Shema Yisrael Home

              Fish&Soup.jpg - 12464 Bytes Subscribe

   by Jacob Solomon

Tihs Week's Parsha | Previous issues | Welcome - Please Read!



1. Why, in Temple times, did a woman have to bring both (a) a sin offering (following Talmud Nidah 31b) and (b) a burnt offering (following Ibn Ezra) after purification following childbirth?

2. The word 'tzaraat' is popularly translated as 'leprosy'. Why does Hirsch disagree with this rendering, and what does he suggest as a more accurate meaning?

3. A small amount of 'tzaraat' qualifies for the status of 'metzora' - therefore impure. A maximum amount of 'tzaraat' - full body cover - however renders the sufferer 'tahor' - clean. How is this apparent contradiction viewed by (a) Rabbeinu Bachye, and (b) Hirsch?

4. Following the Kli Yakar, for what sins was 'tzaraat' a Divine punishment?

5. Why, according to Rashi, is a certified Metzora excluded from community?

6. What categories of garments could acquire 'tzaraat'?

7. What lesson is the presence of 'tzaraat' in garments meant to teach the owner, according to the Rambam?


1. The sin offering, following Nidah 31b), was to atone for the possibility that in her agonies of childbirth she may have sworn never to live with her husband again. The burnt offering (following Ibn Ezra) after purification following childbirth atones for resentful thoughts she may have had against her husband, or against G-d, during her labor pains.

2. The word 'tzaraat' is popularly translated as 'leprosy'. Hirsch, however demonstrates that both its physical symptoms and spiritual causes are not connected with leprosy. Instead, he understands it as a unpleasant Divine-induced experience, so that the may experience the anguish his conduct caused others (see answer to #5), which should lead him to the right frame of mind, repentance, and eventual recovery.

3. According to Rabbeinu Bachya, this aspect of the law of Tzaraat is a decree of the Torah which is beyond human understanding. Hirsch, however, regards his skin becoming completely covered in Tzaraat as indeed a more severe stage than partial cover. Why is he then declared pure? He is, in effect, being spared the pains of being isolated as a Metzora because he has sunk to such a low spiritual level that the painful Metzora experience will not persuade him to change his personal conduct for the better.

4. Tzaraat, according to the Kli Yakar's quoted sources has its spiritual roots in anti-social conduct - namely haughtimess, evil gossip, and greed.

5. According to Rashi, a certified sufferer of Tzaraat is excluded from community because his affliction is a punishment for slander. As slander destroys relationships between family and friends, it is fitting that he, likewise, should know what it is to suffer isolation from family, friends, and from the whole community.

6. The categories of garments that may acquire 'tzaraat' include those made of wool and linen (including the processed threads not yet woven into the garment), and leather. (13:47-8)

7. The presence of 'tzaraat' in garments is meant to be a warning to its owner of the evils of selfish behavior and gossip. According to the Rambam (Hilchot Tumat Tzaraat 16:10), the first stage of Tzaraat affects property, and if that message goes unheeded, it will occur on the body of the offender himself.


Regarding the laws of a woman immediately after childbirth…

The Talmud (Berachot 54b) brings the following tradition, based on Psalm 107. Four categories of people are required to bring a thanksgiving offering: those surviving journeys by sea, or desert, and those who recovered from dangerous illness, or were freed from perilous imprisonment. Surely it would be more fitting for a woman who survived the rigors and pains of childbirth to also bring a thanksgiving offering, rather than to have to bring a sin offering?


1. Which items does the 'metzora' bring for each stage of the three stages of his purification?

2. What do the various items used in the first stage signify, according to Rashi?

3. What, following the Talmud (Yoma 11b), is the appearance of 'tzaraat' on a house meant to teach the owner?

4. What is the difference between a 'nidda' and a 'zavah'? How have the Rabbis applied the Torah laws of both 'nidda' and 'zavah' to the practiced Halacha applying to a woman having had a menstrual discharge?


1. Following the text:

(a) In the first stage of purification, he brings two birds that are permitted to be eaten, cedar wood, crimson thread, and hyssop.

(b) In second stage - on the seventh day - nothing - that is the day he shaves.

