Out of the Poverty of the Heart…

Leviticus 13-14, in the Torah portions called Tazria and Metsora, describes the process for diagnosing, treating, and cleansing of a disease called tzaraat. (Most English Bibles translate this word as “leprosy”, but that’s incorrect since the Biblical condition doesn’t really align with what we know of as leprosy or Hansen’s Disease.)

Levitics 14:2 says “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest,” and then gives instructions to the priest for completing the cleansing of the leper. When the leper’s skin condition has cleared up, he is to take an offering to the priest who will perform the necessary rituals to make him ritually clean again.

This is the passage that Yeshua cited after he healed a leper in Luke 5:12-14.

While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
(Luke 5:12-14)

Notice that Yeshua did not say “Be healed”, but “Be clean”. Having declared the man clean, Yeshua told him to go to the priest as required by the Law, except that the Law says the man goes to the priest after he has been healed of the disease in order to be declared clean so that he can rejoin the congregation of Israel.

But if Yeshua had already cleansed the man of tzaraat, why would he need to go to the priest?

Jewish tradition says that tzaraat is caused by lashon hara or evil speech, especially against a person in divinely appointed authority, such as a priest or prophet. If the tradition is correct, tzaraat is the physical manifestation of a spiritual condition. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” (Matthew 15:18)

It seems to me that, if the disease in the skin is caused by a disease of the heart, then the heart must be healed before the skin can be made whole again. When Yeshua said “Be clean”, he wasn’t referring to the tzaraat, because, even as Yeshua himself confirmed, only a Levitical priest can declare a leper clean. Yeshua was referring to the man’s heart. In effect, he said “Be cleansed of your bitterness, resentment, and every other kind of hatred that causes one man to speak ill of another.”

Yeshua did not say “Be healed” because he was addressing the man’s spiritual condition, not his skin condition. Once the man’s heart was made whole, the tzaraat was cut off from its roots and his skin was healed as well. His physical healing was a happy side effect.

No one acts for long in opposition to who they really are. If you let a person talk and walk long enough, he’ll eventually show his true colors.

out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:34

When Yeshua looks at us, he never sees only our outward appearance or even the things we do and say. He sees straight into our hearts. That’s how we need to look at people. We need to see with His eyes.

We need to see that when people say ugly things, it’s because there’s something ugly on the inside that needs to be healed. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad people. It could mean they’re hurting, sick at heart and longing to be told, “Be clean.”

It usually takes time and spiritual discernment to tell which. “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.” (1 Timothy 5:24) Don’t be hasty to judge a person’s heart. Let your default position be in understanding and kindness.

Salvation, Sanctification, and Ordination

Leviticus 14:1-32

The person who has been healed of leprosy is to present himself to the priest at the Temple. The Temple provides two birds, a piece of cedar, a piece of scarlet cloth, a branch of hyssop, and an earthen jar. Someone is to put into the jar a small amount of water from a natural source of “living” water. Next, the priest has someone else kill one of the birds so that its blood drips into the jar and mingles with the water. The priest takes the second bird and dips it, along with the cedar, cloth, and hyssop, into the bloody water. He sprinkles the healed leper seven times, pronounces him clean, then lets the bird go free.

Our High Priest was dressed in scarlet, nailed to a wooden cross, offered vinegar on hyssop, and buried in an earthen vessel. He was willingly killed by the hand of another so that we could be washed in his blood and set free from our sin. Like the healed leper, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves and join the kingdom of the Messiah except place ourselves at his mercy. The birds are Yeshua who was killed for us, rose from the tomb, and ascended to heaven. We are the leper sprinkled seven times as a sign of completion, as if to say, “It is finished.”

After being sprinkled with the bloody water, the cleansed leper shaves his entire body and washes his clothes and body. He then moves into the camp, but doesn’t enter his own tent for seven days. At the end of the seventh day, he shaves his entire body and washes again, then he is finally clean.

A new believer is declared clean by our High Priest, but must still work at cleaning his life before he can assume any kind of authority or official role in the kingdom. Only after he has proven himself should he be called a bishop, elder, or deacon.

On the eighth day, the cleansed leper takes to the Temple two male lambs and one female yearling lamb, three omers of flour mixed with oil, and one log of oil. The priest kills one lamb as a guilt offering and one as a sin offering. After the sin offering, the priest anoints the right ear, thumb, and big toe of the leper with lamb’s blood. He then waves the oil and anoints the leper with oil on top of the blood. The remainder of the oil is poured over his head. Finally, the priest kills the third lamb and burns it along with the flour.

