And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying: ... A woman who conceives and gives birth (Leviticus 12:1-2)

Rabbi Simlai said: Just as man's creation took place after that of cattle, beasts and birds, so, too the laws concerning his [ritual impurity and purity] come after those concerning [the impurity and purity of] cattle, beasts and birds. Thus it is written (Leviticus 11:46-47), "This is the law of the beasts and of the fowl and of every living creature... to differentiate between the impure and the pure"; and immediately thereafter, "A woman who conceives..."

Why was man created last among the creations? So that if he is not meritorious, we say to him: "A gnat preceded you, a snail preceded you."

(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)

A woman who conceives and gives birth to a male child (Leviticus 12:2)

If the woman gives seed first, she gives birth to a male; if the man gives seed first, she gives birth to a female.

(Talmud, Niddah 31a)

To understand this concept as it applies to the service of G‑d:

It is known that the community of Israel is called the "woman" and G‑d is called the "man," as it is written: "On that day, you shall call Me 'husband'" (Hoshea 2:18). So just as in the case of a human man and woman, when "the woman gives seed first she give birth to a male," so it is, by way of analogy, in the relationship between the community of Israel and G‑d. When the "woman"--the community of Israel--"gives seed first first,"--when we produce an arousal below which only then evokes an arousal from Above (i.e., when we initiate our own service of G‑d, without requiring a divine intervention in our lives in order to motivate us) then the love that is born from this is a "male" offspring—an intense and enduring love.

(Torah Ohr)


A woman who conceives (12:2)

There are three partners in the creation of man: G‑d, his father and his mother. His father supplies the white seed, out of which are formed the child's bones, sinews, nails, the brain in his head and the whites of his eyes. His mother supplies the red seed, out of which is formed his skin, flesh, hair, blood and the black of his eyes. And G‑d gives him the spirit and the breath, beauty of features, eyesight, the power of hearing and the ability to speak and to walk, understanding and discernment. When his time comes to depart from the world, G‑d takes away His part and leaves the parts of his father and his mother with them.

(Talmud, Niddah 31a)

What is the form of the embryo? At the beginning of its formation it is like the [species of locust called] rashon; its two eyes resemble two fly-droppings, likewise its two nostrils and two ears; its two arms are like two threads of crimson silk, its mouth is like a barley-grain, its trunk like a lentil, whilst the rest of its limbs are pressed together like a formless object, and it is with regard to this that the Psalmist said, "Your eyes have seen my unformed substance" (Psalms 139:16).

How does the embryo lie in its mother's womb? It is folded up and lying like a writing-tablet. Its head lies between its knees, its two hands rest on its temples, its two heels on its two buttocks; its mouth is closed, but its navel is open; its food is that which its mother eats, its drink is that which its mother drinks, and it does not discharge excrement lest it should kill its mother. When it issues forth into the open world, that which had been closed is opened, and that which had been open is closed.

(Midrash Rabbah)

Come and see the contrast between the power of the Holy One, blessed be He, and that of mortal man. A man might put his things in a sealed purse whose opening is turned upwards, and yet it is doubtful whether they will be preserved; whereas the Holy One, blessed be He, fashions the embryo in a woman's internal organ that is not sealed and whose opening is turned downwards, and yet it is preserved.

(Talmud, Niddah 31a)

On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised (12:3)

Isaac and Ishmael were engaged in a controvery. Said Ishmael to Isaac: "I am more beloved to G‑d than you, since I was circumcised at the age of thirteen, but you were circumcised as a baby and could not refuse." Isaac retorted: "All that you gave up to G‑d was three drops of blood. But lo, I am now thirty-seven years old, yet if G‑d desired of me that I be slaughtered, I would not refuse."

(Midrash Rabbah)

Jewishness is not a matter of historical consciousness, outlook, ethics, or even behavior; it is a state of being. This is the deeper significance of the debate between Ishmael and Isaac. When the Jew is circumcised on the eighth day of life, he is completely unaware of the significance of what has occurred. But this "non-experience" is precisely what circumcision means. With circumcision the Jew says: I define my relationship with G‑d not by what I think, feel or do, but by the fact of my Jewishness—a fact which equally applies to an infant of eight days and a sage of eighty years.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised (12:3)

A Jew is in essence "circumcised" even if, for whatever reason, his physical foreskin has not yet been removed. Thus the verse says, "On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised"--the flesh need to be circumcised, but, spiritually, the Jew is always "circumcised".


