PArshat Tazria Mezora

The double portion of Tazria and Metzora deal in the main with the biblical plague of leprosy, which would appear to be a plague rather than the illness, as it can appear both on a person, on clothing and in the walls of a house. The treatment also guides us in this direction as the treatment is to consult with the Cohen who is given detailed guidance as how to recognize the symptoms, and treat accordingly with confinement, washing but not with any use of creams, medicines or other healing agents. Many of our sages find the reason for the various forms of leprosy as a punishment for speaking slander as we later find in the case of Miriam speaking badly of Moshe.

Tazria was my Barmitzva Parsha, and having had to learn the text carefully, the order of the topics has since puzzled me, firstly a long discussion of the body leprosy then almost in brackets a presentation of clothing leprosy, and then a return to the sacrificial ritual for purification of bodily leprosy at the start of Metzora. Having now searched for some enlightenment on the topic I have found that the Abarbanel deals with this at length and I think I understand the jist of his explanation even though the detail requires several more hours of reading.

The Abarbanel, unlike others, sees the clothes leprosy as an extension of the individual’s bodily leprosy. He is puzzled by the use of the term “zara’at mamaeret – a malignant leprosy” indicating some form of pain and how can a garment feel pain? However he notes that the Torah talks only of wool and linen which are used for underclothes and leather used for shoes. In his opinion these are the appearance of stains and colouring on the already afflicted patient who is being treated by the Cohen. In addition unlike others he translates the fascinating terms “yerakrak” and “adamdam” which are lyrical extensions of the words for green and red not as deeper colours but as fainter green and red stains resulting from the afflicted person’s skin condition rubbing off onto his clothes.

Interestingly, in the discussion of bodily leprosy before the discussion of garment leprosy, part of the treatment is for the patient to wash his clothes indicating the importance of clean clothing in addition to bodily cleanliness. Now in this discussion the treatment for the soiled garment if it does not wash clean is to burn the affected area of the whole garment if necessary. Abarbanel sees the clothing issue as a part of the sickness afflicting this person, who on seeing the stains appearing on his clothing is being reminded of the harm he has done to society with his slander and even in his solitary confinement it is his environment that had suffered. Part of his recovery is to completely cleanse including clean clothes, removing any sign of the affliction. In addition even though he does not mention it, I think the Abarbanel’s explanation is strengthened by the fact that for the garment leprosy there is no requirement for the bringing of a sin offering as with the bodily leprosy, thus the body and the garment leprosy are one and the same..

By the way, in the discussion of clothing leprosy almost all agree that the garments referred to are white, and in Hebrew the term for underwear is “levanim -whites” as all underwear was once white.  An interesting term used in the discussion of garment leprosy is “shati ve’erev” which is only translated as “the warp or the woof” meaning the criss-cross weaving in material, an expression used in Hebrew for things tightly knitted together or a very detailed investigation.

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