(c) The final stage the day after his shaving: he brings two unblemished male lambs and a one year old ewe, with the specified measures of flour and oil. The two lambs are for the guilt offering and the elevation offering, and the ewe is for the sin offering. If he cannot afford those animals, he may bring two turtle doves or two young doves for the elevation offering and for the sin offering.

2. According to Rashi:

(a) The two birds represent the sin of the Metzora. Because his being afflicted with 'tzaraat' came in response to his gossip and slander, the process of his purification incorporates an element of his sin - the twittering and chirping of the birds reminding him of his own gossiping...

(b) The cedar wood - likewise reminds him of his sin, but another aspect of it - namely the pride and haughtiness that allowed him to slight others with his gossip with such ease. As the cedar tree grows tall, imposing, and wide, it reminds him of his the haughtiness that caused him to sin in the first place.

(c) The crimson thread and hyssop - point out to the 'metzora' how he should conduct his life in the future - namely with humility. The thread is wool dyed with a pigment from a species of worm... The hyssop is a lowly bush... likewise impressing upon the penitent the new path of humility.

3. Following the Talmud (Yoma 11b), the appearance of 'tzaraat' on a house meant to teach the owner (14:38) the evils of selfishness. For his sin was the notion that his house is exclusively his own, and that he does not have to share his blessings with anyone else. When someone wanted to borrow something from him, he would reply that he did not have such an item. By bringing 'tzaraat' to his house, G-d forces him to remove his belongings from it, so that his property is seen by all and his meanness is duly noted.

4. The Torah laws of 'nidda' apply to a woman who has a menstrual discharge at the usual time in her cycle. According to Torah law (15:19), she has to count seven days from the onset of the discharge, and she may immerse herself and become pure at the end of that seven-day period so long as the discharge has ceased by then.

A woman becomes a 'zava' when she experiences a menstrual discharge outside her normal time of the month. If such a discharge lasts a three-day period, she is required to wait until the discharge is finished, and then count seven consecutive days which are clean from the discharge - and only afterwards she purifies herself.

However, the practice today is to add to every 'nidda' some of the stringencies of 'zava'. That is because, following the Talmud (Nidda 66a), it is in practice difficult to distinguish between 'nidda', and 'zava' - whose laws are much stricter. Therefore a woman in the state of 'nidda' waits (with a minimum period) until the discharge ceases, and only then begins to count the seven 'clean' days.


This last form of tzaraat mentioned in this part of the Torah is that which affects homes. On that, the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 17:6) states the following tradition. 'Tzaraat' for homes implies a blessing for the house owner, within the unpleasantness of tzaraat. For the Amorites (part of the Caananites) hid their valuables in the walls of their homes to prevent them from falling into the hands of the conquering Israelites. The enforced removal of parts of the walls, or the entire destruction of the house, would release those hidden treasures.

Two questions present themselves.

Firstly, the texts that deal with tzaraat in people and garments are brought together. The separate section on tzaraat in houses follows only later on. Why are the three types of tzaraat not presented in the same section? What is special about the tzaraat of homes which merits a special part in the Torah?

Secondly, how does one understand the Midrashic tradition which states that the house-owner may be rewarded with hidden treasure? For, as stated above, tzaraat is a sign of moral deficiency. According to the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 17:2), the reason that all the contents of the house are to be removed before the Priest (Cohen) inspects is not just to prevent their contamination if the house is declared impure. It brings an additional reason - it is a corrective for the selfishness that brought about the tzaraat in the first place. As R. Zev Leff writes in Shiurei Bina, selfish people often pretend that they possess less than they really do in order to avoid a situation where they will be required to lend others their possessions, or contribute to some worthy cause. Having to remove all ones possessions in public causes acute embarrassment and helps to atone for and correct lack of generosity. Why does the Torah, according to the Midrash, imply that the selfish will be rewarded?

My efforts at tackling the issues raised above may be found on the Shema Yisrael website for Parashiot Tazria-Metzora for 5761.

Other Parashiot from previous years may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

From the Prophets on the Haftara


Shema Yisrael Home

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to

Jerusalem, Israel