Chapter 14


[2] The following is the law: As we have explained previously,1 tzara’at indicates the presence of an overabundance of spiritual “light,” which overflows its “vessel.” This imbalance is manifest experientially as a rapturous desire to experience Divinity (ratzo) unmitigated by a concomitant humble devotion to accomplishing God’s will (shov).

Divine rapture is an expression of our love of God, whereas humble devotion to His will is an expression of our fear of God. Love and fear of God are in turn expressions of the soul’s powers of loving-kindness (chesed) and restraint (gevurah). As we have seen, these are reflections of the supernal sefirot of the same names, which are organized into a structural hierarchy in which chesed is situated on the right axis and gevurah on the left axis. Thus, favoring one propensity over the other—rapture over devotion or vice versa—upsets the balance between these axes of the soul.

The “cure” for tzara’at, then, is the harmonization of these two opposing drives. In order to harmonize opposing forces, a third force, which transcends them both, must be invoked. The harmonizing force between chesed and gevurah is always tiferet, which, due to its direct root in keter, is able to transcend and include both. This, in fact, is the meaning of the word tiferet (“beauty”), the harmonious combination of different colors into a pleasing picture or design.

The sages teach us that the world metaphorically stands on three pillars: the study of the Torah, the sacrifices (for which prayer substitutes nowadays), and acts of loving-kindness.2 These three pillars correspond to the three sefirot of tiferet, gevurah, and chesed, respectively. It follows that the harmonization of rapture and devotion (ratzo and shov) is effected by the study of the Torah. This is because true study of the Torah must be undertaken out of a sense of self-nullification to God, and by nullifying ourselves to God, we can, like Him, harmonize opposites.

The Torah therefore states, “The following is the law [literally, ‘the Torah’] regarding the person afflicted with tzara’at,” intimating to us that the cure for tzara’at, the harmonization of ratzo and shov, is the selfless study of the Torah.3

The following is the law: As has been explained, a person becomes afflicted with tzara’at on account of having drawn evil energy into the world through the specific misdeeds that cause this condition. Each variety of evil energy is expressed through its own “name,” or combination of energy channels (“letters”). This is alluded to in the Hebrew word for a sufferer of tzara’at (מצורע), which can be read as “one who elicits evil name[s]” (מוציא שם רע).

The rectification of this multiplication of evil in the world is accomplished through its inverse: drawing positive, holy energy into the world by studying the Torah profusely. Inasmuch as the Torah’s letters are all “names” of God4—i.e., configurations of holy letters, these being channels of holy energy—the influx of holiness into the world effected through the study of the Torah counteracts the influx of evil that produces tzara’at, replacing the destructive, evil “names” with constructive, Divine “names.”

This reality is alluded to in the opening phrase of this parashah, “The following is the law (literally, ‘the Torah’) [to cure] the person afflicted with tzara’at.”

However, in order that our study of the Torah indeed elicit Divine energy and infuse it into creation, we must study it with pure motives—to fulfill God’s will and disseminate Divine consciousness. Therefore, “he must be brought to the priest,” for the priest personifies the sefirah of chochmah, whose inner dimension and corresponding soul-attribute is self-nullification (bitul).5

34 Do not fret: As stated, only some—probably only a small fraction—of the Canaanites hid their gold in the walls of their homes before being driven out of them. It was these houses that were eventually stricken with tzara’at, in order to enable their new Jewish owners to inherit these Canaanites’ hidden gold. Since, as we have noted, tzara’at only affected the homes of exceptionally righteous individuals—who needed tzara’at to help them purge themselves of their last, subtlest character imperfections—it follows that Divine providence arranged that specifically these individuals settled in the homes that contained these hidden treasures.

According to the Zohar,6 there was an additional reason why tzara’at broke out on the walls of certain homes: The Canaanites were idolaters of such exceptional moral corruption7 that their spiritual depravity seeped into the very walls of their homes. In most cases, the occupation of these homes by their new owners, God’s holy people, together with the holiness of the commandments that began to be observed in these homes (beginning with the fastening of mezuzot to their doorposts8) was enough to dispel the absorbed evil. If, however, the former inhabitants were especially depraved—even by Canaanite standards—the introduction of Jewish holiness into their homes was not sufficient to rid these homes of their evil ambiance; these homes had to be partially or wholly demolished. They therefore broke out in tzara’at.

It thus follows that it was specifically the most depraved of the Canaanites who hid their gold in the walls of their homes. Indeed, it stands to reason that only the worst Canaanites would not resign themselves to God’s plan for the Jewish people to take possession of the land and[myw1] stubbornly harbor hopes of eventually driving them out.

