A Metzora is one who has Zara’at (biblical leprosy). The ceremony for the cleansing of a metzora is found in the Mishnah, tractate Negaim (plagues). It is the third tractate of the “Seder (order) Tohorot (purity).” It has 14 chapters with 115 mishna’ot. It deals with skin diseases, infections of clothing and houses and Lev 13-14 deals with these issues. In Negaim 14, it deals with how to cleanse the metzora and the Temple ceremony, which we will look at.
Zara’at (leprosy) is not the “leprosy” that is seen today. That is called “Hansen’s Disease.” Many movies about the first century all make the mistake of showing what was not what we would call biblical zara’at. The rabbi’s say zara’at is sent from the Lord because of a person’s deed and this affliction is not a natural occurrence. God commanded that they be healed in a manner that normally goes against the prescribed healing processes. Separation was not because someone else could get infected. Zara’at was not communicable. For instance, Lev 13.12-13 says, “And if the leprosy breaks out farther on the skin, and the leprosy covers all the skin of him who has the infection from his head even to his feet, as far as the priest can see then the priest shall look, and behold, if the leprosy has covered all his body, he shall pronounce clean him who has the infection, it has all turned white and he is clean.” Another example can be found in Negaim 3.2 where it says, “If a leprosy sign appeared in a bridegroom they must suffer him to remain free (before inspection) during the seven days of the marriage feast, if it appeared in his person, in his house, or in his garment; so, too, if it appeared in any man during a feast, they must suffer him to remain free all the days of the feast.” In other words, if zara’at is seen in a bridegroom, his clothes or his house, he can remain free during the seven days of the marriage feast. There was no fear of spreading it to others, which is not the case with Hansen’s Disease. If it appeared on anyone during a festival, he can remain free to mingle with those at the festival.
There are seven sins that bring about leprosy:
* Malicious speech
* Unnecessary or vain oaths
* Sexual crimes
* Pride and haughtiness
* Stinginess and avoiding charity
There are seven chapters in the Torah that discuss the Laws of Zara’at, and they allude to these seven sins. Once a person is declared “tamai” (ritually impure) he goes through inspections by a priest. Once he is “tahor” (ritually clean) he can go to the Temple on the eighth day and he goes to the Lishkat ha Metzorim (Chamber of Lepers). This chamber is in the NW corner of the Lishkat ha Nashim (Court of the Women). This will begin the process of cleansing the metzora.
We cannot say what this ceremony exactly means, in all aspects, but we may have an idea. But, like with the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) and the Sotah (woman suspected of adultery), we cannot say the metzora means “exactly this or that.” On the other hand, we can make associations with what is happening to help us define other passages of Scripture. The Torah is linear “_________” and most people see it that way, but it is also perpendicular to that linear line “|” like a well. So, the Torah is as high as heaven and as deep as a well . Seeing these relationships will give us many aspects, not just linear. We need to “renew our minds” to these relationships and parallels.
So, let’s go to the Mishnah, Negaim 14 and see the ceremony in the Temple that a metzora went through in order to be cleansed.
14.1…How did they cleanse the leper (he has been inspected outside of the Temple by an off duty priest. He then goes to the Temple for this ceremony in the Lishkat ha Metzorim (Chamber of the Lepers). He brought a new earthenware flask and put therein a quarter log (2.5 ounces) of living water (mayim chaim from a spring, which is the highest form of living water) and he brought two birds (kosher, non-domesticated) that lived in freedom. The priest slaughtered one of them over the earthenware vessel and over the living water, and dug a hole and buried it in his presence. He took cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet wool (called “tolat shanni”-Isa 1.18 and similar to the ceremony of the Red Heifer. The cedar is red, the hyssop is called the “striking plant” and used at the first Passover in Egypt, alluding to a whip that spread blood when used, and the scarlet is red also) and bound them together with the ends of the strip (of wool) and brought near to them the tips of the wings and the tip of the tail of the second bird, and dipped them in the blood of the slaughtered bird and sprinkled the blood seven times on the back of the metzora’s hand; and some say, also on his forehead (zara’at sometimes broke out there-2 Chr 26.19). So likewise used they to sprinkle the lintel of the house from outside (like at the Passover in Egypt).
14.2…Then he came to set free the living bird. He used not to turn his face toward the sea or toward the city or toward the wilderness, for it is written, “But he shall let the living bird out of the city into the open field” (Lev 14.53). He then came to cut the hair of the leper. He passed the razor over the whole of his skin (all hair, and priestly women would do this for a woman metzora for obvious reasons) and washed his garments and immersed himself (there is a cistern under this NW chamber that has been found); and thus he became so clean that he no more conveyed uncleanness (ritual impurity) by entering in, yet he still conveyed uncleanness like a creeping thing: he could enter within the city wall (a metzora was not allowed in a city with walls in the time of Joshua, like Jericho and Jerusalem, etc) but he was forbidden to enter into his house for seven days (Lev 14.8) and he was not allowed marital connection.
14.3…On the seventh day he cut off his hair a second time (all of it on his body) after the manner of the first cutting. He washed his garments and immersed himself; and thus he became clean so that he no more conveyed uncleanness like a creeping thing but was become like one that immersed himself the selfsame day (because of uncleanness), so that he could eat of the second tithe. After he awaited sunset (he was a Tuval Yom = unclean until sunset) he could eat of Heave-offering (Terumah); and after he had brought his offering of atonement he could eat of the hallowed things (parts of a korban). Thus there are three stages of purification of a leper after childbirth; so, too, there are three stages in the purification of a woman after childbirth (there is a connection between them).
14.4…There are three that must cut off his hair, and their cutting it off is a religious duty: the Nazarite (Num 16.18), the leper, and the Levites (Num 8.7); and if any of these cut it off but not with a razor, or left two hairs remaining, they have done nothing.
14.5…The two birds should be alike in appearance, size and in value and have been bought at the same time (another parallel..like the two goats in the Yom Kippur ceremony. Torah commands can be linked); yet even if they are not alike they are valid and if one was bought one day and the other on the morrow they are valid. If one is slaughtered and it is found that it had not lived in freedom, a fellow may be bought for the second, and the first is permitted to be eaten. If one is slaughtered and it was found to be terefah (anything unclean, impure or died of itself), a fellow may be bought for the second and the first is permitted for use. If the blood had been poured away before the sprinkling the one that was to be let loose must be left to die. If the one that was to be let loose died, the blood of the other must be poured away.
In Part 55, we will pick up in Negaim 14.6 and continue looking into the ceremony of the cleansing of a metzora/leper.