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Vayikra/Leviticus 13:58 And the garment, or the warp or the woof, or any article of leather, that you have washed, and the sign of affliction had left them, it shall be washed a second time and shall be ritually clean.
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A garment has been found to have signs of tzara'at and has been shown to the priest who has ordered it to be washed and then confined for seven days. Our text comes at the end of that seven day period. Various things may have happened - the tzara'at spreading, the stain remaining or just fading - but this is the best result: that all signs of the tzara'at have gone. A second wash and then the garment can be put back into normal use, it is ritually clean.
But what is all this about a second wash? If it is clean, what is a second wash going to achieve?Ibn Ezra says that "there is a specific commandment to launder it a second time." As the same verb - , to wash, in Pi'el/Pu'al, to wash, cleanse or purify - is used for both operations, he seems to have a point. The first one, , is the Pi'el 2ms prefix form; the second, , is the Pu'al 3ms affix form with a vav-reversive. Targum Onkelos disagrees: it changes the first to the Aramaic , from the root , to wash or cleanse; the second to , from the root , to sink or immerse. This prompts Rashi to claim that the second instance of in our text means "immersion". As Rabbi Hirsch explains, "the first wash is for the possible removal of (the staining or visible marking); the second is (immersion) in a mikvah (a ritual bath) for the purpose of (ritual purity). One is an action of domestic laundry, the second an act of ritual cleansing.
Two unusual words in the text help us to understand how serious the affliction of tzara'at can be. , the warp, describes the vertical, drawn threads of the loom while the woof, describes the horizontal threads woven by the passage of the shuttle from side to side of the loom. Walter Kaiser suggests that the mention of both warp and woof stresses "that the tzara'at is not just a surface matter; it has penetrated into the very fabric itself."1 In a similar vein, Jacob Milgrom comments that "the text mentions the warp and the woof to ensure that the reader understands that tzara'at may appear on fabrics and on yards and threads on a loom." Tzara'at can be both pervasive and all encompassing, needing thorough laundry-style washing - with appropriate rubbing and pounding of the wet fabric to try and remove the tell-tale stains. Once clean, a second ritual wash is needed to move the clean but still impure garment back into a usable, ritually pure condition ready to be worn again.
Images of washing appear prominently through the whole Bible. King David, for example, calls out toHaShem, "Have mercy upon me, O G-d, as befits Your faithfulness; in keeping with Your abundant compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity, and purify me of my sin; for I recognize my transgressions, and am ever conscious of my sin." (Psalm 51:3-5, NJPS). He cannot live with himself and knows how deeply the sin with Bathsheba has penetrated into his life. He knows that he needs a thorough and deep cleaning. Yet at another time, David can be confident of his purity: "I wash my hands in innocence, and walk around Your altar, O L-RD, raising my voice in thanksgiving, and telling all Your wonders" (26:6-7, NJPS). He has washed his hands - the symbolic agents or tools of everything that he does - and can praise HaShem in innocence.
Centuries later, after Jerusalem - perhaps in the days of King Ahaz - has fallen from its position as a city of honesty, integrity and righteousness to become the centre of political and military intrigue against the will of G-d and a focus of oppression and injustice, HaShem calls the attention of His people to their hands: "When you lift up your hands, I will turn My eyes away from you; though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime" (Isaiah 1:15, NJPS). There is only one thing to do: "Wash yourselves clean; put your evil doings away from My sight. Cease to do evil; Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow" (vv. 16-17, NJPS). These are important social justice issues that should flow naturally from being HaShem's chosen people; this is how a holy nation and royal priesthood should behave, not in the way that they have been. But all is not lost. Terminal though they may be if things continue as they are, change is possible: "Come, let us reach an understanding, -- says the L-RD. Be your sins like crimson, they can turn snow-white; be they red as dyed wool, they can become like fleece" (v. 18, NJPS). The people must choose whether they will obey HaShem and "eat the good things of the earth" (v. 19, NJPS), or refuse and disobey, to "be devoured by the sword" (v. 20, NJPS).
