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Vayikra/Leviticus 13:38 If there is, in the skin of their flesh, a shining scurf, white
Davidson analyses as a feminine plural noun from an unused root , which in Arabic means "to shine"; he gives the meaning as "a shining, whitish scurf, sinking in the skin and having white hair".Rashi, somewhat laconically, simply provides a one-word note: spots. The word is repeated both for emphasis and to indicate that there is likely to be several patches or areas, rather than just a single point. Whatever its precise physiological appearance, this is one of the several and somewhat diverse physical manifestations of tzara'at, a word with which translators and commentators over the centuries have struggled to convey an accurate meaning. Part of the problem is that it affects people, buildings and clothing - which a physical disease or infestation does not do; its appearance does not match leprosy or any of the known skin diseases or infections known to medicine, and the sheer variety of its forms makes it difficult to identify from a scientific point of view.
Maimonides, in his commentary on the Mishnah, Nega'im 12:5, states: "Our Sages have said that tzara'at comes as a punishment for the evil tongue, for its owner is isolated and can no longer harm people with his loose talk." Martin Buber comments: "According to the conception of Torah, tzara'at is an impurity which afflicts the affected body or object, and impurity implies the marring of the relationship between G-d and man" (M. Buber, The Teachings of the Prophets). So tzara'at can be seen as a spiritual or supernatural reflection of sin or a relationship breakdown between man and HaShem; a physical sign given by G-d in increasing levels of severity (person, clothing, house) to make somebody wake up and focus their attention on putting things right - and in all cases, it requires significant isolation or separation so that the afflicted person or items become untouchable, removed from normal society.
It was in that context that we read the gospel accounts of Yeshua's encounters with those whom society defined as excluded and untouchable. "A man afflicted with tzara'at came, kneeled down in front of Him and said, 'Sir, if You are willing, You can make me clean.' Yeshua reached out His hand, touched him and said, 'I am willing! Be cleansed!' And at once he was cleansed from his tzara'at" (Matthew 8:2-3, CJB). The man knew that he was untouchable, because anyone who touched him would themselves become ritually unclean, so he simply asks to be made clean. Yeshua, on the other hand, knows that the man needs contact in more ways than just verbal in order to be healed, so He breaks through the ritual barrier and touches the man and speaks the words of healing. The man is healed in response to the touch and the words - G-d broke through into his life!
Further Study: 2 Kings 5:9-14; Psalm 144:5-7; Matthew 14:35-36
Application: Are there people in your life that you treat as 'untouchable'? Relationships that have broken down to nothing more than polite but sterile existence? Now is the time to break through that barrier and - prompted and empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh - touch, speak words of comfort and faith, and see G-d's healing take place.
© Jonathan Allen, 2006
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