The Significance of the Leper | TAZRIA – WEEK 27
By Eitan Shishkoff
Abject confession: This is not the Torah portion I would have chosen to comment on. My taste would run more toward Moses’ encounter with the burning bush or Abraham’s sacrificing Isaac or Israel’s assembly before the shaking quaking Mt. Sinai. But….knowing that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God..that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Timothy 3:16, 17), I’m confident that there is hidden treasure in these chapters.
Prelude: Birth and Purification
This Torah portion is entitled Tazriah, which refers to conception (“If a woman has conceived and borne…” Leviticus 12:2) and comes from the word for seed (zerah). The opening section instructs the children of Israel to observe a season of purification for a woman after she gives birth. Here, the emphasis is on the sacredness of blood. Connecting the time of recovery from birth with the monthly cycle, God calls for the new mom to be “set apart,” refraining from marital relations or from entering the tabernacle. We sense here a special regard for a woman’s divinely invented physiology and for the holiness of conception, birth, and new life.
A young couple I know well recently experienced the birth of a long-awaited child. After years of inability to conceive, they underwent in vitro fertilization. They are now beside themselves with joy and gratefulness. They cannot get over the miracle of their baby girl. Is this not a time of wonder? Of granting a mother time to bond with her little one? Of worshiping the Creator in the very act of bringing a new human into being?
In what seems to us an odd juxtaposition of topics, Levitical law then turns to the evaluation and consequences of leprosy. Four times in the Gospels, Yeshua heals a leper and tells him to “go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them” (Matthew 8:4; Mark 1:44; Luke 5:14; 17:14). The commands Yeshua refers to here are found in this exact portion of Torah. Hey, if it was important enough for the Master to quote, it certainly has value for us. But, today, except for some 180,000 cases of leprosy occurring almost entirely in Southeast Asia and Africa, the disease is a plague of the past. So what are these chapters saying to us today?
“Yeshua, Moved with Compassion, Touched him”
I went back over Leviticus Chapter 13 with its endless details of what the priest should look for as signs of healed leprosy, “pronounce him clean,” or unhealed leprosy, “pronounce him unclean.” The garment that has been worn by an infected leper is to be burned. Then a verse came to me from the New Covenant, Jude 1:23. “…others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” Clothing in Scripture often speaks of our deeds, our actions, our outward activity. The Apostle exhorts us to “…put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24),” and to “…put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering (Colossians 3:12).” This is the “putting on” that we do with our clothes in getting dressed. There’s a strong spiritual application here.
When Yeshua healed these miserable, suffering lepers, He lifted them from their uncleanness and rejection. Leprosy was and is an awful disease. One of the oldest diseases in recorded history, it attacks the nervous system. The results can include impaired breathing, loss of sensation in the exteremities, and gross disfigurement. Torah required the leper to cry out when in public, “Unclean, Unclean!” He or she was deemed unclean and required to dwell alone, outside the camp. This severe isolation would have caused intensified suffering by removing the victim from normal social interactions in the highly communal society of ancient Israel.
As a type of sin (not that the leper himself is sinful by definition!) leprosy metaphorically distances us from each other. Sin separates, both from God and from our fellow man. Restoring the ones He healed of leprosy, Messiah reunited the lepers—a rejected, dejected people– to the joy of shared life with family and neighbors. Lifting us from the deforming, numbing effects of sin, He does the same for us.
As He reached out to touch these afflicted ones, Yeshua committed a radical act. In the process, He both made Himself “unclean” and He demonstrated full identification with their ugly, nightmarish condition. Wow! As I write this account, I place myself in the position of the leper. I am in despair, void of hope, unable to function as a normal human being. Along comes this rabbi from the Galilee. The afflicted man approaches Yeshua, kneels before Him in worship, saying “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). At that moment the Lord reaches out, touches him, and declares, “I am willing. You are cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy disappears. The leper has been born anew in a thrilling, supernatural moment of total transformation.
Is this not what happens to us, when the Master reaches out to touch us in the ugliness of our eradicable rebellion against God? I’m experiencing an exhilarating renewal of gratitude and love toward Him even as I write to you.
“Go Show the Priest”
Yeshua then sent the cleansed lepers to the Temple priest for examination. Can we imagine the priest’s reaction when he asks the former leper, “Wait just a minute. Last week you came to me and I declared you unclean. Now your skin looks like a baby’s tush! How did this happen?” Then the one formerly enslaved by his disease says, “Well, your honor, this country rabbi touched me, and now I’m whole. I tell you it was the power of God through Him. There’s no other explanation.”
I love it. Messiah knowingly instructed these healed lepers to obey the Torah commands regarding leprosy—as a testimony. He had no problem with what Moses had given Israel to do. He simply exercised the power and authority given to Him (and to us, by the way) to alleviate human suffering and ostracism. This was—and is—to be made known to all Israel.
Who’d a thunk that all this stuff about leprosy would speak to our hearts so profoundly? And the discussion continues into the next portion, HaMetzorah (the leprous one)! Through these seemingly irrelevant and obscure passages are we hearing the voice of the One who both gave the Torah on Sinai and healed lepers on the streets of Israel?
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About the Author
Eitan Shishkoff and his wife Connie lived on hippie communes in northern New Mexico during the early ’70s. In 1972 Eitan found the Messiah through a dramatic vision of His crucifixion, and soon after returned to his Jewish roots as a believer in Yeshua (Jesus).
In 1992 the Shishkoff family made aliyah, settling in the Haifa Bay area of Israel, where Eitan founded Tents of Mercy (Ohalei Rachamim) as a Hebrew-speaking Messianic community and humanitarian aid center. Tents of Mercy has grown to a network of five inter-related congregations.
Eitan serves as founding director of “Katzir” (Harvest), a national equipping ministry for Israeli Messianic teens, serving over 40 local congregations. These youth events led him to envision “Fields of Wheat,” a soon-to-be-established nation-wide hospitality village. Located in the Galilee, the center will host the Jewish and Arab believers of Israel through camps, conferences, retreats, and celebrations. Eitan has also authored the book, “What About Us? The end-time calling of Gentiles in Israel’s revival.”
Eitan and Connie’s have been married for 50 years of marriage and are blessed with four children and nine grandchildren.
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