Over a hundred years later, it seems as though little has changed. Jeremiah calls out, "O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you?" (Jeremiah 4:14, ESV). In both cases - whether in Isaiah's days or in those of Jeremiah - the people are challenged to wash their hands or their hearts. Washing is the only way to purge the people and the city of the ugly stains of sin that have penetrated the very fabric of the nation and its character. Jerusalem has been called up for inspection by the priest - in this case, HaShem Himself - and the tell-tales marks of sin have been found. Washing is prescribed and seven days isolation. If the stain has not completely gone at the end of that time, then just as the tzara'at afflicted garment was to be entirely burned by fire, or for the patches of stain to be cut or torn out of the garment and burned, so Jerusalem would be wholly or partially handed over to their enemies to discipline His people with deportation into exile and destruction of the Temple.
After his revelation of Yeshua on the road to Damascus and three days of blindness, searching his soul and repenting of his sin in persecuting Yeshua's followers, Rav Sha'ul is visited by Ananias who tells him, "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name" (Acts 22:16, ESV). Baptism, a ritual washing by full immersion in living water, will wash Sha'ul clean and bring him into the state of ritual purity before G-d. Sha'ul himself passes this encouragement on to the Yeshua-believers in Corinth when he writes, "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of G-d" (2 Corinthians 7:1, ESV). Wash yourselves and claim the promises that G-d has given, he urges them; become clean from sin and move into that state of holiness that should be the position of all believers in Yeshua. James, uses the same image from the psalmist's question - "Who shall ascend the hill of the L-RD? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart" (Psalm 24:3-4, ESV) - when he tells his community to "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8, ESV).
Part way through his apocalyptic vision, John sees "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands" (Revelation 7:9, ESV). Now, crowds of people, from all over the known world, praising G-d, were not every day occurrences in Jerusalem, but equally no strange event either. Jews - a not a few Gentiles - would go up to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate the feasts before HaShem. It was just such a day when "Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs" (Acts 2:9-11, NASB) were present in the Temple to witness the outpouring of the Ruach on the day of Shavuot (Pentecost). But the group John sees are different: for a start there are many more of them that could fit in the Temple; then they are all dressed in white robes rather than the usual mix of colours and garments. He must have been looking amazed, because one of the elders asks him, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?" (Revelation 7:13, ESV). As John is unable to answer, the elder tells him, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (v. 14, ESV). There it is again: they have washed their robes and made them white.
Have you washed your hands and heart to be clean before G-d? Have you called upon Yeshua to forgive your sin and "cleanse you from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9, ESV)? If not, then you must do so today; do not delay, for you cannot otherwise enter the kingdom of G-d. Do you keep short accounts, frequently going back to Yeshua to wash your hands again, to stay clean before Him? We must do this often, for we all commit sin in little (and sometimes, not so little) ways each day in what we say or don't say and our attitudes and actions before others. Even though the disciples had walked with Yeshua for three years, He washed their feet before they shared the Last Pesach Supper with Him. How much more so we who do not have His physical presence with us or hear the sound of His voice every day but have to work by faith, through the pages of the Bible and the prompting of the Spirit. But the words of our text encourage us: if we will wash another time, we will be clean.
1. - Walter J. Kaiser, "Leviticus" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 591.
Further Study: Psalm 51:9-14; Jeremiah 33:1-3; Hebrews 9:13-14
Application: When was the last time you washed your hands before the L-rd? Alcohol gel is no substitute; we must wash our hands by the power of the Spirit in Yeshua's blood from the cross and the stream of water that flows from His temple. Then we shall be clean!
Comment - 01:19 11Apr21 BC: I was reminded of Titus 3:5-6 "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of The Holy Ghost."Usercomment(17:13 11Apr21, Kate, Amen! Bless God who has made a way for us to be clean before Him in all His holiness. Grateful for this reminder and encouragement of how we can continually just wash again!)
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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