It further follows that Divine providence also arranged that the exceptionally righteous Jews be drawn to inhabit specifically the homes of the most depraved Canaanites. This, too, stands to reason, for the preternatural evil internalized in these homes could only be outmatched by the preternatural righteousness of these individuals (through the outbreak of tzara’at that affected them specifically).9

This pairing of the highest levels of holiness with the lowest levels of evil is in fact characteristic of tzara’at in general. As we have noted,10 the repercussions of contracting tzara’at are the most severe of all types of ritual impurity, necessitating ostracism from society. On the other hand, the purpose of tzara’at is to purify the individual to a degree unattainable by human effort, and therefore, this affliction is “awarded” only to those who have spiritually refined themselves to the maximum extent humanly possible.

In other words: As we have seen,11 sincere repentance (teshuvah) elevates us to degrees of Divine consciousness inaccessible to wholly righteous individuals. Thus, tzara’at enables the wholly righteous to achieve the closeness to God normally reserved for the penitent.

Although this dynamic characterizes tzara’at in general, it is most evident in the tzara’at of homes, where the sufferer’s reward is openly manifest in the form of his sudden accrual of worldly wealth. The reason for this is that, as has been pointed out above,12 of the three “venues” for tzara’at—skin, clothing, and home—the home is the most external, and is therefore the physical correlate of the most sublime aspect of the soul, which is the most removed from our normative consciousness. This is the quintessential core of the soul, termed the yechidah (“unique one”),13 whose consciousness is entirely that of being one with God. It is from the perspective of this level of the soul, which is synonymous with God’s own perspective, that the true nature of tzara’at—a gift-tool for transcendent spiritual refinement—is most evident.14

49 In order to purify the house: The elaborate purification ritual for a house that has contracted tzara’at is quite similar to that for a person who has contracted tzara’at on his skin.15 In contrast, the purification process for an article of clothing that has contracted tzara’at is quite perfunctory: simple immersion in a mikveh suffices.16 This similarity between skin- and house-tzara’at (as emphasized by their shared dissimilarity to clothing-tzara’at) leads us to expect that the presentation of their laws should be likewise similar. Conspicuously, however, their respective laws are presented quite differently, as is revealed if we analyze the order in which the Torah presents the subject matter of tzara’at:

Parashat Tazria—

· The diagnostic process for tzara’at on the skin (13:1-46).

· The diagnostic process for tzara’at on clothing (and its purification) (13:47-59).

Parashat Metzora—

· The purification process for tzara’at on the skin (14:1-32)

· The diagnostic process for tzara’at on homes and its purification (14:33-57).

We see that the rules for the diagnosis and purification of tzara’at on the skin are not only separated into discontinuous sections but appear in two separate parashiot, whereas the rules for tzara’at on homes are given together, in one sequence (similar to the rules of tzara’at on clothing, which are given together simply because the rules for their purification are not complex enough to warrant being given separately).

The reason for this dichotomy is that, as we have seen,17 the home, being the most external of the three “venues” for tzara’at—skin, clothing, and home—is the physical correlate of the yechidah, the aspect of the soul most removed from our normative consciousness. It is specifically from the perspective of this level of the soul that tzara’at is clearly seen as a tool for spiritual refinement. From the perspective of the lower levels of the soul, which define our normative consciousness and whose physical correlates are our clothing and bodies, tzara’at appears more as the severe form of ritual impurity it is. From this perspective, the experiential side of tzara’at and its potential as a tool for spiritual refinement are entirely separate, and therefore these aspects of it are treated in separate sections of the Torah. Tzara’at of homes is covered in one contiguous section because in it the experiential aspect of this condition is most openly seen in the context of its beneficial purpose.

With this perspective in mind, we can understand that the purpose of the destruction of God’s “house,” the Temple, was18 in order to reveal the “hidden treasures” of Divine consciousness that will be manifest with the restoration of the Temple in the messianic Redemption.19

Chapter 15

2 Discharges originating in the reproductive organs: These types of ritual impurity serve to remind us how much our lives are a product of the events that occurred at the dawn of human history—the incident with the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden—and how we must continually strive to reverse the results of these events until reality is consummately spiritually healed, with the final, messianic Redemption.

We have seen20 how Adam and Eve’s eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge resulted in the descent of reality into a comprehensive materiality that obscures the Divine energy continuously creating it. This hiding of Divinity makes us acutely aware of our own existence, causing us to feel separate from God and even so unaware of His existence that it is possible to deny it. Our intensely subjective perspective also encourages us to objectify all other human beings (as well as all other creatures in general). Were we to be aware—as we were before the primordial sin—of the Divine reality that constantly creates all creation, we would be hardly conscious of ourselves as independent beings, and certainly not consider our own existence and interests worthy of any more of our attention than those of any other creature. But our acquired subjectivity—the existential “venom” of the primordial snake—locks us into an objectifying perspective on reality that we must do our best to overcome.

