Parashat Tazria-Metzora: Circumcision and Leprosy

This week’s Parasha begins with some ideas already presented in Parashat Shemini. For example, the need to immerse (baptize) in water for purification, and once again, the number 8’s importance.

PART I – The 8th Day Circumcision

“On the eight day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Lv 12:3).

Here we find the command to circumcise the new born male specifically on the 8th day.

Our Natural time-bound world is made of sevens, ie. Seven days of the week. The 8th is a day that does not correspond with our nature; it transcends nature.

The Roman Turnus Rufus quite often challenged Rabbi Akiva (One of the greatest sages who convert to Judaism being adult) and tried to ridicule his Jewish faith. The Roman, concerning circumcision would ask him:

[Since God created the human body as it is], which are better, things made by the Almighty or things made by flesh and blood? Rabbi Akiva surprised him with a shocking answer: Things made by flesh and blood are better. The Roman said: What? How can this be? Rabbi Akiva brought him wheat and cakes and said to him: These are made by the Almighty and these are made by man. Aren’t cakes better than the wheat?

Turnus Rufus retorted: If God wanted circumcision, then why doesn’t the baby come out circumcised from his mother’s womb?

Rabbi Akiva responded: Because the Almighty gave commands to the Jewish People to improve ourselves with them (cf. Midrash Tanhuma, Tazria 8).

To the question: If God wanted human to be circumcised, why aren’t the babies born circumcised? Rabbi Akiva understood that this material world is raw product that must be worked out in order to develop human spirituality. Thus his example: Aren’t cakes better than wheat? Aren’t we permitted to eat of all the fruits in the planet, and yet most of them require us to prepare them or remove their husk? Aren’t we permitted to eat certain animals, and yet there’s a process that we must pass before being allowed to consume them? Are not the houses in which we live product of human work over raw materials such as wood and rock?

Isn’t the garden of Eden already perfect? Nevertheless, when God put Adam in the garden, he did so in order that man would labour it and keep it (Gn 2:15). We are the ones that must reveal all the potential of this material world and transform it to the service of God.

Rabbinic commentary observes that Adam was born circumcised—Not being circumcised symbolizes being in need for rectification/perfection, but, in the case of Adam, he was born complete, born without need of circumcision, in the garden of Eden. That’s the perfect stature of mankind. Later, when Adam fell from his original state, it’s written that the Lord God made “LeAdam ul’Ishto” (to Adam and his fire) “Ketonet Ohr” (coverings of Skin) (Gn 3:21). “Ishto” (his fire – אשתו) is a female fire, as in the verse: “meIshtam Ofaretמאשתם עפרת” (Jer 6:29). The Torah is the Heavenly “Fire” that was clothed in garments in this material world, as to be kept in a book. And the circumcision is the covering of skin (Ohr) through which Adam’s Light (Ohr) was concealed. Notice “Light” and “Skin” are homonym words.

Through circumcision the Jewish soul removes the husk of what is concealed; that is, the inner Light and his Fire, which is the Torah.

The Gematria of ‘Orlato’ (his foreskin) equals: ‘leRaato’ (to his evil). Because “evil” conceals light.

ערלתו = לרעתו = 706


When a boy is circumcised, he enters into the covenant of Torah and reveals his “Jewish soul”. He transcends the animal/human nature and becomes Holy (set apart to God). Reason by which the word: eighth (Shmini) equals “Holy” in Gematria.

שמיני = קדוש = 410

A Circumcised soul is obligated to obey all the commands of the Torah, because a ‘circumcised soul’ must reveal ‘his fire’. It’s therefore written: ““From the eighth day onward it shall be accepted as a fire offering to God” (Lv 22:27).

In the world to Come, which is linked to the 8th day of Creation, every soul will be circumcised;  ie. every husk will be removed, and the inner Light will be revealed. “No man will tell his brother: Know the Lord, for they will all know Me” (Jer 31:34). The status of man will be like the first man before the fall and even greater.

PART II – Leprosy

The portions Tazria and Metzora focus on the laws of leprosy.

I must say, before anything else, that the word “leprosy” is not a totally accurate translation; it can lead to misunderstandings. In some senses, yes, it might be some kind of leprosy, but the specific issue that the Torah talks about is NOT exactly leprosy. The Torah mentions a disease of the skin called ‘Tzaraat’; a spiritual illness that could appear on the skin of a person, on the walls of a home, or on a cloth or leather garment as some kind of fungus sent by Heaven (cf. Lv 13:47).

The leprosy we know today doesn’t have those characteristics. However, there’s not a better word in English, so our only options are to render the word as “leprosy” or to use the original Hebrew word.

Tzaarat was not an internal ailment per se; it was an external malady whose identifying mark was a white patch or patches appearing on the skin, symptom of that body’s part loosing vitality. Our sages even deduce that the major cause for this sickness was “lashon haRa” (gossip and criticism) (cf. Erakhin 16b) and a lack of humility.

