For the week ending 21 April 2018 / 6 Iyyar 5778

Parshat Tazria - Metzora

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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Post-Birth Offerings

In this week’s portion the Torah teaches us that a woman is required to bring two sacrificial offerings after childbirth — an elevation offering, which is totally consumed on the Altar, and a sin offering to atone for her transgressions. Abarbanel questions why she has to bring an elevation offering at all, and also asks what her sin was, which required atonement after childbirth. In terms of the sin offering, Abrabanel mentions first the gemara in Tractate NIddah which explains that the pain of childbirth causes a woman to swear to abstain from relations with her husband in the future. Such an oath is considered to be taken in vain since a woman is prohibited from voluntarily abstaining from relations.

Abarbanel then offers a different insight. Although a sin offering normally precedes an elevation offering, the order is reversed here as a result of the unique experience of childbirth. An elevation offering expresses an individual’s desire to come closer to G-d, to elevate oneself spiritually. A woman who has experienced childbirth recognizes that her Creator has wondrously saved her from the enormous danger of the experience. She naturally wants to express her total gratitude by drawing nearer to G-d with an offering which is totally consumed. On the other hand, we are taught clearly that no one experiences any pain or suffering in this world unless he has in some way transgressed. Abarbanel posits that even if the woman does not transgress blatantly by swearing never to have relations with her husband again, the sin offering still functions as atonement for transgressions of which she is not aware. The difference between the two offerings is indicated by the language of the Torah. In reference to the elevation offering the Torah states, “…and he (the kohen) shall offer it up (bring it near) before G-d…” — whereas in reference to the sin offering the Torah states “…and it will atone for her.”


A Spiritual Disease with a Spiritual Cure

In Parshas Tazria Abarbanel emphasized that the affliction of tzara’at was the physical manifestation of a spiritual imbalance in the individual which resulted from his transgressions. These physical symptoms create a state of tumah, or ritual contamination, which can be “transmitted” to others. It is nothing like a natural infectious disease where the physical symptoms are transmitted to others. Rather, what is transmitted is not a physical disease, but, rather, a state of ritual contamination. We are warned not to come in contact with such an individual, as the Torah warns us, “ shall not contaminate your soul, your inner essence…” (Leviticus 11:44) Normal infectious diseases harm the body but not our inner essence.

This explains why an individual afflicted with tzara’at does not consult a physician. He deals only with the kohanim, who are the experts in dealing with ritual contamination. Only they are entrusted with the ability to declare an object or a person ritually contaminated or ritually pure.

Parshat Metzora begins with a detailed description of the ritual purification process required to restore the individual to a state of spiritual balance. Since his condition of tzara’at resulted from transgressions, one dimension of the process was to bring sacrificial offerings to atone for them, whether they were accidental or purposeful transgressions. This is necessary since the foundation of our religious faith and understanding is that everything that happens to a member of the Jewish nation is a result of Divine Providence, in order “ grant to each man according to his ways and the consequences of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 32:19) Thus, each afflicted individual will understand that his behavior was the source of his affliction. After having brought the offerings for the intentional and unintentional transgressions, whether or not he was aware of them, he then brings the elevation-offering, which was totally consumed on the Altar, to demonstrate his renewed connection to G-d.

The Torah then describes in detail how the kohen applies blood from the guilt-offering to the right ear, the right thumb and the right big toe of the afflicted individual. He then places oil on the same areas, and applies oil to the head as well. Abarbanel explains that the main reason for this ritual was to impress upon us that the true cure was Divine; purely the result of repentance and proper performance of the commandments. The individual had no need whatsoever for natural medical interventions and treatments. Actually, in order to emphasize the purely Divine nature of the cure, the “treatments” of the kohen were exactly the opposite of what doctors would normally do. Normal medical practices involved bloodletting. Here the kohen does not extract any blood. Rather, he ritually places blood on those areas where the symptoms first appeared. Similarly, the oil teaches us that, unlike accepted medical practice, it is not necessary to empty excess fluid. Rather, we place oil on the individual to emphasize again the miraculous nature of the cure. Finally, whatever oil remains is placed on the head. As it says in Ecclesiastes: “...let your head never lack oil”. (Ecclesiastes 9:8) The oil is a metaphor for the wisdom which, hopefully, has been imparted to the afflicted individual as a result of his experience.

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