Messiah Yeshua Teaches Tenakh and Jewish Halacha 4: Yeshua Heals and Cleanses from Uncleanness

After the Sermon on the Mount

The crowds who had heard Yeshua preach on that Galilean hill were in awe, and that was only from his words! When he finished speaking, he got up and walked down the hill, and great crowds followed him. The air must have been charged with excitement, curiosity, and wonder. What would he do now? Where was he going? He had spoken of the Kingdom of Heaven. He had said it was drawing near. Were they about to witness the fulfillment of centuries of prophetic hopes? Perhaps, but not exactly as they expected.

Yeshua Meets a Leper

RSV Matthew 8:1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; 2 and behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

How that leper got through those crowds is itself a mystery, maybe even a miracle. The Torah gives strict instructions to lepers:

Leviticus 13:45 “The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.

Leprosy is one of the main sources of uncleanness, and uncleanness is a seriously contagious condition. The disease itself is bad enough. But anybody or anything that a leper touches, sits or lies on becomes unclean, even if the touched person does not catch the disease. An unclean person cannot go to the Temple, cannot bring an offering or sacrifice, cannot eat anything that has been sacrificed on the altar. He must undergo a process of washing and cleansing. If a priest or Levite should become unclean, he cannot serve in the Temple, or even eat his food, which comes from the Temple and is holy.

Leprosy was a horrible disease. A leper was left to live a life of misery, without hope of a cure, as his body slowly rotted away. His presence struck fear in the hearts of anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Yet this leper managed to pass through the crowd, and kneel before Yeshua. What was Yeshua supposed to do?

The crowds expected him to embark on a holy mission, to cleanse the Temple, to defeat the Romans, to begin the age of the Messiah, something like that. What if he should become unclean? What if he should become a leper? Unthinkable! And yet Yeshua shocks them by doing exactly what they feared most.

Matt. 8:3 And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Now this is something that just does not happen! A miracle! I don’t know if there are any recorded cases of lepers being healed naturally in Biblical times. There are some cases in Tenakh of lepers being healed miraculously, but not many. But here, before many witnesses, Yeshua healed this one, and by doing so, he makes another problem for us.

The Torah is clear. Anyone who touches a leper becomes unclean, whether or not he gets the leprosy. Yeshua could have healed him with a word, as he had done and will do many times. But Matthew is careful to tell us that Yeshua reached out and touched the leper. He is not only performing a miracle; he is also making a statement about how he relates to uncleanness. He is interacting with Torah laws, and we must try to understand the meaning of this touch.

Yeshua shows no fear of the uncleanness. He is not afraid of becoming unclean. On the one hand, we have no record of him ever becoming unclean and needing to go to a mikveh to wash and to become clean again. This is not the only time he touches, or is touched by, an unclean person, as we shall see. On the other hand, I am certain that he was accustomed to go to the mikveh before going to the Temple, or handling holy things, as everyone did. That was routine, and had he not done so, we would surely have heard about it from his opponents.

By touching the leper, did he then take the uncleanness onto himself, and thus taking it and the disease from the leper? This is one way to see it. It fits one pattern of his life and ministry, bearing our sins and diseases. Yet we see no hint in the story of him becoming unclean.

Then again, once he touched the leper, the leprosy was healed and gone. Could it be that there was no uncleanness left to pass from the leper to himself? Or could it be that in Yeshua, holiness and cleanness were simply more powerful than uncleanness, and so the transfer happened in the opposite direction?

In any case, we’re left with the “problem” of a cleansed leper. What to do with him? The Torah gives instructions for such a case, though it may be rare.

Leviticus 14:1 The L-RD said to Moses,

2 “This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest;

3 and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall make an examination. Then, if the leprous disease is healed in the leper,

4 the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two living clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet stuff and hyssop …

And so Yeshua told the leper:

Matt. 8:4 … “See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to the people.”