The cleansed leper offers three lambs and measures of oil and grain on the eighth day. Eight is the number of new beginnings, and the leper has already begun his new life. The two birds sacrificed on the first day are provided by the Temple, and these sacrifices are offered only after he has been cleansed. No offering or sacrifice we can make has anything to do with our salvation. Anything we do is done only in response. Once our guilt and sin have been removed, we are commanded to hear Torah (the ear), do Torah (the thumb), and walk in Torah (the toe). The anointing oil is placed on top of the anointing blood. Learn the Word, be filled with the Spirit, and then teach the Word. I’m not sure of the meaning of the burnt offering at this point. Perhaps it means that by the time we are able to teach, we should be mature in our faith with nothing left of our flesh but ashes.

Four of the five types of sacrifices are made in the cleansing of a leper: guilt, sin, grain, and burnt. The final sacrifice of the thanks offering is not commanded, but it is expected, and will be blessed. Following the rules can be a good thing, but it is God alone who heals and saves. Be sure to give glory where glory is due.

And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back and glorified God with a loud voice. And he fell down on his face at His feet, thanking Him. And he was a Samaritan.

And answering, Jesus said, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were none found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? And He said to him, Rise and go; your faith has cured you

The Elegance and Depth of Torah

The elegance of Torah

One characteristic of what computer programmers refer to as “elegant” code is that it accomplishes much with little. In other words, a complicated process reduced to a few simple lines of instruction. One can usually tell a novice programmer by the convoluted nature of his code.

Torah is like an elegantly written piece of software. While it seems at times to be just a long list of dos and don’ts, in reality, it is a simplified portrayal of deep and nuanced concepts. A set of instructions on what to do in a particular circumstance often (always?) opens into a multi-dimensional framework of truths concerning the nature of God, man, redemption, and spiritual health and sickness, but only if you look at it from the right angle. Here are just some of the characteristics that a passage contains greater mysteries than appear on the surface:

  • Unusual Hebrew spelling.
  • Altered Hebrew characters, whether in size, shape, position, or orientation.
  • Thematic parallels with other passages.
  • Parallel or mirrored structure, often called a chiasm.
  • Numerological and pictographic double-meanings.
  • Puns and cognates.

At Ashrei, Rabbi B discusses some of the deeper meanings of “clean” and “unclean” in Leviticus 11-15 (aka the Torah portions of Sh’mini, Tazria, and Metsora), and how these concepts contain real and applicable spiritual import for people in ages and cultures.

It is in the most unlikeliest of places that we often discover the most precious of treasures. From time to time I hear from people who read the Bible how they skip certain sections when reading because those sections seem tedious and boring, or even irrelevant. When expressing this sentiment they often cite the lengthy genealogies or the detailed laws concerning sacrifices or laws pertaining to cleanliness.

Although I understand and sympathize with the sentiment somewhat, I often respond by reminding them that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of G-d, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of G-d may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (cf. II Timothy 3:16). And all means all, including the passages we are about to consider in this and subsequent posts.

I believe that G-d’s Word is inspired, literally “G-d-breathed,” all of it. Not just some of it, or just the part starting with the Gospels, but all of it, very single word, every single syllable. I also believe that in the beginning was the Word, that the Word was with G-d, that the Word was G-d, and that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (cf. John 1). That being said, I believe that we can find the Messiah being proclaimed on every page of the Bible. Let’s begin by taking a look at one of those long, tedious, and detailed sections of the Torah and see what we might discover.

Read the rest here: The Leper Messiah.

The Law of Sin & Death: Sin Separates Us from God

2 Kings 7:8-9  And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent and ate and drank, and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and went and hid them. Then they came back and entered another tent and carried off things from it and went and hid them.  (9)  Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.”

The four lepers had a major windfall. They expected death and found life and riches instead. They could have kept on gathering and stockpiling with no one the wiser, but they remembered their starving brothers and shared their knowledge, bringing life to the entire city.

Romans 6:20-23  For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  (21)  But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  (22)  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.  (23)  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tazria and Metsora (this week’s Torah readings from Leviticus 12-15) are about things that cause separation from God, i.e. spiritual death, among his people. Even if they are already saved, already members of “the king’s household,” they might not know that their actions adulterate their life with death. When we were slaves to sin, we were not bound by any considerations of righteousness. But now that we have been set free from sin, we are bound to obey God, i.e. to do what is righteous.

Therein lies life.

Continuing in sin will only put us in bondage again because sin separates us from our Creator.

We are not set free and given eternal life just to sin, but rather to obey a different master. Continuing in sin will only put us in bondage again because sin separates us from our Creator. Disobedience brings death. Once we know that there is a better way, that there are choices and actions that increase our separation from the world while decreasing our separation from God, like the four lepers in 2 Kings 7, we are bound by love for our neighbors to share that knowledge.

Look for opportunities in your day to share your knowledge of greater life, to tell someone how to reduce the separation engendered by disobedience and to draw closer to our Creator.