This week, we have two parashot, or two portions of Scripture, placed back-to-back. And while there are several chapters to cover, much of the information could be placed under one subject: ritual purity.
Now, when reading through the Hebrew Bible, you are going to come across the terms clean and unclean, and pure and impure, and it could become a little confusing. When dealing with subjects, keep in mind that there are really two types of impurities.
On the one hand, there is moral impurity; this is what we would call “sin” — lying, idolatry, stealing. This reflects your spiritual state before God. For this, we need atonement.
On the other side, we have ritual impurity, which reflects your physical state before God. Now, unlike moral impurity, there is nothing sinful about being ritually impure. Actually, it’s a normal part of life: giving birth, getting a disease, coming into contact with the dead, etc. would render us ritually impure for a period of time.
The only issue is that, when you are ritually impure, you had to stay away from the Tabernacle (the presence of God) until you are deemed pure once again. You could think of it like a virus: it’s not sinful that you have it, but you need to quarantine so you do not spread it.
Now, both of our Torah portions this morning week deal with this ritual impurity: some of the causes, and how to become pure again.
The first parasha is called Taz-ri-a (תזריע), meaning “when she gives birth,” and this speaks about how a woman who gives birth is ritually impure. After one to two months, she is able to offer a sacrifice, and then re-enter the community to be closer to God’s presence. Understanding this helps us appreciate when, in the Gospel of Luke, it reads “when the days for their [Miriam’s and Joseph’s] purification according to the Law was completed, they brought Him [Yeshua] up to Jerusalem…to offer a sacrifice” (Luke 2:22-24). You may wonder, why? It was for ritual purity.
Our next portion (Metzora; המצרע) addresses what happens when somebody gets a disease called tza-ra’at (צרעת) — this is commonly translated as leprosy, but this is definitely not the disease of leprosy that you and I are familiar with today. Actually, we’re not entirely sure what tza-ra’at was, but the main point was that it thwarted the presence of God in the community.
In Leviticus 13, the priests are given details in how to recognize this disease, and if somebody had it, the priests sent them out of the camp until they were healed from the ailment. The priests were not doctors (they were not going to heal anyone), but they were guards for the holiness of God. And so, the person who had the ailment would cry out “‘Unclean! Unclean!’…He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev 13:46). There was no middle ground or compromise — if you had the disease, you had to stay away from the Tabernacle.
We are also given instructions for what to do if the person becomes healed; he is able to be restored to the community! The priests would examine him for many days to make absolutely sure there is no more lingering signs of the disease. They were so strict that, if the disease showed up on the wall of the house or on their clothing, they would destroy the clothes and the house as well because they were so focused on protecting the holiness of God.
And so, what can we learn from this parasha? This parasha reminds us of the importance of eradicating anything in our lives that would threaten our fellowship with God, or the ministry of the Spirit through us.
For Israel, there was a firm line between the presence of tza-ra’at, and the presence of God. If you had the disease, you could not remain in the camp because the disease would spread, rendering more things ritually impure. And if you wanted to re-enter, you had to be completely free of this disease.
While none of us are perfect, this is a good image for how we should understand our bodies, which is called “the temple of the Holy Spirit”. Do we act like the priests, being guards, stopping anything negative from coming into our minds? Do we give our ear to gossip, our heart to anger, or tongue to descension — all things which God hates? Like the priests, Paul reminds us to draw a strong line between wickedness and righteousness in our spiritual life, when he wrote to the church in Corinth: “Do not be mismatched with unbelievers; for what do righteousness and lawlessness share together, or what does light have in common with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14). Nothing.
So, parashot Tazria-Metzora reminds us of our calling to take care of the temple of the Holy Spirit and protect it the way the priests did. This will allow the Spirit to move more mightily and powerfully through us.
As a community, then, let us pray alongside King David, who asked God to search his heart and know him (Psalm 139:23), and to create a clean heart in him (Psa 50:10). May the Lord reveal to us things which are displeasing, which hinder his ministry through us, so that we may repent, be filled with the Spirit, and continue to build the Kingdom of God.