Special Selection: Shabbat Hagadol Malachi 3.4-24

What we read in the Bible about the disease of tsara’at is a spiritual matter. Parashat Metzora teaches more about it this week. Like the whole Bible also this is a situation which can only be appreciated by people who are spiritually developed. Also the Jewish leader Paul (Shaul) sees it that way, read I Corinthians chapter 2 in the New Testament. As I said last week this disease can be described as a state of spiritual laziness and stagnancy in the soul.

In order to purify and heal it a peculiar method has been described in Torah. This method, mentioned in this parasha, consists of three phases: two birds, shaving and a ritual bath, and sacrifices. The sacrifices are to show that healing comes from heaven, not from people.

The shaving is to show that sins must be cut out. Head, beard and eyebrows are to be shaven. The head is the symbol of arrogance. The beard, which covers the mouth, symbolizes the speaking and the sin of lashon hara, gossip. It was the same disease that also struck Miriam when she gossiped about Moshe her brother, read Bamidbar/Numbers 12:10 ff. And the eyebrows are the decoration of the eyes with which we sin, as also Yeshua says, read Matthew 5:27-29.

The birds create a unique image. One of them will be slaughtered. This is to be done while the bird is held over an earthenware vessel which is filled with fresh spring water. The blood of the bird flows directly in to the vessel. This action has to be performed by Kohen, although this is not a sacrifice so this does not have to be a dove or turtledove. After the ritual has been performed the bird is buried.

This is an image of several objectives. Tsara’at is a disease which is connected with gossip. A bird makes sounds which remind of the sound of words, also words spoken out of judgment and character deformation. The slaughter reminds of the radical decision the patient needs to make to cut out his wrong behavior and laziness. And the slaughter of an animal which was able to fly once is a picture of arrogance and haughtiness which came to a deserved downfall.

A bundle of cedar wood, crimson thread and hyssop is dipped in the blood of the dead bird, together with the bird which is alive. Cedar wood (Erez) is strong (araz) which is the opposite of what the patient’s character has been. Moreover Cedar wood grows tall, which again is a sign and reminder of arrogance. Crimson wool comes from a small worm which, like hyssop, is a reminder of humility. Crimson wool is Shani in Hebrew which is spelled the same as sheni, which means second. The patient needs to realise that the Lord has given him a second opportunity to live the life which is pleasing in G-d’s eyes. Hyssop is mentioned in Exodus as the plant with which we had to smear blood on the lintel and the door posts in order to stay alive. It is also mentioned in Psalm 51 as a means to be purged.

The other bird has to be freed immediately after the dipping into the mixture of blood and water. This is a sign of mikve and of deliverance, after realising the sins and wrong intensions involved. It is not the same bird which flies away, as an image of ourselves having to change so much that we and others should hardly be able to recognise ourselves.

The whole ceremony, including quarantining the patient, involves so much in order to show that the disease of slander and gossip is hard to blot out. It is to show that we are dealing with nothing less than a disease which someone needs healing from. Although we do not perform this ceremony at the moment, reading about it should remind us of paying much and much more attention to what we say and about whom we talk than we normally do. May it be so!

Shabbat shalom,
Lion S. Erwteman, Rosh Kehillat Beth Yeshua
Amsterdam, Holland