We now begin to move from the laws of kashrut to the laws of cleanliness. These two chapters cover the topic of cleanliness for a woman after giving birth, and for tzara’at, or leprosy (actually, it could also mean some other form of skin disease or mold).
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Without going into the details, women become unclean, ceremonially, after giving birth by means of the bodily secretions that occur as a result of the birth. There were two different times periods she had to wait before she was to make a sacrifice to be cleansed, depending on whether she gave birth to a boy or to a girl.
The rules for tzara’at are also very detailed: first the person goes to the Cohen for an inspection, cleans himself, is then separated from the camp for a week, and after the 7 days goes back for inspection. These rules also apply to any clothing that has tzara’at (except the clothing is locked away).
If the boils or sores do not go away, that person is unclean and remains separated, outside the main camp until such time, if any, the sores disappear. If the clothing doesn’t appear to be cleaned of the disease, it is burned.
If the sores do disappear, the process of inspection, waiting period, and re-inspection happen all over again. This time, if the Cohen determines the disease is gone, the person cleans him/herself, performs the sacrifice, and then is allowed back into the society.
There are two main arguments for these regulations: the hygienic and the levitical.
The hygienic argument is that these rules were given by God in order to maintain the general health of the population, keeping people from becoming infectious and possibly creating a plague.
I can understand God wanting to prevent someone causing a plague; reading the Tanakh, it seems to me that plagues are one of God’s favorite punishments, and I don’t blame him for not wanting to share that with some mere human.
The levitical argument is that the rules and regulations about cleanliness are religious in nature, dealing more with spiritual defilement than physical sickness. Those who were unclean were forbidden from entering the Sanctuary because their physical uncleanliness would also represent their spiritual uncleanliness, which would defile the Sanctuary.
God is very clear throughout the Torah that only those who were clean could come into his presence.
Now, these two apparently opposing arguments are, in fact, not exclusive but inclusive. Being infected with a contagious disease is a really good reason to be separated from the population, and as such, not allowed into the Sanctuary where people are gathered in prayer. And even when cleansed of the physical disease, the sacrifice is required to bring that person back into spiritual communion with God after having been physically separated from God’s presence (in the Sanctuary).
So what does it come down to? If I am muddy, I am dirty, but does that make me unclean according to the Torah?
No, it doesn’t, but you should clean up before going to Shul, that’s for sure!
The clean and unclean regulations did not apply so much to everyday living, but to being allowed into the Sanctuary. They were designed not just to help maintain a healthy population, but to also prevent any defilement of the holy things.
Holiness means to be separated: the holy is separated from the common, and in the same manner, the (spiritually) unclean is separated from the (spiritually) clean.
God tells us what he considers to be clean and unclean, and if we do not want to be separated from God, then we need to understand the difference and how to be cleansed when we become unclean.
Through Yeshua, the need to bring an animal to the Sanctuary to present as a sacrifice is no longer necessary, but we still need to obey the laws. So, if you have a bodily secretion, wash yourself and change your clothes, then in the evening (which for Jews is the next day) you will be clean and can go to the Temple. However, if you are a woman and in your time of Nidah (menstrual cycle), technically, you should not go to your house of worship until after the cycle is completed and you bathe, in accordance with the rules in this parashah.
NOTE: The bath that men and women take in order to become ceremonially clean is called the Mikvah. The baptism, which is not a ceremonial cleansing but a physical representation of a spiritual change, is called a T’villa. Yochanon the Immerser (John the Baptist) had people undergo a T’villa, not a Mikvah.
Do you know why Orthodox men will not shake hands with a woman or take something from her hand? It’s because they do not know if she is in her time of Nidah. It is not a form of abasement or disrespect, it is simply self-protection because if she is “unclean”, then touching her or taking something from her will transmit her uncleanliness to them.
Whether or not you obey these rules is up to you, just as it is with anything God says we should do in the Torah. But if you decide to ignore them, remember this: God didn’t give us the Torah so we could ignore it, or pick-and-choose what we wanted to do, and Yeshua never told anyone to ignore anything his father said to do.
God gave us commandments to live by. In Deuteronomy 28, he promises to bless us when we obey, and that we will be cursed when we disobey: just a little something to think about next time someone tells you that you don’t have to do any of that “Jewish” stuff.
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That’s it for this week, so l’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!