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Vayikra/Leviticus 13:30 And the priest shall see the affliction
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This week's text is in the context of "a man or a woman in whom there will be an affliction, on the scalp or in the beard" (13:29, Artscroll). As with other instances oftzara'at, the priest is called upon to decide whether this is indeed tzara'at or simply a blemish or infection of another kind. As usual, the cohen is provided with a detailed description of by which to make his assessment: "deeper than the skin, and there is thin yellow hair in it" (v. 30, NASB). If the description matches, then the cohen is to pronounce the person unclean - it is tzara'at. Then follow one or two weeks of isolation to see how the affliction progresses, at the end of which other inspections may result in in the person being declared clean once more, or the unclean state continuing. Notice, however, that the cohen is not a doctor: he looks but does not cure, he offers no prescription or treatment other than the formal isolation that the Torah itself prescribes; his role is simply to arbitrate on the basis of the description or template of the condition the Torah provides and the condition of the person - then to issue a formal pronouncement of status. This is why after healing the leper - more accurately, the person with tzara'at - Yeshua sends him to the priest: to receive the formal status of 'clean', to bring the appropriate sacrifice and be accepted back into society; "Go, show yourself to the priest, and present the offering that Moshe commanded, for a testimony to them" (Matthew 8:4, CJB).
Yeshua Himself teaches about that we too are not only capable of making, but are required to make, this kind of determination. "Beware of false prophets! They come to you wearing sheep's clothing, but underneath they are hungry wolves! You will recognise them by their fruit" (Matthew 7:15-16, CJB). We have an obligation, for ourselves and for those who depend on our opinion or discernment, to assess others with whom we come into contact to ensure that they are not in a position to cause harm or damage. Here, as for the cohen in the sequence from the Torah, a template is provided to make the assessment that details the criteria to be used: "Can people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every healthy tree produces good fruit, but a poor tree produces bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot produce bad fruit, or a poor tree good fruit" (vv. 16-18, CJB). All sorts of other criteria that we might want to use - such as income, parentage, colour, speech, clothing - are conspicuously absent; Yeshua is interested in the fruit that is being produced in a person's life, the qualities they display - almost subconsciously - as they go about their normal business and living rather than set-piece performances put on for the benefit of others. Rav Sha'ul lists the fruit that G-d desires: "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23, CJB); it is these that we should expect to see being manifest in a good tree in the Kingdom of G-d. The rabbis agree: "Merit has a capital value and also bears fruit [interest], as it is stated, 'Say ye of the righteous, that it shall go well with him, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings' (Isaiah 3:10)" (Avot d'Rabbi Natan).
Yeshua closes by repeating his first injunction: "So you will recognise them by their fruit" (v. 20, CJB), and the words of the translation are chosen with care, for recognition is not the same as judgement. Throughout Yeshua's words and in the sequence from the Torah, no mention is made of judgement. The cohen pronounces the current status of the affliction or blemish; he does not make any comment as to how it got there, what behaviour, actions or attitudes might have contributed to it, or remedial action that implies a judgement of the person or their values. Likewise, Yeshua does not allow us to judge those around us; on the contrary, only a few verses earlier He explicitly says, "Don't judge, so that you won't be judged" (7:1, CJB). Judgement is only available for those who are in an appropriate authority structure and area of responsibility: a doctor makes a judgement (diagnosis) about illness; a policeman makes a judgement (ticket/citation) about traffic violations; a chef makes a judgement (menu) about food and recipes - and all of them issue appropriate instructions to correct, remedy or pay for problems! Except for those in positions of spiritual authority - pastors of churches/congregations, husbands/fathers of families, counsellors of clients - who are given or granted a limited authority, we are none of us in a position to judge our fellows on moral or religious grounds. More, none of use at all ever have the right to judge another human being's worth or value; that belongs to G-d alone. If we step into that position, either deliberately or inadvertently, then we develop attitudes, build walls and make meaningful relationships with other people impossible.
Further Study: D'varim 19:15-21; 1 Timothy 5:19-20
Application: How do you assess people and situations? Do you use your own standards or are you careful only to see G-d's standards and templates? Remember that while we have a responsibility to exercise discernment, we must not enter into judgement but always try to leave the channels of communication open.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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