One of the most important characteristics of Tzaarat is that the person is “exiled” as long as he remains unclean (cf. Nm 5:2). Second characteristic is that as long as the “leprosy” is external, meaning; as long as the skin turns white without further indicators that there’s death under the skin (for example, white hair or raw flesh) the person is not considered unclean.

The root of Tzaarat is Tzara, meaning ‘scourge’. This is rendered in Aramaic as “paleness”. Being pale is described as the skin becoming white like a leper (cf. Rashi).

Someone afflicted with Tzaarat is called Metzora; in English “leprous”.

Metzora and the Sefirot

This will be the Torah concerning the Metzora on the day of his purification…” (Lv14:2).

In the parasha “Metzora” we find the only time the expression “Metzora” (leprous) appears in the Torah. In other verses we find the most common expression “Tzarua” (also meaning leprous) and in two occasions we find the feminine expression “Metzoraat kaShaleg” (leprous as snow; Ex 4:6; Nm 12:10) but the exact term ‘Metzora’ (in such a grammatical form) is used only once in the Torah and is not used anymore.

Throughout all the Holy Scripture the word Metzora appears a total of ten times – Once in the Torah, twice in the Hagiographa and 7 times in the Prophets. Of course, the number 10 is not a coincidence and neither is the arrangement of its 10 apparitions – as we have learned in the past, 10 is always an allusion to the Sefirot through which everything is done.

Metzora appears seven times in the Prophets corresponding to the seven emotive Sefirot.

The Two apparitions in the Hagiographa, both of them talk about the same person; king Uzziyahu (2Chr 26:20-21) – and correspond to “Hokhmah” (wisdom) and “Binah” (understanding) which are always united.

The singular apparition in the Torah refers to the Sefirah of “Daat/Keter” (Knowledge/Crown); for the Torah is the book of books, the source and life and reason to be of all the other books in the Bible, therefore the time the word “Metzora” appears refers to the first and highest Sefirah.

Swapping the Tzaarat

There’s a plural reference of four leprous people – the four Metzoraim. But the most interesting thing is that if we read the individual cases of “Tzaarat” in the Tanakh, we will see there are two accounts in which leprosy is swapped from an individual to another. The sickness passed from one person to another.

The first time is when King David curses Yoav for killing Avner; and the curse says that in his house there will be always someone leper, or with issue, or fallen by sword (2S 3:29).

However this curse fell on David’s own house. Why? Because after cursing Yoav, David commanded Solomon to kill him. We cannot give improper measures of punishments for one single crime; punishments must always be in the same measure as the offence committed; never bigger. He wanted both, to curse him and to kill him. So when he killed him, the curse fell on David’s own house. That’s why one of the kings of Judah – the King Uzziah – was punished with leprosy when he attempted to take the place of the priests in the Temple (2Chr 26:20-21).

But the most famous leprous in the Torah is Naaman the Syrian who was cleansed through the Prophet Elisha’s instructions (2S 5:1). The prophet healed Naaman for free, but his student Gehazi wanted money. For this, the leprosy of Naaman passed to Gehazi instead (2S 5:27).

So here we have three leprous persons whose leprosy was transferred:

Naaman, Gehazi and Uzziah (also called Azariah).

The leprosy of Naaman was transferred to Gehazi,

And Uzziahu received the leprosy that was originally meant for another person.

The Acronym of these three guys is Nega (plague).

נעמן , גחזי , עזיהו = נגע


Nega means ‘affliction’, ‘plague’ or a ‘blow’ of leprosy, as in the verse: “Nega Tzaarat” (Lv 13:2).


The Leprous

This will be the Torah concerning the Metzora on the day of his purification…” (Lv14:2).

Notice the Torah normally uses present tense when a decree is going to be described. “This is the Torah of Guilt-offering” (Lv 7:1), “This is the Torah of the beast” (Lv 11:46) … etc.  But in this case it’s used future tense: “This will be the Torah” instead of “this is the Torah”. Why in the future? Because this refers to the day of the redemption; the day of Messiah. “In those days… search will be made for Israel’s guilt, but there will be none… for I will forgive the remnant I spare” (Jer 50:20). In the secret of: “And the priest will look and behold, the leprous mark has healed in the metzora” (Lv 14:3).

Metzora (leper) has the numerical value of 400. This is the value of the letter Tav – the last letter in the Hebrew Alphabet and the last letter in the account of creation too. In several Torah Scrolls the letter Tav – ת is enlarged in the word ‘Tamim’ (perfect) in the verse: “Be Perfect” (Dt 18:13) – because the Tav has to do with the final Rectification.  But Who is theMetzora? Ie. the leprous one?

מצרע = ת = 400

We have seen in the past how Betzalel who built the Tabernacle was an aspect of Messiah ben Yosef. Betzalel is called: “Betzalel son of hur” (Ben Hur). This name literally means: “the Pale son”. We have seen above that paleness is another name for leprosy.

