Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch
Kohen – First Aliya – 13+12+6=31 p’sukim – 12:1-13:23
Perek 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” .
TAHARA & TUM’A To oversimplify: one aspect of the rules of ritual purity and impurity for a Yoledet (a woman who have given birth) is to show the sharp contrast between life and death. This can be seen in the Tum’a of a dead body, in the laws of Nidah, the rules of pregnancy, as well as the Yoledet. A woman’s period signifies that life has not begun within her – there is TUM’A. A pregnant woman has life developing within her – TA’HARA. When that life emerges into the world, she is no longer carrying that extra life – TUM’A.
Another aspect of the procedures for the new mother is geared to help her recoup her physical, psychological and emotional identity and well-being.
After the parsha of BIRTH, the Torah moves on to the topic of NEGA’IM (various skin afflictions). The rest of Tazria and most of Metzora deal with this topic.
A person with an affliction that MIGHT be Tzora’at (in one of its many forms) is to be examined by a kohen (expert in the laws and identification of N’GA’IM, with a degree, perhaps, in dermatology as well). Under certain circumstances, the kohen might declare the afflicted individual a METZORA rendering him immediately ritually unclean. Or, a kohen might order a one week quaran- tine with an additional examination to determine the status of the individual, to take place on the seventh day of said quarantine. That second inspection can result in the person being declared “clean”, or “Tamei”, or an additional week of quarantine can be ordered.
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 distinguish- able 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 light 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. One example is that a new bride or groom is not examined by the kohen, so they cannot be declared TAMEI. That could spoil their moods.
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.
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 tempera- ments. So many different sins. And so many different personal reactions to our individual situations. We need to feel this individuality. It helps us be respon- sible for our own deeds. One imagines that the kohen-examiner played the role of counselor too. Maybe sensing a disturbed soul that needs TIPUL along with the NEGA.
Levi – Second Aliya – 5+11=16 p’sukim – 13:24-39
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” by a kohen. 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.
This next 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 regard- ing the state of ritual impurity result- ing 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 feels 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. In the case of N’GA’IM, it would be prohibited to treat the NEGA with physical means. 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.
Shlishi – Third 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 .
R’vi’i – Fourth Aliya – 5+12+8=25 p’sukim – 13:55-14:20
The topic of “afflictions of garments” is continued in this Aliya. The fact that there is 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.
When two sedras are combined, the “bridge aliya” is always R’VI’I.
The afflictions dealt with in Tazria are immediately dealt with by the procedures described in M’Tzora.
The main theme of M’tzora is the “ritual purification” of the one afflicted with Tzora’at, and certain other conditions that render a person TAMEI. These procedures constitute a positive mitzva . Two birds are to be taken, a ceremony is performed with them, one bird is offered as a sacrifice, and the other is set free. The person immerses in a mikve, he cleans his garments, and he shaves all the hair on his body . The rules of ritual immersion in general, come from this context .
The purification process is completed after bringing various korbanot, following a seven day period and the other procedures, as mentioned above .[SDT] Notice how the M’tzora is isolated from others during the time he is ritually unclean. That gives him time to examine himself, his deeds, his thoughts. But as part of the process of purification, as part of the process of having a second chance in the world, he is ministered to by a kohen who becomes the first contact in his renewal procedure. There is a significant psycho- logical factor in the area of N’GA’IM.
Chamishi – Fifth Aliya – 12 p’sukim – 14:21-32
A person who cannot afford the animals for the sacrifices, is to bring one sheep and two birds as his offering. The Torah describes the rituals involved in these offerings.
It is not important how much the sacrifice is worth on a dollars and cents basis (shekels and agorot), but what is relative to the means of the atoner.
Thus ends the section of the Torah dealing with afflictions to the individual. ZOT TORAT… this is the body of law of one afflicted who cannot afford the full set of korbanot.
