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"Beware of tzaraat… and follow the instructions of the Priests and the Levites, according to the way that I have instructed them. Remember what G-d did to Miriam, on your journey from Egypt" (Deut. 24:8-9).
Amongst the places in Mishneh Torah (the repeating of the Torah, alias Deuteronomy) where direct reference is made to something taught previously, two stand out.
Firstly, the law of tzaraat (popularly, but not quite accurately translated as leprosy). Moses reminds the Israelites of how to avoid it and how to deal with it, in just two sentences. Do not gossip (avoid it), and follow the Priest's instructions (how to deal with it). No more information there. The details of its varieties are dealt with at length elsewhere, namely in these parashiot - Tazria and Metzora.
Secondly, the laws of shechita - the slaughtering of animals. Like tzaraat, there is a short reference in Mishneh Torah - where Moses reminded the Israelites of the Torah's content and importance before he died). "When you live too far away from the place that G-d chooses, you may slaughter animals for your own consumption according the way that I have commanded you" (Deut. 12:21). "According to the way that I have commanded you" with shechita parallels "according to the way I have instructed them" with the laws of tzaraat.
Indeed, the Torah gives the details of the instructions for tzaraat in parashiot Tazria and Metzora. But there is no parallel passage in the Torah giving the procedures of shechita. Why are the pointed-to details of tzaraat set out in full, yet the pointed-to details of shechita "you may slaughter… as I have commanded you" not presented in depth elsewhere in the Torah?
Rashi emphasizes that "as I have commanded you" with shechita refers to the Torah tradition, the Oral Law - for example that the knife should be ultra-sharp and smooth. But if so, why should the Torah include the specifications of tzaraat to the Written Law, and consign the details of shechita to the Oral Law, to tradition?
In response, I heard one of my mentors say: "If you want to bore someone, just tell them all the details". The Torah is to instruct and inspire, not to bore. The Torah demands personal and communal interaction, which requires the persistent effort to learn it to the degree that you are fluent in it and can comfortably pass the tradition from one generation to the next. However, the Torah also knows human nature. People have to eat, and also want to know that they're 'doing it right'. So the laws of shechita are not going to be forgotten. But talking of tzaraat is facing one of the less pleasant things of life where human nature is to turn away and forget about it, on the grounds that "it should never happen to me/us". For that reason, its details are spelt out in full and not kept just in tradition.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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