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Metzora, Metzorah, M’tzora, Mezora, Metsora, or M’tsora (מצורע — Hebrew for "one being diseased,” the ninth word, and the first distinctive word, in the parshah) is the 28th weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the fifth in the book of Leviticus. It constitutes Leviticus 14:1–15:33. Jews in the Diaspora generally read it in April.

The lunisolar Hebrew calendar contains up to 54 weeks, the exact number varying between leap years and regular years. In years with 54 weeks (for example, 2011, 2014, and 2016), parshah Metzora is read separately on the 28th Sabbath after Simchat Torah. In years with fewer than 54 weeks (for example, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2017), parshah Metzora is combined with the previous parshah, Tazria, to help achieve the needed number of weekly readings.

Cedrus wood

cedar wood

Summary

Cleansing from skin disease

God told Moses the ritual for cleansing one with a skin disease. (Lev. 14:1–2.) If the priest saw that the person had healed, the priest would order two live clean birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop. (Lev. 14:3–4.) The priest would order one of the birds slaughtered over fresh water and would then dip the live bird, the cedar wood, the crimson stuff, and the hyssop in the blood of the slaughtered bird. (Lev. 14:5–6.) The priest would then sprinkle the blood seven times on the one who was to be cleansed and then set the live bird free. (Lev. 14:6–7.) The one to be cleansed would then wash his clothes, shave off his hair, bathe in water, and then be clean. (Lev. 14:8.) On the eighth day after that, the one being cleansed was to present two male lambs, one ewe lamb, choice flour, and oil for the priest to offer. (Lev. 14:9–13.) The priest was to put some of the blood and the oil on the ridge of the right ear, the right thumb, and the right big toe of the one being cleansed, and then put more of the oil on his head. (Lev. 14:14–18.) If the one being cleansed was poor, he could bring two turtle doves or pigeons in place of two of the lambs. (Lev. 14:21–22.)

Illustration Hyssopus officinalis0

hyssop

Houses with an eruptive plague

God then told Moses and Aaron the ritual for cleansing a house with an eruptive plague. (Lev. 14:33–34.) The owner was to tell the priest, who was to order the house cleared and then examine it. (Lev. 14:35–36.) If the plague in the walls was greenish or reddish streaks deep into the wall, the priest was to close the house for seven days. (Lev. 14:37–38.) If, after seven days, the plague had spread, the priest was to order the stones with the plague to be pulled out and cast outside the city. (Lev. 14:39–40.) The house was then to be scraped, the stones replaced, and the house replastered. (Lev. 14:41–42.) If the plague again broke out, the house was to be torn down. (Lev. 14:43–45.) If the plague did not break out again, the priest was to pronounce the house clean. (Lev. 14:48.) To purge the house, the priest was to take two birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop, slaughter one bird over fresh water, sprinkle on the house seven times with the bird’s blood, and then let the live bird go free. (Lev. 14:49–53.)

Male genital discharge

God then told Moses and Aaron the ritual for cleansing a person who had a genital discharge. (Lev. 15.)

When a man had a discharge from his genitals, he was unclean, and any bedding on which he lay and every object on which he sat was to be unclean. (Lev. 15:2–4.) Anyone who touched his body, touched his bedding, touched an object on which he sat, was touched by his spit, or was touched by him before he rinsed his hands was to wash his clothes, bathe in water, and remain unclean until evening. (Lev. 15:5–11.) An earthen vessel that he touched was to be broken, and any wooden implement was to be rinsed with water. (Lev. 15:12.) Seven days after the discharge ended, he was to wash his clothes, bathe his body in fresh water, and be clean. (Lev. 15:13.) On the eighth day, he was to give two turtle doves or two pigeons to the priest, who was to offer them to make expiation. (Lev. 15:14–15.)

When a man had an emission of semen, he was to bathe and remain unclean until evening. (Lev. 15:16.) All material on which semen fell was to be washed in water and remain unclean until evening. (Lev. 15:17.) And if a man had carnal relations with a woman, they were both to bathe and remain unclean until evening. (Lev. 15:18.)

