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Parashat Metzora: Cleansing of the Leper

Cleansing of the Leper

Further thoughts on Parashat Metzora

by John J. Parsons

Although the priest needed to go "outside the camp" to examine a metzora (i.e., "leper"), the person still needed to "be brought" to the priest to meet him there (Lev. 14:2-3). In other words, the afflicted one was required to meet the priest "half-way." Hashivenu (הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ): "Return us to You, LORD, and we shall return" (Lam. 5:21). Like the prodigal son who returns home, God waits for us at the "edge" of the camp to meet us half-way...

The case of the metzora reveals that God sometimes disciplines his child with "exile" in order to awaken teshuvah within the heart. God imparted the spiritual disease of tzara'at to "remind" us of our sin and need for atonement, and the purification ritual was meant to illustrate our need for spiritual rebirth.... The gracious aim of affliction, then, is to "wake us from our slumbers" in order to reveal the way of life... As C.S. Lewis once said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

A student once asked his rebbe: "Do we get punished for our sins in this world?" His succinct response was, "Only if we are made fortunate..."Indeed, correction from God is a blessing in disguise, since there is no worse state in this life than to be untouched by need, suffering and testing; there is nothing more dreadful than to be forgotten or overlooked by God (Rom. 1:28). God is teaching you through your failures; he is training you to persevere, to endure, and to become strong. As it is written, "If you are left without discipline (i.e., musar: מוּסָר), then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb. 12:8). Being afflicted with "tzara'at" is a blessed state, since it reveals the nature of our lethal disease - and leads us back to the "edge of the camp" where God gives us healing....

As I have mentioned before, Jewish tradition links tzara'at with the sin of lashon hara, suggesting that the word metzora itself is a "play" on the Hebrew phrase, motzi ra: "one who brings forth [speaks] evil." Mavet v'chaim be'yad lashon (מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן) - "Death and life and in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, our words matter -- and they wield power. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "word" (דָּבָר) also means "thing." When we bless others, we are invoking grace and good will to be manifest in the world, but when we curse others, the opposite effect is intended...  There is a connection here with the case of the metzora, whose fate rested upon a single word spoken by the priest: "unclean" (טָמֵא) or "clean" (טָהֵר). (For more on this subject, see "Teshuvah of the Tongue").

Yeshua soberly warned us, ‎"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι) for every careless word they speak (i.e., πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν, all "empty" or "thoughtless" words), for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Every word we utter reaches up to the highest places of heaven and echoes there. The sages say, "my words - not a soul knows." But the Holy One, blessed be He, says, "I am sending an angel who will stand near you and record every word you say about your neighbor." Every word we speak is recorded in the "heavenly scrolls" (Rev. 20:12). Therefore David admonishes us, ‎"Who desires life (מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים) and loves many days that bring forth good? Guard your tongue from evil and keep your lips from using deceptive speech. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:13-14). Notice the connection between our words and our deeds here, which again suggests the connection between "words" and "things" (i.e., devarim: דְּבָרִים). It is very sobering to realize that our thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God... As David also said (Psalm 35:13): "May what I prayed for happen to me!" (literally, tefillati al-cheki tashuv - "may it return upon my own breast").

Because the metzora was put into exile because of his sinful thinking (i.e., words), so he came back to the "edge of the camp" only with words... This first step back was crucial, as the prophet later said, "Return to the LORD and repent! Say to him: 'Completely forgive our iniquity; accept our penitential prayer, that we may offer the praise of our lips as sacrificial bulls'" (Hos. 14:2). When we sincerely return to the LORD, He will take care of the problem of our impurity, uncleanness, and sin. That's the message of the Cross of Yeshua, too. We can add nothing to His finished work but simply accept it as performed on our behalf through faith...

The love of God is so great that He reached out and touched us - becoming a "leper" for us - and even chose to die "in exile" upon the cross to eternally purify us from our sins... In that sense, Yeshua surely meets us more than "half-way," since He "emptied Himself" (κενόω) of His heavenly glory and power in order to willingly bear our sickness, shame, and even death itself on our behalf... "But [He] made himself nothing (εκενωσεν), taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men; and being found in human form, he brought himself low by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:7-8).

May His Name forever be praised!

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