And indeed, the Torah assures us that we can overcome it to a great extent. This is the ultimate purpose of the study of the Torah and the observance of all its commandments, which together are capable of purifying and raising our consciousness to levels of almost angelic innocence, freeing us from the shackles of self-awareness and enabling us to feel genuinely altruistic love for our fellow creatures.

Nonetheless, none of us can extricate ourselves from our fallen perspective completely; this will occur only when God “causes the spirit of impurity to pass away from the earth.”21 The sages therefore inform us that even the select few who attained the greatest spiritual refinement possible in the present order of creation still had to die, for no reason other than the bite of the primordial snake.22

Objectifying another human being can thus be seen as the ultimate and archetypal sin, the epitome of the evil that opposes the world’s progress toward redemption. In this context, we can understand the critical importance the Torah attaches to how we harness our carnal desires. There is no human activity that can produce pleasure comparable to that produced by carnal intimacy and release; it is therefore paramount that we experience this pleasure—as far as possible—only in the course of making another person the subject of the experience (by striving to grant them pleasure) rather than in objectifying them (by using them as a means to derive pleasure for ourselves). Therefore, the Torah insists that the only permitted form of seminal emission is that in which a husband inseminates his wife—and even then, he is required to focus on her pleasure rather than his own. Any other type of seminal emission serves to objectify womankind in the man’s perspective, and is therefore antithetical to the essence of redemption and contributes to the prolongation of the exile.

A man is therefore rendered ritually defiled by any emission from his procreative organ that results from carnal desire. There are two types of such emissions: seminal and non-seminal. Seminal emissions are the result of a natural carnal drive; they render a man ritually defiled to a limited extent, as we will see.23 Even permitted seminal emissions render a husband ritually defiled, since, as just stated, it is impossible not to experience at least some pleasure in marital relations; indeed, it is necessary for the husband to enjoy marital relations in order to please his wife—so that she can see that he desires her company. Thus, paradoxically, even though the Torah all but insists that the husband experience this pleasure, he becomes ritually defiled thereby, for even the smallest iota of self-awareness separates us from God, even if subtly.

Non-seminal emissions, in contrast, are the result of an abnormally inflated carnal appetite, resulting in turn from overindulgence in lascivious behavior, speech, or thought. In the words of the sages, “Man possesses a small organ: [the more] he starves it, [the more] it is satisfied; [the more] he satisfies it, [the more] it hungers.”24 Nevertheless, a single, isolated instance of non-seminal emission only renders a man ritually impure to the same degree as does a seminal emission,25 since, as an isolated incident, it reflects no more than the fallen state of consciousness we all inherit from the primordial snake.

However, when a man experiences two non-seminal emissions in succession (i.e., separated by less than a full intervening day), it indicates that he has purposely corrupted himself beyond “natural” (i.e., post-Tree-of-Knowledge) human objectification. In such a case, his ritual defilement is more serious, and therefore a full week is required for him to be purged of it. When a man experiences three non-seminal emissions in succession, it indicates that he has become so entrenched in his corrupt perspective on life that it has become his normative consciousness, and therefore, his ritual impurity is so severe that it requires—in addition to a full week of purgation—a full sacrificial rite.

Nonetheless, together with its warning against reinforcing anti-Divine consciousness through transgressing God’s will, the Torah informs us that the power of repentance is such that even someone who has internalized evil to the extent that it has displaced his natural consciousness altogether can still be rehabilitated.26

A Closer Look

[18] They must immerse themselves: This immersion, like all those mentioned in this section of the Torah, is required in order to permit those who have become ritually defiled to consume sanctified food (terumah and sacrifices) or enter the Temple and its precincts. Nowadays, when we are all in any case ritually defiled (by direct or indirect contact with corpses, for which the means of purification27 are not presently available), this law is not applicable, and therefore, neither men who have a seminal emission of any kind nor women who engage in marital relations are technically required to immerse themselves in a mikveh.

Nonetheless, Ezra the scribe—as part of the religious revival he headed when the Jewish people returned to the Land of Israel after the Babylonian exile—decreed that men who have a seminal emission should immerse themselves before studying the Torah, and this enactment was eventually extended to include praying, as well.28 The inconvenience of having to immerse themselves the following morning was intended to prevent the men from overindulging in marital relations, thereby enabling them to devote more time and energy to the study of the Torah. However, this decree never acquired the force of law, since it proved beyond the ability of the majority of the community to fulfill, and in fact proved counterproductive, preventing the men from studying the Torah when they otherwise would have or engaging in marital relations when they otherwise should have.29

Nevertheless, pious individuals who were able to fulfill their obligations in both areas did observe Ezra’s enactment and continue to do so to the present day.30 The founders of the Chasidic movement, in particular, instructed their followers to adhere to this practice.