Yeshua is operating in the framework of the Torah. He tells the leper to do what the Torah says. How is that a “proof to the people”? Try going to a hospital and asking for an examination to verify that you’ve been cured of an incurable disease. You will create quite a stir! This is not a routine matter. If the doctors know that you had the disease, and they know there is no cure, and yet you present yourself to them healthy and whole, they will demand to know how it happened. What doctor cured you? What miracle food or medicine or treatment did you find that made your healing possible? A powerful testimony indeed!

Matthew goes on from here to recount a number of encounters of Yeshua with various people, most of them requiring healing of some kind. I would like to focus on two more that specifically relate to Torah laws of uncleanness. It is important to see two things: 1) Matthew is giving us details that connect each incident with the corresponding laws in the Torah; and 2) Yeshua is acting within the framework of the Torah, even if in unexpected ways.

Yeshua is Asked to Raise the Dead

In one of the movies of the classic comedy duo Abbot and Costello from the 1940’s, they are trying to dispose of a dead body from their hotel room before getting caught. Abbot, wanting to move faster, says to Costello, “Come on, put some life in it!” To which Costello barks, “Don’t you think that’s asking a bit too much?!”

Normally, that would be asking too much. Yet that is exactly what someone dared to ask of Yeshua. I’m not sure whether Yeshua had yet raised anyone from the dead. Yeshua’s growing reputation was the result of many successful healings of diseases, even casting out demons. But the love and desperation of a father is ready to try anything, and this was his chance.

Matthew 9:18 While [Yeshua] was thus speaking to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”

Aside from the obvious question whether Yeshua was even able to do such a thing, there are some issues from the Torah that should govern how he answers this outrageous request.

Numbers 19:11 “He who touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days;

12 he shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean; but if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean.

According to the Torah, a human corpse is the most potent source of uncleanness, even more than a leper. Touching a corpse causes uncleanness that takes seven days to cleanse, by an expensive process involving sacrifices and washings. So we might well expect Yeshua to answer, “Thank you, but no thank you. You go and put your hand on her, and maybe she will live!” Yeshua, however, says no such thing. In fact, he said nothing at all.

Matt. 9:19 And Yeshua rose and followed him, with his disciples.

On the Way, Yeshua Heals a Woman with a Hemorrhage

Matthew 9:20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment;

21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I shall be made well.”

On his way to the ruler’s house, Yeshua meets yet another person who is a primary source of uncleanness according to the Torah. In this case, it is a woman who has suffered from a vaginal discharge of blood for 12 years. Now any man or woman who is a primary source of uncleanness can make other people or things unclean by touching them, lying on a bed or sitting in a chair that someone else then lays or sits on, and so on. So people who are unclean at this level generally avoid contact with others, especially in public. One certainly would not pass his or her uncleanness to someone else intentionally. It is not a sin to be unclean, but an unclean person cannot go to the Temple or handle or eat anything that comes from the Temple.

Leviticus 15:25 “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean.

26 Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her impurity.

27 And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening.

This woman, however, not only makes her way through a crowd of people, including Yeshua’s disciples, but she then grabs the fringe of his garment. She must have known that this would make Yeshua’s clothing unclean, and probably himself also. The garment she touched was not just his shirt or cloak; it was the tzitzit of his tallit—one of the tassels on his four-cornered garment that Jewish men are required to wear to remind us of the commandments of G‑d. Maybe she thought this “holy” garment would be more potent to heal, or maybe the dangling fringe was just easier to grab. In any case, she touched it.

Yeshua may or may not have felt the touch or tug on his tzitzit. No doubt the whole crowd was pushing and jostling around him, as we see in Mark’s account (5:30-31). But he knew something had happened, so:

Matthew 9:22 Yeshua turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

The woman’s act of faith and hutzpah accomplished what she had hoped. Yeshua pronounced her well, and she was healed. This miracle again leaves us with the same dilemma as the previous one: what happened to the uncleanness? Did Yeshua take her uncleanness upon himself? Or did he overpower her uncleanness with his purity and holiness? Again, the story reveals no hint of any complications arising from his becoming unclean. But now he is about to meet a worse problem.

Raising of the Dead Girl

As Yeshua continued on his way, he arrived at the ruler’s house, where the dead girl lay inside. He found the family, friends and mourners already engaged in their grieving. In those days, they even had “professional” mourners, members of the family or village who knew what to do, which prayers to say and chant, and even how to make the appropriate mourning sounds as dictated by their customs. He must have found a great commotion.

