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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat Tazria + Shabbat HaChodesh

Posted by rabbiart on March 28, 2014

No question that the parshah this Shabbat – and it’s companion piece next week (Metzora) are challenging for the modern reader. Not only that, but by the time of rabbinic interpretation, challenging for the ancient reader as well. Especially if that reader lived in chutz la’aretz – outside the land of Israel.Our parshah deals with a variety of impurities over the course of its two chapters. The first of its two chapters (Vayikra 12) is mercifully short, coming in at only 8 verses and dealing with the ritual impurity of a woman after child-birth. Many interpretations have been written addressing the fact that the the period of impurity is twice as long when a daughter is born than that for a son; 66 rather than 33 days. Less attention has been paid to the oddity that neither is a number of complete weeks, nor are they the length of one or two months in the Jewish calendar.

The third verse mentions that baby boys are to be circumcised on the eighth day. According to Sefer HaHinuch at least, this verse is not the primary source of this commandment.  He does not list this among the 7 commandments derived from this parshah.

In his treatment of mitzvah #166 (the ritual impurity of a woman after childbirth) he makes a prefatory statement about human illness that rings true even today, especially with regard to what are commonly referred to as lifestyle diseases. Here it is in the English translation.

In his treatment of mitzvah #166 (the ritual impurity of a woman after childbirth) he makes a prefatory statement about human illness that rings true even today, especially with regard to what are commonly referred to as lifestyle diseases. Here it is in the English translation.

“There is no doubt that human illnesses come either on account of an excess in the body or a deficiency, or on account of some damage or deterioration which which it suffers from whatever cause there may be.  For in truth, as long as its nature is balanced to the utmost degree and it has not suffered any sort of damage, the body will not sicken; but the sin of people will lead them to have an excess or a lack in what is needed for their nature, and they will fall ill.” (Sefer HaHinuch, volume 2, page 201 Feldheim Publishers).

The second of our two chapters deals with a variety of skin diseases and the procedures for examining them.  Many translations render the word tza’ra’at as leprosy, but this is inaccurate.  Until the advent of antibiotics, leprosy was a disease with no known medical treatment, so lepers were permanently isolated.  In our parshah we learn that the skin conditions can be temporary, and the person (or garment) may return to health and also be restored to the community. (By the way, you can read a short article about Hansen’s disease here.

Our Rabbis struggled mightily to construct a teaching from the text of this parshah. The primary approach is to learn out that these diseases are a result of imperfections in human behavior.  Here are two:

Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Johanan that skin disease results from seven sins: slander, the shedding of blood, vain oath, incest, arrogance, robbery, and envy.

Similarly, a Midrash taught that skin disease resulted from 10 sins: (1) idol-worship, (2) unchastity, (3) bloodshed, (4) the profanation of the Divine Name, (5) blasphemy of the Divine Name, (6) robbing the public, (7) usurping a dignity to which one has no right, (8) overweening pride, (9) evil speech, and (10) an evil eye.

You can read the details and see the proof-texts for each of these interpretations in the Wikipedia article on our parshah.

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