Menstruation

When a woman had a menstrual discharge, she was to remain impure seven days, and whoever touched her was to be unclean until evening. (Lev. 15:19.) Anything that she lay on or sat on was unclean. (Lev. 15:20.) Anyone who touched her bedding or any object on which she has sat was to wash his clothes, bathe in water, and remain unclean until evening. (Lev. 15:21–23.) And if a man lay with her, her impurity was communicated to him and he was to be unclean seven days, and any bedding on which he lay became unclean. (Lev. 15:24.) When a woman had an irregular discharge of blood, she was to be unclean as long as her discharge lasted. (Lev. 15:25–27.) Seven days after the discharge ended, she was to be clean. (Lev. 15:28.) On the eighth day, she was to give two turtle doves or two pigeons to the priest, who was to offer them to make expiation. (Lev. 15:29–30.)

God told Moses and Aaron to put the Israelites on guard against uncleanness, lest they die by defiling God’s Tabernacle. (Lev. 15:31.)

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Leviticus chapter 14

Tractate Negaim in the Mishnah and Tosefta interpreted the laws of skin disease in Leviticus 14. (Mishnah Negaim 1:1–14:13; Tosefta Negaim 1:1–9:9.)

Leviticus 18:4 calls on the Israelites to obey God’s “statutes” (hukim) and “ordinances” (mishpatim). The Rabbis in a Baraita taught that the “ordinances” (mishpatim) were commandments that logic would have dictated that we follow even had Scripture not commanded them, like the laws concerning idolatry, adultery, bloodshed, robbery, and blasphemy. And “statutes” (hukim) were commandments that the Adversary challenges us to violate as beyond reason, like those relating to purification of the person with tzaraat (in Leviticus 14), shaatnez (in Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:11), halizah (in Deuteronomy 25:5–10), and the scapegoat (in Leviticus 16). So that people do not think these “ordinances” (mishpatim) to be empty acts, in Leviticus 18:4, God says, “I am the Lord,” indicating that the Lord made these statutes, and we have no right to question them. (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 67b.)

Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbi Joseph ben Zimra that anyone who bears evil tales (lashon hara) will be visited by the plague of skin disease (tzaraat), as it is said in Psalm 101:5: “Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I destroy (azmit).” The Gemara read azmit to allude to tzaraat, and cited how Leviticus 25:23 says “in perpetuity” (la-zemitut). And Resh Lakish interpreted the words of Leviticus 14:2, “This shall be the law of the person with skin disease (metzora),” to mean, “This shall be the law for him who brings up an evil name (motzi shem ra).” (Babylonian Talmud Arachin 15b.)

Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Johanan that skin disease results from seven things: slander, the shedding of blood, vain oath, incest, arrogance, robbery, and envy. The Gemara cited scriptural bases for each of the associations: For slander, Psalm 101:5; for bloodshed, 2Samuel 3:29; for a vain oath, 2Kings 5:23–27; for incest, Genesis 12:17; for arrogance, 2Chronicles 26:16–19; for robbery, Leviticus 14:36 (as a Tanna taught that those who collect money that does not belong to them will see a priest come and scatter their money around the street); and for envy, Leviticus 14:35. (Babylonian Talmud Arakhin 16a.)

A midrash taught that Divine Justice first attacks a person’s substance and then the person’s body. So when leprous plagues come upon a person, first they come upon the fabric of the person’s house. If the person repents, then Leviticus 14:40 requires that only the affected stones need to be pulled out; if the person does not repent, then Leviticus 14:45 requires pulling down the house. Then the plagues come upon the person’s clothes. If the person repents, then the clothes require washing; if not, they require burning. Then the plagues come upon the person’s body. If the person repents, Leviticus 14:1–32 provides for purification; if not, then Leviticus 13:46 ordains that the person “shall dwell alone.” (Leviticus Rabbah 17:4; Ruth Rabbah 2:10.)