On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised (12:3)

Said Rabbi Yitzchak: The law of the man and the law of the beast are equal. The law of man is that "On the eighth day he shall be circumcised," and the law of the beast is, "From the eighth day onward it shall be accepted as a fire offering to G‑d" (Leviticus 22:27).

(Midrash Rabbah)

The number seven represents the natural, and the number eight represents the holy. This is why circumcision on the eighth day takes precedence over Shabbat, the seventh day.

(Keli Yakar)


And when the days of her purification are completed for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring... a sin offering (12:6).

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was asked by his disciples: Why did the Torah ordain that a woman after childbirth should bring a sin offering? He replied: When she kneels in labor she swears impetuously that she will have no more intercourse with her husband. The Torah, therefore, ordained that she should bring a sin offering [to atone for her false oath].

(Talmud, Niddah 31a)

A person to whom shall occur in the skin of his flesh... the plague of tzaraat(13:2)

The plague of tzaraat comes only as a punishment for lashon hara (evil talk).

(Midrash Rabbah; Talmud; Rashi)

Why is the metzora different from all other ritually impure persons in that the Torah said, "He shall dwell alone; outside the camp shall his habitation be"? With his gossip and slander, he separated a husband from his wife, a man from his neighbor; therefore said the Torah: "He shall dwell alone."

(Talmud, Erachin 16b)

The Psalmist compares slanderous talk to "Sharp arrows of the warrior, coals of brooms" (Psalms 120:4). All other weapons smite from close quarters, while the arrow smites from the distance. So is it with slander: it is spoken in Rome and kills in Syria. All other coals, when extinguished, are extinguished without and within; but coals of brooms are still burning within when they are extinguished without. So is it with words of slander: even after it seems that their effects have been put out, they continue to smolder within those who heard them. It once happened that a broom tree was set on fire and it burned eighteen months—winter, summer and winter.

(Midrash Rabbah)

Evil talk is like an arrow. A person who unsheathes a sword can regret his intention and return it to its sheath. But the arrow cannot be retrieved.

(Midrash Tehillim)

To what may the tongue be compared? To a dog tied with an iron chain and locked in a room within a room within a room, yet when he barks the entire populace is terrified of him. Imagine if he were loose outside! So too the tongue: it is secured behind the teeth and behind the lips, yet it does no end of damage. Imagine if it were outside!

(Yalkut Shimoni)

Evil talk kills three people: the speaker, the listener, and the one who is spoken of.

(Talmud, Erachin 15a)

The speaker obviously commits a grave sin by speaking negatively of his fellow. The listener, too, is a partner to this evil. But why is the one who is spoken of affected by their deed? Are his negative traits worsened by the fact that they are spoken of?

Indeed they are. A person may possess an evil trait or tendency, but his quintessential goodness, intrinsic to every soul, strives to control it, conquer it, and ultimately eradicate its negative expressions and redirect it as a positive force. But when this evil is spoken of, it is made that much more manifest and real. By speaking negatively of the person's trait or deed, the evil speakers are, in effect, defining it as such; with their words, they grant substance and validity to it.

But the same applies in the reverse: speaking favorably of another, accentuating his or her positive side, will help him realize himself in the manner that you have defined him.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

A man once came to see Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch and proceeded to portray himself as a villain of the worst sort. After describing at length his moral and spiritual deficiencies, he begged the Rebbe to help him overcome his evil character.

"Surely," said the Rebbe, "you know how grave is the sin of lashon hara, speaking evilly of a human being. Nowhere, to my knowledge, does it say that it is permissible to speak lashon hara about oneself."


A person to whom shall occur in the skin of his flesh... (13:2)

Our Sages say that the occurrence of tzaraat was confined to biblical times, implying that later generations are not of the spiritual caliber that allows for this supra-natural affliction.

The reason for this can be understood from the opening words of the Torah's description of the metzora. "Shall occur" implies a happenstance, something out of character; "in the skin of his flesh" likewise indicates that the blemish is only superficial, affecting only the most external layer of the person. In other words, we are speaking of one whose inner being is free of imperfection, and in whom any "blemish" or malady exists only on the outside.

