The Purification Process
I. The Tazria-Metzora Unit
Tazria and Metzora are usually combined, but on a leap year, Tazria and Metzora are ordinarily read separately in order to accommodate the additional weeks. Do the two parshiot form one unit, which is sometimes divided to accommodate for an elongated year, or are they two independent units, which must at times be read together in order to complete the yearly cycle of the Torah?
One might argue that the two parshiot have different themes – Tazria discusses the definition and identification of tzara’at, while Metzora focuses on the process of purification. If this were true, however, the identification of tzara’at on a house should have been placed in Tazria. The fact that this section is found in Metzora seems to indicate that the Torah does not divide the tzara’at section along these lines.
In fact, the laws of tzara’at bridge the gap, spanning from close to the beginning of Tazria until near the end of Metzora. At that point, the Torah summarizes the entire section:
This is the torah for all manner of the plague of tzara’at … and for the tzara’at of a garment, and for a house … to instruct when it is impure and when it is pure; this is the law of tzara’at. (14:54-57)
This summary, found in Metzora, includes types of tzara’at mentioned in Tazria, indicating the connection between these two portions and leading to the conclusion that the break between Tazria and Metzora is artificial.
However, this does not indicate that Tazria and Metzora form one organic unit. After all, the section of tum’at yoledet (ritual impurity resulting from giving birth) at the beginning of Tazria and that of zav and zava (ritual impurity resulting from bodily emissions) at the end of Metzora, are not types of tzara’at. Although all these subsections combine with tzara’at as members of the tum’a section (as noted in last week’s shiur), that section begins in Parashat Shemini with the discussion of ritual impurity with respect to dead animals (ch. 11), not at the beginning of Tazria.
Nevertheless, I would like to argue for a Tazria-Metzora subunit of the unit on ritual impurity. After all, the Torah separates the laws of tum’a found in Parashat Shemini by concluding with a summary, which contains a warning:
For I am Hashem your God; sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy, and do not defile yourselves… For I am Hashem, who raised you out of the land of Mitzrayim to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (11:44-45)
Although Tazria-Metzora discusses a number of different sources of impurity, there is no other warning except for the one that is found all the way at the end of Parashat Metzora:
Thus shall you separate the children of Yisrael from their uncleanness; lest they die in their uncleanness, when they defile My mishkan that is in their midst. (15:31)
Thus, a separate warning is issued for all the various types of ritual impurity contained in the Tazria-Metzora unit.
If our assertion is correct, we must determine the meaning of the Tazria-Metzora unit. Why did the Torah separate the laws of tum’a at the end of Shemini from that of the yoledet at the beginning of Tazria? We should also consider the term “tazria,” which is used to introduce the yoledet section. This is a unique term that is found nowhere else in Tanakh. Might the Torah have chosen this term because of the phonetic association with “tzara’at”? If so, why did the Torah connect yoledet specifically to tzara’at? And what is the relationship between tzara’at and zav, discussed at the end of Metzora? In short, what is the common denominator of the various impurities found in Tazria-Metzora that justifies its treatment as an independent unit?
The answer to this question is found in a mishna in Keritut (8b). Normally, immersion in a mikva is sufficient to achieve tahara (ritual purity); purification from tum’at met (ritual impurity resulting from contact with a corpse) also requires the sprinkling of the water of a para aduma. The mishna lists the “mechusrei kapara,” cases of tum’a that require a korban to achieve the level of tahara needed to eat kodshim or enter the Mikdash:
There are four mechusrei kapara: … the zav, the zava, and the yoledet, and the metzora.
It is noteworthy that all of the examples of mechusrei kapara appear in the Tazria-Metzora unit.
