Aliya-by-Aliya Parshat Tazria-M'tzora 5759

Numbers in [brackets] are the mitzva-count according to the Sefer HaChinuch. Other counts vary.

Kohen First Aliya - 13+12+6 = 31 p'sukim - (12:1-13:23)

Chapter 12 (but we know where chapters come from) deals with "birth". A woman becomes "ritually unclean" following a (normal) birth - one week for a boy and two weeks for a girl. This period of TUM'A is followed by a special "waiting time", after which the mother is to bring the korbanot of a YOLEDET. The whole issue ofthe "ritual impurity of a woman having given birth" constitutes a mitzva [166], as does the bringing of the sacrifices [168]. This portion of the Torah is also the source of the general prohibition of eating "sacred meat" while in a state of "ritual impurity" [167].


To oversimplify: one aspect of the rules of ritual purity and impurity (Tahara and Tum'a) is to show the sharp contrast between life and death. This can be seen in the Tum'a of a dead body, in the laws of Nidah, the rules of pregnancy, as well as the Yoledet. A woman's period signifies that life has not begun within her- there is TUM'A. A pregnant woman has life developing within her - TA'HARA. When that life emerges into the world, she is no longer carrying that extra life - TUM'A.

Another aspect of the procedures for the new mother is geared to help her recoup her physical, psychological and emotional identity and well-being.

Circumcision is to be performed on the eighth day from birth.


The mitzva of MILA has already been counted among the 613 from Parshat Lech Lecha where HaShem commands Avraham Avinu to circumcise himself and all the males of his household. The text here in Tazria teaches us additional rules for MILA - e.g. an eighth day MILA can take place on Shabbat (a delayed brit may not); a babydelivered by C-section is not circumcised on Shabbat, even though it is his 8th day. Circumcision may not be done at night. This is one of several examples of mitzvot presented more than once in the Torah. Each repetition teaches new things about the mitzva which could not be indicated by a single text only.

So why is MILA counted from Lech L'cha and not Tazria where it is presented in the form of a command, rather than pre-Sinai, story context? Part of the answer is that the Mitzva of Mila is much, much more than the surgical removal of the foreskin. Taking the mitzva from Avraham Avinu adds the dimension of the whole Jewishway of Life that is symbolized by the performance of Mila. Mila is a membership rite of the Jew. The Lech L'cha context teaches that too.

Chapter 13 begins the section in the Torah dealing with a wide variety of N'GA'IM (skin afflictions).

Under certain circumstances, a kohen might declare the afflicted individual a Metzora rendering him immediately ritually unclean. Or, a kohen might order a one week quarantine with an additional examination to determine the status of the individual scheduled on the seventh day. It is also possible for the quarantine tobe extended for an additional week.

A kohen must examine a case of suspected Tzora'at. He looks for changes in coloration of skin and hair, raised or sunken appearance of the blemished area, increase, decrease or no change in size, and other signs. Sometimes he declares immediate Tzora'at. Sometimes "ritual purity" is declared immediately, in which case atrip to the pharmacy for a salve might be the best thing. And sometimes a quarantine period is declared.

The Torah presents further details on what the kohen looks for when inspecting boils and similar afflictions on the skin. The elaborate checking and time delays from inspection to inspection serve to give the afflicted person ample time for introspection. A NEGA on the outside mirrors a character blemish or a religiousshortcoming on the inside. While the kohen examines the external, the Metzora does a thorough job of seeing his own inner being.

Levi Second Aliya - 5+11 = 16 p'sukim - (13:24-39)

This portion discusses burns on the skin and different colorations within the affected area. Keep in mind that a blemish of any sort is NOT Tzora'at unless declared so by a kohen. It could look like Tzora'at, but it isn't unless declared "Tamei". In fact, two people can have identical signs and one can be declared a Metzora,the other not so. And the treatment of each case is completely different as a result. We are dealing with a physical- spiritual kind of manifestation. We are much more used to either or, not a combination.

This portion deals with yet another type or two of N'GA'IM - sores on the head, neck, or face, and blotches on the skin. As was mentioned before, we are dealing here with a complex issue of a bridge between the physical and the spiritual. Or, to put it differently, of physical manifestations of spiritual problems.

To help understand this idea better, think of the following analogy: There are physical afflictions and psychological problems that people can suffer. Sometimes, each type is treated independently. But sometimes, a trained professional in the field will see the physical problems as manifestations of the psychological problems.And sometimes, vice versa. In those cases, it is very important for the professional to decide what gets treated and what will improve when the other does, even without special attention.