Shishi – Sixth Aliya – 21+19=40 p’sukim – 14:33-15:15
The Torah next discusses Tzora’at that can afflict a person’s house. This can only be in the Land of Israel, in a house made of specific materials, and under specific conditions . Once again, it is the kohen who makes the determina- tion as to whether Tzora’at does exist, or a professional house painter should be consulted. In the case of a “house plague”, there are procedures to be followed and purification processes, including korbanot to be brought.[SDT] Not only does a person’s body contain elements of spirituality, but even him home – specifically in Eretz Yisrael. Although we do not “practice” this whole topic today, the lessons of the bridge and connection between the physical world and the spiritual one should not be overlooked. A person whose home is a meeting place for Torah scholars, a launching pad for acts of charity and kindness, a training ground for a new generation of sensitive, feeling, enthusiastic Jews, such a home cannot be infected by spiritual plague. A home devoid of spirituality is a prime target for Nig’ei HaBayit. In this case, it is not the anti-rust and anti-mold paint that makes the difference. It is the values that a Jew lives by and their effect on the next generation.
This portion begins with a summary of different types of NEGA’IM.
Next the Torah speaks of the status of a man with an “unnatural discharge” (probably a form of venereal disease). In such cases, the Torah view matters as a combination of physical symptoms with spiritual causes – in the case of “Zav” and “Zava”, most probably attributable to sexual misconduct. The one afflicted is himself “Tamei” as well as causing other people and objects to become “ritually impure” through contact, both direct and indirect . The one afflicted, must bring special korbanot after a purification process .
Sh’vi’i – Seventh Aliya – 13+5=18 p’sukim – 15:16-33
There is also a “ritual impurity” (of a lesser degree – one-day type) in cases of normal seminal emissions .
A menstruating woman is “ritually unclean”. This is counted as a positive mitzva ; its negative counterpart is in the next sedra.
A woman with an unnatural discharge has a specific set of rules. In the case of a Zava, there are differences in her status depending upon how many sightings of blood there are, and how frequent. These rules and procedures constitute a mitzva .
Generally, when there is a rich man’s korban and a poor man’s korban for the same situation, if a rich man brings the less expensive version of the korban, he fulfills his obligation, after the fact. Tzora’at is an exception. If a rich man brought a poor man’s offering, he has not fulfilled his obligation.
The requirement of the korbanot at the conclusion of the period of impurity . The people of Israel have a great potential for attaining spiritual heights. They have an equally great potential for descending to low levels of spiritual impurity.
The last 3 p’sukim of the sedra serve as a summary to the topics of ritual purity and impurity and present the challenge to the Jewish People to rise above mundane physical existence by scrupulously avoiding “impurity”.
The son of the Nodeh B’Yehuda explained why beautifully. One of the causes of Tzora’at is stinginess. Even the term in our Vidui can be seen as a play on words – TZAROT AYIN. If a rich man brings a poor person’s korban, in this case it is an indication that he hasn’t healed. The korban cannot bring atonement.
Maftir (second Torah) – 7 p’sukim – Bamidbar 28:9-15
Chapters 28 and 29 in Bamidbar (Parshat Pinchas) deal with the daily and Musaf korbanot (sacrifices) in the Mikdash. The Musaf of Shabbat is two p’sukim long. Minimum Torah reading portion is 3 p’sukim, and that is why we do not read Shabbat’s Musaf on a weekly basis. Since the 2 Shabbat p’sukim are followed by the five that deal with Rosh Chodesh, both portions are read for the Maftir on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh. Notice that the Musaf of Shabbat is an expanded version of the weekday sacrifices and Rosh Chodesh’s Musaf is like those of the Chagim. Makes sense when you think about it. Six days… and on the 7th – Shabbat is one of the days of the week and the unique one among them. The Chagim belong to the Jewish calendar, which is based on the months and Rosh Chodesh.
Haftara – 24* p’sukim – Yeshayahu 66:1-24
The special Haftara for Shabbat-Rosh Chodesh is the last chapter of the book of Yeshayahu, and it preempts the regular Haftara of the weekly Parsha (usually). The obvious reason for the choice is found in the next to the last pasuk, which mentions both Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. This pasuk is reread after the last pasuk, so that the book of Yeshayahu – and this Haftara – can end on a bright note. This chapter, as all chapters in Yeshayahu from 40 and on, contains a message of consolation.
Specifically, this chapter tells us that G-d cannot be contained in the physical Mikdash, nor is He interested in sacri- fices that are not offered with sincerity. This message is appropriate all the time, and the association with Shabbat – week in and week out – Rosh Chodesh – month in and month out, fits well.