It is curious that the issue of “uncleanness,” tumah (תמאה) in this week’s Parasha, Tazria-Metzora, Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33[i] has little if anything to do with conscious actions on the part of the people involved. Instead, each instance is a common occurrence in everyday life: birth, bodily fluid emissions (male or female), infectious skin diseases (such as leprosy), and even what appears to be a mildew type invasion on clothing or tent walls (and as time progressed on stone walls as well). The uncleanness caused by the situations in these four chapters are not the fault of the afflicted individual(s) but the tumah conditions exist none the less. Because of their uncleanness (their tumah condition) they are to be separated from the community. This separation is not because they are ontologically impure but to protect them from defiling the sanctuary of Adonai through their uncleanness, thus incurring the wrath of the LORD. Furthermore, they are removed for the community’s protection, so the community will not become unclean by contact and further threatening the defilement of the sanctuary. This is significant because the sanctuary was the physical representation of the dwelling place of Hashem. In Leviticus 19.30, we read that Hashem reminded Moshe, “You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19.30). The holiness and purity of tabernacle had to be guarded and protected.
“Thus, you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.” (15.31)
While the separation of an impure, tamei, person (a tamei person is one in the state of uncleanness, tumah) was potentially painful for the individual and their family, it was for their own good and protection, as well as for the entire community, until healing was accomplished.
A related understanding of tumah (uncleanness), based upon Psalms 19.10 (Heb.; English v. 9), “the fear of the LORD is clean (tehorah טהורה), enduring forever…,” is that something pure/clean (tahor טהור) endures forever, so by inference, that which is unclean (tumah תמאה) passes away. All of the physical functions and the maladies of our body deteriorate, whither and eventually cause death. However, the “fear of the LORD…endures forever.” The word used in Leviticus 19.30 to “reverence” the sanctuary of Adonai, is the same word used in Psalms 19.10 to “fear” the LORD yireh (ירא). Sometimes, in order to show reverence to the LORD, we have to draw away from Him, our impurity cannot abide in the presence of His purity. Isaiah proclaimed,
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean (תמאה) lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean (תמאה) lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6.5)
But the LORD did not leave Isaiah in that condition; He cleansed him for service (Isaiah 6.7). In our portion, Tazria-Metzora, Hashem does not leave the tamei person in their unclean state, but provides a way for them to be tahor “clean or pure” (Leviticus 12.6-8; 14.1-32; etc.). Thus, the tamei is restored to the community and to the sanctuary of the LORD.
The Haftarah, from 2 Kings 7.3-20, is a story about four lepers. Ben-hadad, king of Syria, had besieged Samaria, the Northern Kingdom and specifically the city, and food was scarce to say the least. These four lepers were dwelling outside the city, outcast from the community due to their “disease”. With the pragmatism of those who have nothing to lose, they said to one another, “Why are we sitting here until we die? If we say, ‘Let us enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. So now come, let us go over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us we shall but die” (2 Kings 7.3-4). As you read the story, you see that the LORD brought about Israel’s deliverance from Ben-hadad (at least temporarily). He ended the siege and the famine, and fed those in the city as well as the four lepers. In fact, the four lepers ate their fill and lined their personal coffers with a bit of the spoils. But then their conscience and sense of community got the best of them. “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household” (7.9). Though outcasts from the community due to their tumah condition, they still were part of the greater community of Israel and knew both the need and the provision of the LORD. In their “outcast” condition, they thought of others. Often this is very difficult position in which to find oneself. When we ourselves are in great need, it is difficult to see others in need. Our condition tends to overshadow our vision of others. These four lepers could have just as easily plundered the enemy’s camp and would have been set for the rest of their lives – and no one would have been the wiser. Instead, the lepers looked to the needs of the community who had cast them out, showing them the way to the deliverance and salvation of the LORD.
The Apostolic Writings records another story of lepers, this time ten instead of four. The lepers approached Yeshua from the required distance, pleading with Him to have mercy on them (Luke 17.12-13). He told them “Go show yourselves to the priests,” and the Scripture says that “as they went, they were healed” (17.14). One of the lepers realized what had happened and returned immediately to Yeshua, falling on his face in thanksgiving. “Were there not ten of you?” Yeshua asked, “Where are the other nine” (17.17)? Seemingly perplexed, Yeshua asked, was no one thankful, except this foreigner (as he was a Samaritan)” (17.18). It has been said by some commentators, that the other nine lost their healing because they did not return or even that when they got to the priests as Yeshua commanded, they were not proclaimed clean, thus healed. But that is speculation. The Scripture says, “as they went, they were cleansed.” No preconditions, no expressed requirement to return to Yeshua with thanksgiving. They were obedient in going to the priests as Yeshua commanded and they were healed. The Samaritan, however, went beyond the expressed command. With a heart of thanksgiving as well as a cleansed condition, he returned to Yeshua. When Yeshua told him, “your faith has made you well” (17.19) I believe the former leper experienced more than just a physical restoration. I believe his very heart was changed and renewed – his wellness, (σῴζω salvation) was a spiritual restoration as well. The other nine were healed because of their obedience, the tenth was made whole because of his faith. It can be said that obedience and faith, together bring healing and wholeness to the tumah condition of mankind. We should all walk in the fullness that the LORD desires for us, a life of obedience and a heart of thanksgiving and praise.
[i]Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, 2016