There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.
Additionally, the Ashkenazic and Sepharidc, that is Eastern European and Spanish or Iberian Peninsula communities sometime differ on how they divide the Torah Portions.
It’s time to explore Torah Portion Shemini, aliyah by aliyah.
Tazria Leviticus 12:1-13:59
Aliyah 1 – Leviticus 12:1-13:5
Leviticus 12:2 “Tell the people of Isra’el: ‘If a woman conceives and gives birth to a boy, she will be unclean for seven days with the same uncleanness as in niddah, when she is having her menstrual period.
This is most likely a “chook” or “law without reason,” and it makes sense that is would be like the normal monthly niddah. There can be more to it as well. I am not a biologist, but I wonder if this is partly a protection for the new mother and her baby. I am unclear on what Ancient Near Eastern culture was like in regards to conjugal relations after labor, but even today there are examples of women who have children who are 10 or 11 months apart. That is not an easy physical feat for the mother and the way breast milk is produced and changes over time according to the mother’s body and the feedback from her nursling, a woman’s milk supply can alter to be for her baby and become essentially no good to her older child. So in addition to whatever physical hardship a lack of buffer between labor and the resumption of normal conjugal relations might cause for the mother, there could be severe emotional trauma if her child outside the womb is starved by the baby within the womb.
Leviticus 12:3 On the eighth day, the baby’s foreskin is to be circumcised.
In accordance with the Law given to Abraham
Leviticus 12:4 She is to wait an additional thirty-three days to be purified from her blood; she is not to touch any holy thing or come into the sanctuary until the time of her purification is over.
This supports my arguments from LEV 12:2 that there are additional benefits to the Law given for women after labor. It is sometimes a hardship for women to get in and out of bed after labor. Can you imagine the agonizing trial of walking or riding miles on dirt roads to go to the make these offerings in the aftermath of delivering a child? It would have been a cruel hardship on mother and child that could have endangered both of their lives if they had to immediately go to the Temple or Tabernacle after the baby had been born to make offerings. That isn’t who HaShem is, so the Law reflects that.
Leviticus 12:5 But if she gives birth to a girl, she will be unclean for two weeks, as in her niddah; and she is to wait another sixty-six days to be purified from her blood.
Why is this different for girls? I don’t know. That’s a great question. Is it simply a distinction based on sex? Does it mean something?
Leviticus 12:6 When the days of her purification are over, whether for a son or for a daughter, she is to bring a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or dove for a sin offering to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to the cohen.
Why does the new mother have to make a sin offering? What did she do wrong? I don’t know. I also don’t think there is a good understanding of what the various offerings really mean among believers. I don’t think sin is as simple as we think it is. My understanding of what sin is has been changing as I am reading the Bible more closely. I still want to avoid sinning as much as possible, with Heaven’s help, but it is odd to me that some things are sin. One more caveat: HaShem sets the rules and I wish to obey them out of love and fear, but some things are just strange to me.
“Chatat” is a term from archery meaning “to miss the mark” and while there is “moral sin”, there is also “amoral sin.” What do I mean by that? Here is an example regarding the sin of the mother and how it possible parallels the nature of the sin of the Nazarite. NUM 6:9-11 says that if a Nazirite, who is supposed to steer clear of the uncleanness of (human) death accidentally is exposed to death by someone dying next to them (in a tent) that they have sinned, they must bring a sin offering and they must start the time of their Nazarite vow over again. How can you be morally at fault for a young guy dying while you are eating in the tent together? How is that bad of you? I don’t know that it is “bad,” but it is clear that there has been a violation of the goal of the Nazarite, that is, the Nazarite was aiming for something and failed to read the goal. That Nazarite missed the mark, so they literally “sinned.” How is a woman “sinning” in labor and childbirth? What mark is she missing? I don’t know. I talked a bit about how this law of the Nazarite altered my view of the nature of sin a few days ago in Daily Devar 123 .
Leviticus 12:7 He will offer it before HaShem and make atonement for her; thus she will be purified from her discharge of blood. Such is the law for a woman who gives birth, whether to a boy or to a girl.
Perhaps there is some sort of sin associated with the all the blood or the “death” of the placenta? Could the “discharge of blood” be the mass of the placenta that is expelled after the child is born? Some cultures bury the placenta. Maybe there is something to that?