Matthew 9:23 And when Yeshua came to the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players, and the crowd making a tumult,

24 he said, “Depart; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.

Yeshua’s claim that the girl was merely sleeping must have sounded darkly funny. It cannot be easy to change gears from mourning to laughing, but they did, as Yeshua sent them away.

Now he must make a difficult decision. The Torah says that uncleanness from a human corpse not only transfers by touch, but also by being under the same tent as the dead body. A house functions like a tent by this law. So by entering the house, Yeshua takes on the most serious form of uncleanness, which takes a seven-day process to cleanse.

Numbers 19:14 “This is the law when a man dies in a tent: every one who comes into the tent, and every one who is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days.

Once again, Yeshua shows no fear or concern about the uncleanness, but enters into the house as if it were any normal house, and takes her by the hand!

Matthew 9:25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.

26 And the report of this went through all that district.

His act restores life to the girl, and she stands up. Possibly this was the first time he had resurrected someone from death. Even the people who followed him hoping to see and experience miracles were probably not expecting this one.

More than the miracles of healing themselves, the cleansing of a leper and the raising of the dead were regarded as signs of the Messiah. A man who could do these things in the name of G‑d and by His power would at least be a prophet, and possibly the Messiah himself. This is why the healing of the leper, and sending him to the priests to be examined and make his offerings, was a testimony. This alerted the religious leaders to the possibility that the Messiah had come, and was being revealed. For an Israel oppressed by the Romans and by its own corrupt leadership, this was big news indeed, nearly impossible to keep quiet.

Yeshua, Miracles, and the Torah

Following the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew reports a series of encounters between Yeshua and various people who have different kinds of afflictions. Yeshua heals them all without hesitation or fanfare. Not all of the afflictions have laws in the Torah governing the behavior of the people afflicted. Many times, these healings are displays of both the compassion and the power of G‑d. They are practical validations of his ongoing proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. Anyone can preach and announce; but when someone begins to do things that nobody else can do, this is one way to confirm his preaching. These and the other miracles and healings that Yeshua has been doing until now give “teeth” to his proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is approaching. They make it real.

Now, when someone comes along who might be the Messiah, there is a crucial test that he must pass before any other “proofs” have any meaning. He must observe and teach the Torah. Any candidate for Messiah who broke the Torah or taught people to break the Torah would immediately be disqualified in the eyes of the priests, rabbis, and people of Israel. Yeshua said in the beginning (Matthew 5:17) of the Torah and Prophets, “I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.” Can he be any clearer than this? Yet Christians have taught almost from the beginning that Yeshua came to deliver us from the “burden” or even “curse” of the Torah; he kept it so we don’t have to. This is one of the reasons why Jews have emphatically been unable to consider Yeshua as a possible Messiah. If he broke the Torah, that is the end of the story. He is not the Messiah.

What we see in these accounts of healings that involve Torah commands is that Yeshua makes deliberate moves—and Matthew is careful to report the relevant details—that respect and interact with the Torah commands. The Torah does not say that one cannot touch a leper, or enter the tent or house where a dead body lies. It only says that if you do, you become unclean. Yet the Torah also does not deal with the possibility that someone might heal a leper or raise up a dead person by touching. The Torah does not answer the question, if the cause of uncleanness is suddenly removed, does the uncleanness still transfer by touching, or by other means mentioned in the commandments?

Did Yeshua become unclean? We don’t actually know. If he did—if he took the uncleanness of others onto himself, then I am confident that he would have accomplished the cleansing processes prescribed in the Torah, as he said to John the Baptizer when he presented himself for immersion (Matthew 3:15), “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.”

Or did he remove the source of uncleanness while remaining clean himself? If so, then perhaps the requirements of Torah have been met in a way that the Torah itself did not anticipate.

Either way, both Yeshua by his actions, and Matthew by his reporting of them, affirm the Torah in cases where it touches on situations of healing.

Leib Ruben,
Jerusalem