Our sages state that Messiah is “Hivra” (‘the pale one’, or ‘the leprous one’).

Doesn’t this contradict the Biblical description of Messiah? But our sages see an allusion to this in the verse:

“Surely he bore our diseases and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him as plagued [nagua], stricken of God, and afflicted” (Is 53:4; cf. Sanh 98b).

[Naguais the same root as in ‘Nega Tzaarat’ (affliction of leprosy), and is the acrostic of: “Naaman, Gehazi Ve-Azariah” – the three lepers in the Tanakh]

This verse contains two ideas: exile and atonement.

Israel fell in a status of spiritual “Tzaarat” (leprosy) which is why Israel was “exiled” from the Holy Land, as it’s written:

“I will punish their iniquities with plagues” (Psal 89:33).

As long as Israel remains “exiled”, Messiah – who is the head of Israel – suffers the agonies and pains of leprosy; in the time of Redemption evil which has infested the world will rise to the surface, as the white mark of leprosy, so that it can be decisively overcome and cured (cf. Luvavitcher Rebbe). Our sages therefore state:The scion of David will come only in a generation which is full of impudence and deserves to be exterminated’ (shir hashirim Rabbah 2:33) in the secret of: “if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean” (Lv 13:13).

Therefore it’s written: “If the raw flesh is turned into white… then the priest will pronounce him clean” (Lv 13:16-17). That is, when the whitening of the skin is not accompanied by any symptom of internal death anymore. That is the internal purification of Israel in a world full of corruption. Even though it will look externally not good, actually the force of Redemption has corrected all the internal issues and the body is ready for the final Redemption. This also requires purification and healing of Israel’s sin; also a job of the force of Redemption – that is; Messiah ben Yosef, who fights the war against the evil inclination.

“The Kohen will command the one to be purified to take two living birds” (Lv 14:4).

metzora two birdsDuring the cleansing of the Leprosy a bird (Tzippor) is killed over running water in an earthen vessel and a second bird is dipped along with other elements in its blood (cf. Lv 14:49). The leper is sprinkled with the blood seven times and the living bird is released into the open field.

The fact that the living bird flies away covered in the blood of the slaughtered one is significant. This aspect of the ritual creates a connection between the two birds. And who are the two birds?

In Gematria, “Bird” (‘Tzippor’) is 370 and equals: “this is Messiah” (Zeh Mashiakh) (cf. R. Moshe Bogomilsky). This passage regarding the ‘two birds’ refers to Messiah ben Yosef [who dies] and Messiah ben David [who rises after him]. Messiah ben Yosef dies in order to prepare the way to Messiah ben David. This also hints to Messiah ben Yosef resurrection, as is hinted in the verse: “they made his grave with the wicked… yet it pleased the Lord… that he will… prolong his days” (Is 53:9-10).

צפר = זה משיח = 370


Therefore, Messiah ben Yosef will offer up his life and pour out his life to death (cf. Is 53:12) and his blood will atone for the people with HaShem [thus declaring the whole nation clean of leprosy]. In this manner it will be afterward that the kingdom of the house of David shall preside forever among the people of Israel (cf. Shnei Luhot haBrit pg. 229b).

Why does Messiah ben Yosef need to die? What is his sin, and what his transgression, except that he will bear the chastisements of Israel, according to the words: “smitten of God” (Is 53:4)? (cf. Ayalah Sheluah by Naftali ben Asher Altschuler).

How can Messiah ben Yosef atone for Israel through suffering and death? This is the concept of the “atonement of the righteous”, which will be dealt in future portions, but for now let’s get a glimpse of it.

We are taught:

“And they shall stumble, one because of his brother” (beAkhiu; Lv 26:37). What’s the hidden implication of this sentence? It means that One [will stumble] through the sin of the other, which teaches that all are held responsible for one another (Sanh 27b).

In his famous work of basics of Judaism, the great scholar Moshe Hayim Luzzatto wrote:

“As a result of this principle [that all are responsible for each other] suffering and pain may be imposed on a Righteous Person (Tzaddik) as an atonement for his entire generation…. In atoning for his generation through his suffering, this tzaddik saves these people in this world and also greatly benefits them in the World to Come. In addition, there is a special, higher type of suffering that comes to a tzaddik who is even greater and more highly perfected than the ones discussed above. This suffering comes to provide the help necessary to bring about the chain of events leading to the ultimate perfection of mankind as a whole… The only reason they suffer is because of others, and the Attribute of Justice must therefore be as satisfied with a small amount of suffering on their part as with a large amount on the part of those who actually sinned.…They can therefore not only rectify their own generation, but can also correct all the spiritual damage done from the beginning, from the time of the very first sinners” (Derekh HaShem 2:3:8).


– Xus –

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