Furthermore, from very early on in the Chasidic movement, it became common practice for men to immerse themselves every morning before prayers, regardless of whether they had had a seminal emission, for reasons of spiritual purity and renewed innocence before approaching God in prayer and engaging in His service throughout the day.31

19 Menstrual blood and non-menstrual blood: These two types of blood and the ritual defilement they impart parallel the two types of discharges men experience—seminal and non-seminal—and the ritual defilement they impart, as described above.32 The laws of female bleeding, just like the laws of male emissions, take us back to the dawn of human history and remind us how much our lives are a product of the incident with the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil and the resultant expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and how we must continually strive to reverse the consequences of these events until reality is consummately spiritually healed, with the final, messianic Redemption.

Part of the “pain” that was introduced into the process of pregnancy on account of the incident with the Tree of Knowledge is the menstrual cycle. As was explained in our discussion of the primordial sin,33 it is specifically the feminine side of our psyches—our drive to concretize Divine inspiration, thereby transforming the world into God’s home—that is the most susceptible to the enticements of evil. In order to rectify this susceptibility, the woman—and through her, her husband, whose life is also affected by his wife’s menstrual cycle—must be periodically reminded of their own fallibility as God’s partners in creation. The potentially heady sense of self that can result from partaking in the miracle of bearing a new human being (which serves as the archetype for propagating Divine consciousness throughout creation in general) must be attenuated by being reminded of human limitations. Thus, by means of the menstrual cycle, wife and husband are humbled into acknowledging the need to submit to God’s will when fulfilling His mission on earth.

We also noted34 that the sin of Adam and Eve was presaged by the diminution of the moon, which resulted in its monthly cycle of waxing and waning. The fact that the woman’s menstrual cycle occurs in specifically monthly periods alludes to its origin in the lunar cycle.

Normal menstrual bleeding renders the woman ritually defiled to a limited extent, as we will see. The extent of this form of ritual defilement and its accompanying purification process is typically enough to restore the couple to their normal Divine consciousness (until it is necessary to repeat the cycle the following month). This periodic cleansing of the existential “venom” of the primordial snake that was injected into our psyches when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit will continue until God “causes the spirit of impurity to pass away from the earth.”35

Non-menstrual bleeding, in contrast, is the result of an abnormally inflated feminine ego, in which the self-assurance that should have been humbled by the menstrual cycle is instead fed by presumptuously and repeatedly overstepping the bounds of God’s will. This sinful hubris elicits uterine bleeding—the reminder of human frailty—before its scheduled resumption, resulting in a more serious extent of ritual defilement necessitating a full week of purgation followed by sacrificial rites.

Here again, together with its warning against reinforcing anti-Divine consciousness through transgressing God’s will, the Torah informs us that power of repentance is such that even someone who has internalized evil to this extent can still be rehabilitated.36

A Closer Look

[19] Alternating 7-day menstrual periods and 11-day non-menstrual time spans: Inasmuch as—in this context—there is no empirical difference between menstrual and non-menstrual blood (the sole factor in determining whether blood is menstrual or non-menstrual being the day on which the bleeding occurs), it is quite easy to lose track of the count and mistake one type of blood for the other. Furthermore, as we shall see, the Torah forbids marital relations when the wife has been ritually defiled by either menstrual or non-menstrual bleeding, so the laws of this type of ritual defilement are just as pertinent when the Temple is not standing as when it is.

For this reason, in the second century, Rabbi Yehudah the Prince (the redactor of the Mishnah), in the wake of the upheavals accompanying the destruction of the Second Temple and the resultant diaspora of the Jewish people, decreed that whenever a woman bleeds for either one day or two consecutive days, she should count six clear days before immersing herself, and whenever she bleeds for three or more consecutive days, she should count seven clear days before immersing herself. This way, there is no need to keep track of the 7- and 11-day spans. If she bleeds for one or two days, she is technically permitted to engage in marital relations either after the second or third day after she bled (if it was one or two days of non-menstrual bleeding) or after the seventh day after she began to bleed (if it was one or two days of menstrual bleeding); thus, counting six clear days covers both possibilities. If, however, she bled for three or more days, three days of this bleeding might have been non-menstrual; she must therefore count seven clear days to cover that possibility.

However, the Jewish women of Rabbi Yehudah the Prince’s time took upon themselves to count seven clear days after any duration of bleeding, even only one day, in order that there be only one rule for all cases. This additional stringency was approved of by the legal authorities of the time and became fixed as Jewish law to this day.37