This was only an analogy, but this is one of the lessons of Torat HaMetzora, the laws of N'GA'IM. The laws regarding the state of ritual impurity resulting from Tzora'at constitute a positive commandment [169]. In other words, we would be doing the wrong thing to ignore these laws and details. There is a specific prohibitionof cutting the hair of a Tzora'at area on the body [170]. Among other reasons, this would remove an important indicator for the inspecting kohen.

Sh'lishi Third Aliya -15 p'sukim - 13:40-54

Certain cases of baldness are discussed in the first part of this portion. Usually, baldness is just baldness. But occasionally, the skin that is exposed when the hair falls out is blemished in specific ways which might mean Tzora'at. A person who has Tzora'at, tears his clothes, lets his hair hang loose, and must announcein public that he is TAMEI. The proper conduct of the Metzora is a mitzva [171].

The rest of this Aliya deals with infection of Tzora'at on garments. Wool, linen, and leather are the materials that are subject to Tzora'at HaBeged. The laws of infected gargarments also constitute one of the 613 mitzvot [172].

R'vi'i Fourth Aliya - 5+12+8 = 25 p'sukim - (13:55-14:20)

The fourth Aliya is always the bridge Aliya between the two sedras when we read them combined. For your information (in short), there are 7 pairs of sedras that are combined under certain circumstances. Some of the pairs (but not all) relate to whether the year has one or two Adars. Others help adjust the cycle of Torahreading to match a Shabbat more or a Shabbat less in a given year. Some pairs help out when Israel and Chutz LaAretz get out of synch, as will happen this year after Shavuot. More on this then. T-M is one of the less complicated pairs, always combined when there is only one Adar.

The topic of "afflictions of garments is continued in this Aliya.

The fact that there was such a thing as an affliction of a garment tells us something. We are dealing with different ways that G-d communicates his "displeasure" with us, as individuals. Today, we might say, His communication is more subtle - but we must see it... and react appropriately.

The afflictions dealt with in Tazria are immediately dealt with by the procedures described in M'tzora.

The main theme of M'tzora is the "ritual purification" of the one afflicted with Tzora'at. These procedures constitute a positive mitzva [173]. Two birds are to be taken, a ceremony is performed with them, one bird is offered as a sacrifice, and the other is set free. The person immerses in a mikve, he cleans his garments,and he shaves all the hair on his body [174]. The rules of ritual immersion in general, come from this context [175].

Mitzva Watch

The 12th and final chapter of Chulin deals with the mitzva of Shilu'ach HaKen (the sending away of the mother bird). The final mishna deals with the situation when that mitzva might clash with the purification of the M'tzora. What if the only bird available to the M'tzora for his atoning offering is a mother dove hoveringover her nest? Do we say the positive mitzva of Taharat HaM'tzora overrides the prohibition of taking the mother bird? This would fit a general rule: a positive commandment overrides a prohibition. Yet this is not the case. Even for a mitzva, and even when the bird will be released alive, as is the case of the second ofthe M'tzora's two birds, one may not violate the Shilu'ach HaKen mitzva.

There are technical reasons based on the wording in the verses for this rule. Yet there might be another concept afoot. Shilu'ach HaKen is a "showcase" mitzva. It is one of the rare mitzvot for which a reward is specified - Arichat Yamim. The mitzvadefies common logic and reasoning. It contains enigmatic qualities of a CHOK - a Divine imperative, not readily explainable. And its reward is implied for many other mitzvot by reasoning of a Kal VaChomer - if this mitzva is rewarded thusly, then certainly the more difficult mitzvot must carry with them great reward. Bethat as it may, we can possibly learn that the pursuit of personal improvement may not be at the expense of others, be they human or animal. [Note: this is only food for thought and should not be generalized; doing so can lead to contradictory notions. beware!]

The purification process is completed after bringing various korbanot, following a seven day period and the other procedures, as mentioned above [176].

[SDT] Notice how the M'tzora is isolated from others during the time he is ritually unclean. That gives him time to examine himself, his deeds, his thoughts. But as part of the process of purification, as part of the process of having a second chance in the world, he is ministered to by a kohen who becomes the first contactin his renewal procedure.