In the priest’s examination of skin disease mandated by Leviticus 13:2, 9, and Leviticus-nb 14:2, the Mishnah taught that a priest could examine anyone else’s symptoms, but not his own. And Rabbi Meir taught that the priest could not examine his relatives. (Mishnah Negaim 2:5; Deuteronomy Rabbah 6:8.) The Mishnah taught that the priests delayed examining a bridegroom until after his seven days of rejoicing, and delayed examining anyone until after a holy day. (Mishnah Negaim 3:2.)

Techelet

blue tekhelet thread on a set of tzitzit

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught that Leviticus 14:4 required “two living clean birds” to be brought to purify the person afflicted with skin disease because the afflicted person did the work of a babbler in spreading evil tales, and therefore Leviticus 14:4 required that the afflicted person offer babbling birds as a sacrifice. (Babylonian Talmud Arakhin 16b.)

Rabbi Hanina ben Gamaliel interpreted the words “completely blue (תְּכֵלֶת, tekhelet)” in Exodus 28:31 to teach that blue dye used to test the dye is unfit for further use to dye the blue, tekhelet strand of a tzitzit, interpreting the word “completely” to mean “full strength.” But Rabbi Johanan ben Dahabai taught that even the second dyeing using the same dye is valid, reading the words “and scarlet” (וּשְׁנִי תוֹלַעַת, ushni tolalat) in Leviticus 14:4 to mean “a second [dying] of red wool.” (Babylonian Talmud Menachot 42b.)

A midrash noted that God commanded the Israelites to perform certain precepts with similar material from trees: God commanded that the Israelites throw cedar wood and hyssop into the Red Heifer mixture of Numbers 19:6 and use hyssop to sprinkle the resulting waters of lustration in Numbers 19:18; God commanded that the Israelites use cedar wood and hyssop to purify those stricken with skin disease in Leviticus 14:4–6; and in Egypt God commanded the Israelites to use the bunch of hyssop to strike the lintel and the two side-posts with blood in Exodus 12:22. (Exodus Rabbah 17:1.)

When Rav Dimi came from the Land of Israel, he said in the name of Rabbi Johanan that there were three red threads: one in connection with the red cow in Numbers 19:6, the second in connection with the scapegoat in the Yom Kippur service of Leviticus 16:7–10 (which Mishnah Yoma 4:2 indicates was marked with a red thread), and the third in connection with the person with skin disease (the m’tzora) in Leviticus 14:4. Rav Dimi reported that one weighed ten zuz, another weighed two selas, and the third weighed a shekel, but he could not say which was which. When Rabin came, he said in the name of Rabbi Jonathan that the thread in connection with the red cow weighed ten zuz, that of the scapegoat weighed two selas, and that of the person with skin disease weighed a shekel. Rabbi Johanan said that Rabbi Simeon ben Halafta and the Sages disagreed about the thread of the red cow, one saying that it weighed ten shekels, the other that it weighed one shekel. Rabbi Jeremiah of Difti said to Rabina that they disagreed not about the thread of the red cow, but about that of the scapegoat. (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 41b–42a.)

A Baraita taught that because Leviticus 14:34 speaks of “the house of the land of your possession,” only houses in the Land of Israel could become defiled through leprosy. (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 12a.)

Rabbi Isaac taught that when a man asked to borrow his friend’s ax or sieve, and the friend out of selfishness replied that he did not have one, then immediately the plague would attack the friend’s house. And as Leviticus 14:36 required that they remove everything that he had in his house, including his axes and his sieves, the people would see his possessions and exclaim how selfish he had been. (Deuteronomy Rabbah 6:8.)

A Baraita taught that there never was a leprous house within the meaning of Leviticus 14:33–53 and never will be. The Gemara asked why then the law was written, and replied that it was so that one may study it and receive reward. But Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Zadok and Rabbi Simeon of Kefar Acco both cited cases where local tradition reported the ruins of such houses, in Gaza and Galilee, respectively. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 71a.)