Leviticus 12:8 If she can’t afford a lamb, she is to take two doves or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; the cohen will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.
I love seeing HaShem’s heart for the poor.
“If someone develops on his skin a swelling, scab or bright spot which could develop into the disease tzara‘at, he is to be brought to Aharon the cohen or to one of his sons who are cohanim.
Tzara’at, Biblical Leprosy, is such a weird thing. It is very mysterious. I think the fact that the Priestly family alone was to deal with it is a clear sign that it is a Spiritual, not a physical condition.
Leviticus 13:3 The cohen is to examine the sore on his skin; if the hair in the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to go deep into the skin, it is tzara‘at, and after examining him the cohen is to declare him unclean.
IT seems like anyone could see if a spot was tzara’at based on this description and yet the Cohen alone is given the task. Why would HaShem do that?
Leviticus 13:4 If the bright spot on his skin is white, but it does not appear to go deep into the skin, and its hair has not turned white, then the cohen is to isolate him for seven days.
LEV 13:4 It only takes one examination to declare someone clean, but there is an examination, then a waiting period to declare someone unclean of tzara’at
Leviticus 13:5 On the seventh day the cohen is to examine him again, and if the sore appears the same as before and has not spread on the skin, then the cohen is to isolate him for seven more days.
We are at 3 examinations to declare someone as having tzara’at, that sounds like a merciful, long suffering Law, not a Law of wrath and condemnation.
Aliyah 2 – Leviticus 13:6-17
Leviticus 13:6 On the seventh day the cohen is to examine him again, and if the sore has faded and hasn’t spread on the skin, then the cohen is to declare him clean — it is only a scab, so he is to wash his clothes and be clean.
Why would someone who is found to be clean, after appearing as if he is not clean, be required to wash his clothes? If he is proved to be clean, why not let him be because there was nothing wrong with him spiritually? Isn’t this washing unnecessary?
Aliyah 3 – Leviticus 13:18-23
Leviticus 13:23 But if the bright spot stays where it was and has not spread, it is the scar of the boil; and the cohen is to declare him clean.
Was the boil just a boil in this case? If the person was found to have tzara’at, does that mean that what looked like a boil was actually tzara’at all along?
Aliyah 4 – Leviticus 13:24-28
Leviticus 13:28 But if the bright spot stays where it was and has not spread on the skin but appears faded, it is a swelling due to the burn; and the cohen is to declare him clean; because it is only a scar from the burn.
I wonder if this week of isolation is a blessing from Heaven for this person to have time to repent of whatever sin was fodder for the tzara’at? If tzara’at is a spiritual malady, it is eveidence of something within the person, changing that should take away the tzara’at.
Aliyah 5 – Leviticus 13:29-37
Leviticus 13:33 then the person is to be shaved, except for the crusted area itself, and the cohen is to isolate him for seven more days.
All I see is grace and mercy here from the Father
Aliyah 6 – Leviticus 13:38-54
Leviticus 13:46 As long as he has sores, he will be unclean; since he is unclean, he must live in isolation; he must live outside the camp.
And here is a picture of judgement. Those who do not repent will be cast out and can not enjoy life within the presence of the Most High. They are like living dead people, forced to stay outside of the Kingdom.
Aliyah 7 – Leviticus 13:55-59
Leviticus 13:59 This is the law concerning infections of tzara‘at in a garment of wool or linen, or in the threads or the woven-in parts, or in any leather item — when to declare it clean and when to declare it unclean.
LEV 13:59This is the smoking gun that tzara’at or Biblical Leprosy and modern Leprosy are not the same affliction.
Before I go, I want to answer questions raised at the beginning of this session. These are my opinions, based on my time studying under various teachers and while I try to set aside any commentaries while examining each aliyah, I will allow myself to bring some back in for this section. I will disclose where I am getting these ideas where relevant.
- What is the true nature of sin?
- Why would someone declare clean be required to wash?
- Is the Law merciful?
That concludes my journey through Tazria for the year 5782.
I hope these words have been a blessing to you.
May our Heavenly Father give you peace and joy.
This is Matthew and I am Walking In Liberty.