Chamishi Fifth Aliya -12 p'sukim - 14:21-32

A person who cannot afford the animals for the sacrifices, is to bring two birds as his offering. The Torah describes the rituals involved in these offerings. It is not important how much the sacrifice is worth on a dollars and cents basis (shekels and agorot), but what is relative to the means of the atoner.

Shishi Sixth Aliya - 21+19 = 30 p'sukim - 14:33-15:15

The Torah next discusses Tzora'at that can afflict a person's house. This can only be in the Land of Israel, in a house made of specific materials, and under specific conditions [177]. Once again, it is the kohen who makes the determination as to whether Tzora'at does exist, or Yosef from Walls R Us or Judy Paikin shouldbe consulted. In the case of a "house plague", there are procedures to be followed and purification processes, including korbanot to be brought.

[SDT] Not only does a person's body contain elements of spirituality, but even his home - specifically in Eretz Yisrael. Although we do not "practice" this whole topic today, the lessons of the bridge and connection between the physical world and the spiritual one cannot be overlooked. A person whose home is a meeting placefor Torah scholars, a launching pad for acts of charity and kindness, a training ground for a new generation of sensitive, feeling, enthusiastic Jews, such a home cannot be infected by spiritual plague. A home devoid of spirituality is a prime target for Nig'ei HaBayit. In this case, it is not the anti-rust and anti-moldpaint that makes the difference. It is the values that a Jew lives by and their affect on the next generation.

Next the Torah speaks of the status of a man with an "unnatural discharge" (probably a form of venereal disease). In such cases, the Torah views matters as a combination of physical symptoms with spiritual causes - in the case of "Zav" and "Zava", most probably attributable to sexual misconduct. (As such, there is a closerelationship between the different themes of the sedra. Interesting, is it not, that there are doctors and clinics today that specialize in dermatology and venereal diseases.) The one afflicted is himself "Tamei" as well as causing other people and objects to become "ritually impure" through contact, both direct and indirect[178]. The one afflicted, must bring korbanot after a purification process [179].

Sh'vi'i Seventh Aliya - 13+5 = 18 p'sukim - 15:16-33

There is also a "ritual impurity" (of a lesser degree) in cases of normal seminal emissions [180].

A menstruating woman is "ritually unclean". This is counted as a positive mitzva [181]; its negative counterpart is in the next sedra. A woman with an unnatural discharge has a specific set of rules. In the case of a Zava, there are differences in her status depending upon how many sightings of blood there are, and howfrequent. These rules and procedures constitute a mitzva [182].

The requirement of the korbanot at the conclusion of the period of impurity [183]. The People of Israel have a great potential for attaining spiritual heights. They have an equally great potential for descending to low levels of spiritual impurity.

The last 3 p'sukim of the sedra serve as a summary to the topics of ritual purity and impurity and present the challenge to the Jewish People to rise above mundane physical existence by scrupulously avoiding "impurity".

Most people will say (or think) that most of Tazria-M'tzora is complex, confusing, non-applicable, why do I need to study it, boring... but the interplay between the physical and spiritual, the functioning of Jewish society in the context of the topics of the sedra, and other themes are timeless and the contemplation ofthem provides much food for thought and possibly even discussion around the Shabbat table. Nothing in the Torah is boring.

Maftir (2nd Torah) - 7 p'sukim (Bamidbar 28:9-15)

Chapters 28 and 29 in Bamidbar (Parshat Pinchas) deal with the Daily and Musaf sacrifices in the Mikdash. The Shabbat Musaf is presented in 2 p'sukim. Since we never read fewer than 3 p'sukim for an Aliya, the Sages did not institute the reading of the Shabbat Musaf on a weekly basis. However, since the Shabbat portionis followed by the 5-pasuk portion for Rosh Chodesh, when Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbat, we read both the Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh portion.

Haftara 24* p'sukim Yeshayahu 66:1-24

The special haftara for Shabbat-Rosh Chodesh is the last chapter of Yeshayahu. The next to the last pasuk refers to both Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh - hence its choice for this Shabbat. This pasuk is reread after the last, so the book of Yeshayahu (and our haftara) can end on a positive note.

This chapter, as all of Yeshayahu from chapter 40 on, contains a message of consolation.

One of the messages of this passage is that G-d cannot be contained in a physical Mikdash, nor is He interested in sacrifices that are not sincerely offered. This is a message for any time, and the association with Shabbat - week in and week out, and with Rosh Chodesh - month in and month out, fits well.