Leviticus chapter 15

Tractate Zavim in the Mishnah and Tosefta interpreted the laws of male genital discharges in Leviticus 15:1–18. (Mishnah Zavim 1:1–5:12; Tosefta Zavim 1:1–5:12.)

Tractate Niddah in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of menstruation in Leviticus 15:19–33. (Mishnah Niddah 1:1–10:8; Tosefta Niddah 1:1–9:19; Jerusalem Talmud Niddah 1a–; Babylonian Talmud Niddah 2a–73a.)

Commandments

According Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are 11 positive and no negative commandments in the parshah:

  • To carry out the prescribed rules for purifying the person affected by tzara'at (Lev. 14:2.)
  • The person affected by tzara'at must shave off all his hair prior to purification. (Lev. 14:9.)
  • Every impure person must immerse in a mikvah to become pure. (Lev. 14:9.)
  • A person affected by tzara'at must bring an offering after going to the mikvah. (Lev. 14:10.)
  • To observe the laws of impurity caused by a house's tzara'at (Lev. 14:35.)
  • To observe the laws of impurity caused by a man's running issue (Lev. 15:3.)
  • A man who had a running issue must bring an offering after he goes to the mikvah. (Lev. 15:13–14.)
  • To observe the laws of impurity of a seminal emission (Lev. 15:16.)
  • To observe the laws of menstrual impurity (Lev. 15:19.)
  • To observe the laws of impurity caused by a woman's running issue (Lev. 15:25.)
  • A woman who had a running issue must bring an offering after she goes to the mikvah. (Lev. 15:28–29.)

(Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 2:233–75. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1984. ISBN 0-87306-296-5.)

Haftarah

The haftarah for the parshah is 2 Kings 7:3–20. Both the parshah and the haftarah deal with people stricken with skin disease.

Ezekiel

Ezekiel (painting by Michelangelo)

On Shabbat HaChodesh

When the parshah coincides with Shabbat HaChodesh ("Sabbath [of] the month," the special Sabbath preceding the Hebrew month of Nissan — as it did in 2008), the haftarah is:

On Shabbat HaChodesh, Jews read Exodus 12:1–20, in which God commands that “This month [Nissan] shall be the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year” (Exodus 12:2), and in which God issued the commandments of Passover. (Exodus 12:3–20.) Similarly, the haftarah in Ezekiel 45:21–25 discusses Passover. In both the special reading and the haftarah, God instructs the Israelites to apply blood to doorposts. (Exodus 12:7; Ezekiel 45:19.)

On Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

When the parshah coincides with Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (as it does in 2009), the haftarah is Isaiah 66:1–24.

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:

Biblical

Philon

Philo

Early nonrabbinic

Josephus

Josephus

Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Pesachim 8:5; Shekalim 5:3; Moed Katan 3:1–2; Nazir 7:3; Horayot 1:3; Zevachim 4:3; Menachot 5:6–7, 9:3; Bekhorot 7:2; Negaim 1:1–14:13; Parah 1:4, 6:5; Niddah 1:1–10:8; Zavim 1:1–5:12. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 245, 259, 327, 443–44, 690, 706, 743, 751, 801, 981–1012, 1014, 1021, 1077–95, 1108–17. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Tosefta: Demai 2:7; Challah 2:7; Sotah 1:8; Menachot 7:16, 10:1; Chullin 10:14; Negaim 1:1–9:9; Niddah 1:1–9:19; Zavim 1:1–5:12. Land of Israel, circa 300 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:85, 339, 835; 2:1404, 1438, 1450, 1709–44, 1779–808, 1887–99. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
  • Sifra 148:1–173:9. Land of Israel, 4th Century C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Sifra: An Analytical Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 2:325–429. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988. ISBN 1-55540-206-2.
  • Jerusalem Talmud: Orlah 6a, 39a; Niddah 1a–. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vol. 12. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2007–2009.
  • Mekhilta of Rabbi Simeon 13:1; 57:3; 59:3. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai. Translated by W. David Nelson, 43, 258, 268. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2006. ISBN 0-8276-0799-7.
  • Leviticus Rabbah 16:1–19:6; 34:6. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Leviticus. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, 4:199–249, 431. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
First page of the first tractate of the Talmud (Daf Beis of Maseches Brachos)