There are cases in Tazria-Metzora in which tevila (mikva immersion) is sufficient, such as impurity from keri and nidda. In fact, the Torah notes cases in which even tzara’at requires no more than tevila. For instance, one who has a blemish that a kohen places under quarantine to determine if it will deteriorate or improve is not in a state of safek (“doubtful”) tzara’at. Rather, his status is that of a lower grade tzara’at, which can be purified through immersion (see Megilla 8b). In this regard, it is similar to the two different types of tum’at zav; two emissions create the tum’a of zav, but do not require a korban, three emissions demand a korban as well). However, the mention of the lower levels of tzara’at or zav in the Tazria-Metzora unit certainly does not undermine our thesis that the defining trait of this section is mechusrei kapara. Similarly, keri and nidda, which are similar to zav and zava, should be viewed as satellites of the mechusrei kapara category.
II. Mechusrei Kapara
How are we to view the requirement to bring a set of korbanot before being allowed to eat kodshim or enter the Mikdash? Are these korbanot needed to remove a certain amount of remaining tum’a, and as such are part of the tahara process? Or are they an independent obligation necessary for kodshim, but not a stage in the purification process?
Let us consider the case of tzara’at. There are three phases in the purification of the metzora. The first stage involves, among other things, taking two birds and sprinkling the blood of one of the birds on the metzora, followed by shaving his entire body and tevila in the mikva. After this phase, the metzora is permitted to return to the camp, as the level of his tum’a has diminished. The second phase begins after a seven day wait. The metzora once again shaves his entire body and immerses in the mikva. He is now tahor, but until he brings his korbanot, he is still prohibited from entering the Mikdash and eating kodshim. The third phase takes place on the eighth day, when the metzora brings the korbanot, allowing him to enter the Mikdash and eat kodshim. After the second phase is complete, has the tum’a of the metzora been totally removed? Is the prohibition from entering the Mikdash due to his obligation to bring certain sacrifices, but not because he remains in a lower state of tum’a? Or does some remnant of tum’a remain, which is only removed through the korban?
This question is debated in Keritut (8a), which discusses whether the korban obligation of a zava should be likened to a korban chatat or to tevila. The position that it should be viewed as tevila clearly assumes that it is part of the process of purification. If, on the other hand, it should be compared to a chatat, then it seems that the tahara was already completed before the korban is offered, but the korban is required before coming into contact with kodesh nevertheless. The gemara concludes that that korbanot of a zav should be likened to tevila – in other words, they are part of the purification process. This corresponds to the straightforward reading of the pasuk:
And the priest shall offer the burnt-offering and the meal-offering upon the altar; and the priest shall make atonement for him and he shall be tahor. (14:20)
This understanding of mechusrei kapara is necessary to explain a strange halakha. If a woman gave birth five times, but did not bring a single korban, she is obligated to bring five sets of korbanot. Nevertheless, she is allowed to enter the Mikdash after the first set (see Keritut 8a). After giving birth five separate times, she has five independent obligations, but for the purposes of tahara and the permissibility of entering the Mikdash, one set is sufficient, just as one may go to the mikva once to purify himself for various tum’ot.
What is the common denominator of these four tum’ot of yoledet, tzara’at, zav and zava? Why does the Torah require kapara of a korban in these specific cases in order to achieve the tahara necessary to enter the Mikdash?
We may propose the following suggestion. In general, a person becomes tamei due to something external; in all the cases of mechusrei kapara, however, the source of the tum’a is internal. This is known as ‘tum’a yotzei mi-gufo” – the tum’a comes out from his own body. (There are cases of tum’a yotzei mi-gufo that do not require korban, such as nidda and keri, but as we already noted, these are lower-grade cases of the same tum’a family.)
Whenever the tum’a is external, all that is needed is removal of the tum’a. At that point, the person should theoretically return to his previous status, which allows him access to kodesh. In truth, however, until the day is complete, he is considered a “tevul yom,” one who immersed on that day. The very first mishna in Shas refers to this halakha in its attempt to pinpoint the time that marks the transition from one day to the next:
From when can we begin to recite kriat shema in the evening? From the time that the kohanim enter to eat their teruma. (Berakhot 2a)
Only when the day has passed and night arrives, and with it a new day, is a kohen who was tameh and went to the mikva permitted to eat teruma. Apparently, even though the tum’a was removed, one retains his status of tum’a throughout the day. He can attain a new status only with the arrival of a new day.