Thus the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98b) describes Moshiach as a metzora, signifying that the messianic age is a time in which evils that have infested the world and mankind rise to the surface, so that they can be decisively overcome and cured.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Se'eit, or sapachat, or baheret (13:2)

The hues of the plague of tzaraat are two that are four [i.e., two categories--se'eit and baheret, each of which has a sapachat, or sub-category). Baheret ("bright") is a bright white like snow; its sub-category is like the lime of the Sanctuary. Se'eit is like the skin of an egg, its sub-category is like white wool; this is the opinion of Rabbi Meir. The [other] sages say: Se'eit is like white wool, its sub-category is like the skin of an egg.

(Talmud, Negaim 1:1)

And the priest shall see the lesion... if the hair in the lesion has turned white (13:3)

There was once a Kohen who could not earn a living and decided to leave the Land of Israel to seek a livelihood. He said to his wife: Since people come to me to show me their plagues, let me teach you how to diagnose tzaraat. If you see that the hair in the afflicted area has died because its canal has dried, then you will know that the person is afflicted. Because for each and every hair G‑d created its own canal from which to drink; if this canal dries out, the hair dries out.

Said his wife to him: If G‑d created a separate canal for each hair to nourish it, how much more so yourself, who are a human being, and whose children depend on you for nourishment—certainly G‑d will provide for you! And she did not allow him to depart from the Holy Land.

(Midrash Tanchuma)

If the hair in the plague is turned white (13:3)

It was debated in the Academy of Heaven: If the white patch preceded the white hair, it is impure; if the white hair preceded the white patch, it is pure; but what if there is doubt (as to which came first)?

The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: "It is pure."

The entire Academy of Heaven said: "It is impure."

Said they: "Who shall decide it for us? Rabbah bar Nachmeini." For Rabbah bar Nachmeini had declared: "I am singular[ly knowledgeable] in the laws of tzaraat..." They dispatched a messenger [to bring him to heaven]... Said [Rabbah]: "Tahor, tahor (Pure, pure)."

(Talmud, Bava Metzia 86a)


This shall be the law of the metzora... he shall be brought to the Kohen (14:2)

Both the onset and the termination of the state of tzaraat are effected only by the proclamation of a Kohen. If suspect markings appear on a person, they are examined by an expert on the complex laws of tzaraat--usually, but not necessarily, a Kohen; but even after a diagnosis of tzaraat had been made, the state of ritual impurity does not take effect, and the metzora's banishment is not carried out, until a Kohen pronounces him "impure." This is why even after all physical signs of tzaraat have departed, the removal of the state of impurity and the metzora's re-admission into the community is achieved only by the Kohen's declaration.

The Kohen's function as a condemner and ostracizer runs contrary to his most basic nature and role. The Kohen is commanded by G‑d to "bless His people Israel with love"; our sages describe a "disciple of Aaron" as one who "loves peace, pursues peace, loves G‑d's creatures and brings them close to Torah." But this is precisely the reason that the Torah entrusts the Kohen with the task of condemning the metzora.

There is nothing more hateful to G‑d than division between His children. The metzora must be ostracized because, through his slander and tale-bearing, he is himself a source of divisiveness; nevertheless, the Torah is loath to separate him from the community. So it is not enough that the technical experts say that he is marked by tzaraat. It is only when the Kohen—whose very being shudders at the thought of banishing a member of the community—is convinced that there is no escaping a verdict of tzaraat that the metzora is separated from his people. And it is only when the one doing the banishing is suffused with loving concern for the banished person that the penalty will yield a positive result—the repentance and rehabilitation of the metzora.

There is another lesson here as well: it is not the fact of the tzaraat that renders the metzora impure, but the Kohen's declaration of his impurity. In other words, no matter how terrible a person's state may be, to speak ill of him is more terrible still. The Kohen's saying that he is impure affects his spiritual state far more profoundly than the actual fact of his tzaraat!

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Two birds (14:4)

Because the plague of tzaraat comes as a punishment for evil talk, which is an act of chatter, therefore birds are needed for his purification, because they chatter continuously with a twittering sound.

(Rashi; Talmud)

Cedar wood... and hyssop (14:4)

Because he has exalted himself like a cedar tree... he should humble himself like a blade of grass.

(Midrash Tanchuma)

If the point is that he should show humility, why does he bring both a cedar and hyssop? But the true meaning of humility is not to be broken and bowed, but to be humble even as one stands straight and tall.

(The Chassidic Masters)

A person should have two pockets in his coat. One should contain the Talmudic saying (Sanhedrin 37a), "A person is commanded to declare: For my sake the world was created." In his second pocket he should keep the verse (Genesis 18:17), "I am but dust and ashes."

(Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa)

When you come into the land of Canaan... I will put the plague of tzaraatin a house of the land of your possession (14:34)

It was a prediction of good that these plagues would come upon them. Because the Amorites [residents of Canaan] concealed treasures of gold in the walls of their houses during the forty years the Israelites were in the wilderness, in order that they would not possess them when they conquered the land, and in consequence of the plague they would take down the houses and discover them.

(Rashi; Midrash)

I will put the plague of tzaraat in a house (14:34)

So it is when leprous lesions come upon man: First they come upon his house. If he repents, they require only the removal [of affected stones]; if not, they require tearing down the entire house. Then the lesions come upon one's clothes. If he repents, they require washing; if not, they require burning. Then the lesions come upon his body. If he repents, he undergoes purification; if not, "He shall dwell alone."

(Midrash Rabbah)

"It seems to me there is as it were a lesion in the house" (14:35)

Even if he be a learned man and knows for sure that it is a lesion, he shall not decide the matter as a certainty saying, "there is a lesion in the house," but, "It seems to me there is as it were a lesion in the house."

(Talmud, Negaim 12:5)

The priest shall command that they empty the house (14:36)

The Torah is frugal with Jewish property.

(Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 27a)

This is why the Torah commands the Jews to remove everything from the afflicted house before the Kohen arrives. Otherwise, if the house requires shutting up, all that is inside immediately becomes impure.

What is the Torah concerned about in ordering these precautions to be taken? If the reason is wooden or metal vessels that need only be immersed in water in order to restore them to cleanness, he can immerse them and they will become clean. If the reason is food and liquids, he can eat them during the time of his uncleanness. Consequently it follows that the Torah is concerned only about earthen vessels, for which there is no means of purification in a mikvah (earthen vessels being the least valuable items in a household).


A man says to his friend, "Lend me a kav of wheat," and the other says, "I have none"; or one asks for the loan of a kav of barley... or a kav of dates, and the other says, "I have none." Or a woman says to her friend, "Lend me a sieve," and the other says, "I have none" ... What does G‑d do? He causes leprosy to light on his house, and as he takes out his household effects, people see, and say: "Did he not say, 'I have none'? See how much wheat is here, how much barley, how many dates! Cursed be the house with such cursed inhabitants!

(Midrash Rabbah)

And they shall remove the stones in which the lesion is... (14:40)

Woe to the wicked, and woe to his neighbor! [For if the afflicted wall is shared between two homes,] both must take out the stones, both must scrape the walls, and both must bring the new stones....

(Talmud, Negaim 12:6)

And G‑d spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying... "If any man has a discharge from his flesh..." (15:1-2)

One verse says, "Black like a raven" (Song of Songs 5:11), while other verses say, "His aspect is like Lebanon [meaning laban, white], excellent as the cedars" (ibid. 15) and "Their appearance is like torches, they run to and fro like strokes of lightning" (Nachum 2:5)... This refers to those sections of the Torah which, though they appear as if repulsive and black to be spoken of in public, such as the laws relating to issues, leprosy, and childbirth, G‑d says: They are pleasing to Me.

You have proof that this is so, since the sections relating to a man who has a discharge and a woman who has a discharge are not stated as one, but each by itself, namely, "If any man has a discharge..." (Leviticus 15:1-18) and in a separate chapter (15:19-30), "If a woman has a discharge..."

(Midrash Rabbah)

"A prayer of David . . . Keep my soul, for I am pious" (Psalms 86:1-2). Thus spoke King David before G‑d: Master of the world, am I not pious? All the kings of the East and the West sit with all their pomp among their company, whereas my hands are soiled with the blood of menstruation, with the fetus and the placenta, in order to declare a woman clean for her husband. And what is more, in all that I do I consult my teacher, Mephibosheth, and I say to him: My teacher Mephibosheth, is my decision right? Did I correctly convict, correctly acquit, correctly declare clean, correctly declare unclean? And I am not ashamed.

(Talmud, Berachot 4a)

If a woman has a discharge, her flesh discharging blood, she shall remain in her state of menstrual separation for seven days (15:19).

Why did the Torah ordain that the uncleanness of menstruation should continue for seven days? Because being in constant contact with his wife, a man might develop an apathy towards her. The Torah, therefore, ordained: Let her be unclean for seven days, in order that she shall be beloved by her husband as at the time that she first entered into the bridal chamber.

(Talmud, Niddah 31a)