Talmud

  • Babylonian Talmud: Shabbat 2b, 11b, 59a, 62b, 64a–b, 71b, 83a, 84a–b, 86b, 109a, 132a; Eruvin 4a–b, 14b, 51a, 82b; Pesachim 3a, 24a, 59a–b, 65b, 67b–68a, 85b, 90b, 92a, 109a; Yoma 5a, 6a, 11b–12a, 24a, 30b–31a, 41b, 61a–b, 62b, 63a; Sukkah 3a–b, 5b–6a; Beitzah 32a; Taanit 26b; Megillah 8a–b, 20a–21a, 26a; Moed Katan 5a, 7a–b, 13b, 14b, 15a–16a, 17b, 25b, 27b; Chagigah 9b, 11a, 23b; Yevamot 5a, 7a, 17b, 34b, 46b, 49b, 54a, 69b, 73a, 102b, 103b–04a, 105a; Ketubot 61b, 64b, 72a, 75a; Nedarim 35b–36a, 56a–b; Nazir 3b, 5a, 8b, 15b, 25b, 27a, 29a, 38a, 39b, 40b–41a, 43a, 44a–b, 46b, 47b, 54a–b, 56a–b, 57b–58a, 60a–b, 65b–66a; Sotah 5b, 8a, 15b–16b, 29b; Gittin 46a, 82a; Kiddushin 15a, 25a, 33b, 56b–57b, 68a, 70b; Bava Kamma 17b, 24a, 25a–b, 66b, 82a–b; Bava Metzia 31a; Bava Batra 9b, 24a, 164b, 166a; Sanhedrin 45b, 48b, 71a, 87b–88a, 92a; Makkot 13b, 21a; Shevuot 6a–b, 8a, 11a, 14b, 17b, 18a–b; Avodah Zarah 34a, 47b, 74a; Horayot 3b–4a, 8b, 10a; Zevachim 6b, 8a, 17b, 24b, 32b, 40a, 43a, 44a–b, 47b, 49a, 54b, 76b, 90b, 91b, 105a, 112b; Menachot 3a, 5a, 8a, 9a–10a, 15b, 18b, 24a, 27a–b, 35b, 42b, 48b, 61a, 64b, 73a, 76b, 86b, 88a, 89a, 91a, 101b, 106b; Chullin 10b, 24b, 27a, 35a, 49b, 51b, 62a, 71b, 72b, 82a, 85a, 106a, 123b, 128b, 133a, 140a, 141a, 142a; Bekhorot 32a, 38a, 45b; Arakhin 3a, 8a, 15b–17b; Keritot 8a–b, 9b, 10b, 25a, 28a; Meilah 11a, 18a, 19a–b; Niddah 2a–73a. Babylonia, 6th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.
Rashi woodcut

Rashi

Medieval

  • Exodus Rabbah 17:1. 10th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Exodus. Translated by S. M. Lehrman, 3:211. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Rashi. Commentary. Leviticus 14–15. Troyes, France, late 11th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 3:159–90. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-89906-028-5.
  • Judah Halevi. Kuzari. 3:53. Toledo, Spain, 1130–1140. Reprinted in, e.g., Jehuda Halevi. Kuzari: An Argument for the Faith of Israel. Intro. by Henry Slonimsky, 181. New York: Schocken, 1964. ISBN 0-8052-0075-4.
Zohar

Zohar

Modern

EmilyDickinson

Dickinson

External links

Texts

Commentaries


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