivery whose Mila is not done on Shabbat.) That Mila cannot be done at night.
Levi – second Aliya – 12 p’sukim – 13:6-17
A kohen must examine a case of suspected Tzora’at. He looks for changes in coloration of skin and hair, raised or sunken appearance of the blemished area, increase, decrease or no change in size, and other signs. Sometimes he declares immediate Tzora’at. Sometimes “ritual purity” is declared immediately, in which case a trip to the pharmacy for a salve might be the best thing. And sometimes a quarantine period is declared.
The expertise of a kohen in the area of Nega’im is both an art and a science. And more. Dozens of shades of white and other colors must be distinguishable to the inspecting kohen. An error in perception of a white like the shell of an egg as opposed to the color of the thin membrane under the shell can make the difference between declaring the examinee Tahor or Tamei. Only certain times of the day are permitted for examining a NEGA, because of the different effects of lighting and shadow.
The laws of Nega’im are unbelievably difficult and complex. In addition to everything else, the kohen had to know the psychology of the cases and be sensitive to the personal situations of the afflicted.
A look at some of the Mishnayot in TAHAROT, even without going in depth, can give one an appreciation of what is involved in this topic. Once again, learning comes to the rescue and allows us to get “involved” in mitzvot even when they aren’t active.
Sh’lishi – third Aliya – 6 p’sukim – 13:18-23
The Torah presents further details on what the kohen looks for when inspecting boils and similar afflictions on the skin. The elborate checking and time delays from inspection to inspection serve to give the afflicted person ample time for introspection. A NEGA on the outside mirrors a character blemish or a religious shortcoming on the inside. While the kohen examines the external, the Metzora does a thorough job of seeing his own inner being.
Why all the detail? Why are there so many different types of NEGA’IM? Perhaps it is because WE are all different. So many different types of people. So many different temperaments. So many different sins. And so many different personal reactions to our individual situations. We need to feel this individuality. It helps us be responsible for our own deeds. I would imagine that the kohen-examiner played the role of counselor too. Maybe sensing a disturbed soul that need TIPUL along with the NEGA.
R’vi’i – fourth Aliya – 5 p’sukim – 13:24-28
This portion discusses burns on the skin and different colorations within the affected area. Keep in mind that a blemish of any sort is NOT Tzora’at unless declared so by a kohen. It could look like Tzora’at, but it isn’t unless declared “Tamei”. In fact, two people can have identical signs and one can be declared a Metzora, the other not so. And the treatment of each case is completely different as a result.
Chamishi– fiftth Aliya – 11 p’sukim – 13:29-39
This portion deals with yet another type or two of N’GA’IM – sores on the head, neck, or face, and blotches on the skin. As was mentioned before, we are dealing here with a complex issue of a bridge between the physical and the spiritual. Or, to put it differently, of physical manifestations of spiritual problems. To help understand this idea better, think of the following analogy: There are physical afflictions and psychological problems that people can suffer.
Sometimes, each type is treated independently. But sometimes, a trained professional in the field will see the physical problems as manifestations of the psychological problems. And sometimes, vice versa. In those cases, it is very important for the professional to decide what gets treated and what will improve when the other does, even without special attention.
This was only an analogy, but this is one of the lessons, of Torah HaMetzora, the laws of N’GA’IM. The laws regarding the state of ritual impurity resulting from Tzora’at constitute a positive commandment . In other words, we would be doing the wrong thing to ignore these laws and details. There is a specific prohibition of cutting the hair of a Tzora’at area on the body . Among other reasons, this would remove an important indicator for the inspecting kohen.
Let’s run with the analogy. If a doctor notices that a rash on a patient who came to him might be the result of stress and tension in the workplace, then it would serve no purpose to merely treat the rash. In fact, the rash might clear up after some stress-reduction measures without any treatment of the specific rash.
Welts, burns, blemishes, boils, etc. might go away after T’shuva and the Tzara’at procedures. How can a korban heal an affliction? How can T’shuva heal it? Same question as, How can psychological counseling cure asthma. But it can (sometimes) and so can all of the “remedies” in this week’s sedra. Mind, body, soul – they are all connected and interrelated.
Shishi– sixth Aliya – 15 p’sukim – 13:40-54
Certain cases of baldness are discussed in the first part of this portion. Usually, baldness is just baldness. But occasionally, the skin that is exposed when the hair falls out is blemished in specific ways which might mean Tzora’at. A person who has Tzora’at, tears his clothes, lets his hair hang loose, and must announce in public that he is TAMEI. The proper conduct of the Metzora is a mitzva .
The rest of this Aliya deals with infection of Tzora’at on garments. Wool, linen, and leather are the materials that are subject to Tzora’at HaBeged. The laws of infected garments also constitute one of the 613 mitzvot .[SDT] Baal HaTurim points out that pasuk 42 begins and ends with burning of the “infected” garment. This teaches us that the method of disposal of something that is ASUR B’HANA’A (forbidden to derive any benefit therefrom) is by burning. [SDT] Pasuk 44: And the kohen commands, and the garment is laundered (and immersed in a Mikve). V’CHIBSU = 6+20+ 2+60+6 = 94. KOL ADAM (any person) = 20+30 + 1+4+40 = 95. (Off by one never seems to bother the BH”T or some other G’matriya people.) The command to wash comes from a kohen, but the action can be performed by anyone.
Sh’vi’i – 7th Aliya – 5 p’sukim – 13:55-59
The topic of “afflictions of garments” is continued in this Aliya.
The final 3 verses are repeated for the Maftir.
The fact that there was such a thing as an affliction of a garment tells us something. We are dealing with different ways that G-d communicates his “displeasure” with us, as individuals. Today, we might say, His communication is more subtle – but we must see it… and react appropriately.
Haftara – 22 p’sukim2 Kings 4:42-5:19
The Haftara contains an episode with Elisha the Prophet and Naaman who, among other things, was a M’TZORA. The theme of the Haftara deals with miracles and the battle of Judaism against the powerful influence of Baal worship. In the Haftara, we can see not only one who was afflicted by Tzora’at, but the implication that it can be caused by arrogance and excessive pride. The Haftara gives us the link between NEGA’IM and moral behavior.