With respect to cases of tum’a yotzei mi-gufo, wherein the tum’a is internal, the transition from tum’a to tahara is more complex. Once the tum’a has been removed, it is insufficient to simply wait for a new day to arrive. After all, the source of the tum’a did not come from without, but from within; the person is not only a recipient or carrier of tum’a, but the very source of the tum’a. In this case, regaining the status of tahor requires more than the arrival of a new day. Something must occur that changes the person’s status as the source of the tum’a. According to the Torah, this is accomplished through the kapara of a korban.
III. Purification of the Metzora
Among the mechusrei kapara, the metzora is unique. The sacrifice of the korbanot is sufficient for the other cases, while a metzora requires a special ceremony of placing the blood of the guilt offering and oil on the person himself:
And the priest shall take of the blood of the asham, and the priest shall put it upon the tenuch (tip) of the right ear of he that is to be purified, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot. And the priest shall take of the jar of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand. And the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle of the oil with his finger seven times before Hashem. And of the rest of the oil that is in his hand shall the priest put upon the tip of the right ear of he that is to be purified, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot, upon the blood of the asham. And the rest of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall put upon the head of him that is to be purified; and the priest shall make atonement for him before Hashem. (14:14-18).
Why did the Torah single out the metzora with respect to this strange ceremony? In what way is his tum’a different from the other mechusrei kapara?
In studying the tahara ceremony of the metzora, we are immediately struck by the comparison to the inauguration of the Kohanim during the miluim:
Then shall you kill the ram, and take of its blood, and put it upon the tenuch of the right ear of Aaron, and upon the tenuch of the right ear of his sons, and upon the thumb of their right hand, and upon the great toe of their right foot ... (Shemot 29:20)
In fact, the miluim and the metzora are the only contexts in Tanakh where the term “tenuch” is found. What is the relationship between the inauguration of the Kohanim and the tahara of the metzora? The purpose of the korban miluim is to sanctify the Kohanim. By placing the blood of the korban miluim on the body of the Kohanim, a metamorphosis takes place – ordinary people become elevated and eligible for the role as ministers of the Mishkan. How are we to understand the metzora parallel?
Regarding all the other mechusrei kapara, the source of the tum’a emanates from within the person, but the tum’a is not the person himself. Regarding tzara’at, however, the tum’a is inherent. The blemish is on the body of the individual; the body itself is tamei. One can claim that this tum’a is only skin deep, but the person himself is not affected. On the other hand, the identification of our sages between a metzora and a dead person seems to suggest identification between tum’a and the person. Therefore, in contrast to the other mechusrei kapara, a change of status is not enough. A metamorphosis is required; a new identity has to be created. The person himself must change his identity and must be elevated from tum’a to tahara. Therefore, the process that was used to transform the kohanim is applied to the metzora as well. Regarding the kohanim, the transformation was from mundane to holy, while the metzora changes from tamei to tahor.
In conclusion, we have argued for a Tazria-Metzora unit. We showed that the common denominator in this unit is mechusrei kapara, which is connected to tum’a yotzei mi-gufo. Regarding all other tum’ot, the impure person is no more than a carrier of an external tum’a, while in these cases the source of the tum’a is internal.
Finally, we tried to account for the discrepancies that exist between the various tum’ot found in this unit. In particular, we dealt with the unique status of tzara’at. We suggested that regarding tzara’at, the body of the metzora is what is tamei, and consequently the person himself is defined as tamei, as suggested by the claim of our sages that a metzora is considered like a dead person. His purification requires a change of identity, perhaps a rebirth, which is accomplished by the ceremony particular to a metzora.