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Vayikra/Leviticus 13:27 And the priest shall see him on the seventh day
This examination comes after a week of isolation following a wound caused by a burn that was initially inconclusive as to whether it was an affliction of tzara'at. The priest's first examination found no white hair in the wound, which was also at the same level as the surrounding skin, but is pale or faded. Many burns look like this. A week is allowed to see what happens; then the priest makes a second inspection. If the wound has spread, the wound is classed as tzara'at (v. 27) and the person is declared unclean, while if it remains the same size and fades, the wound is simply a normal burn and the person remains clean.
Hirsch comments that "the cohen has to concentrate his gaze upon the area and compare it with the colour of the rest of the skin and compare it with the tint of normal skin." He also adds that, "every examination must be made by day, not towards twilight nor in the confusing full midday light, but in the middle hours of the forenoon and afternoon". In this way, the priest will be able to give the best and most faithful decision on the status of the wound. This opinion comes after many years of halachic discussion and rulings, but can the text above sustain it? The verb used comes from the root , commonly "to see or look", in fact by far the most commonly used verb for sight. If Hirsch's comment is correct, then we might expect the verb , a verb only used in Pi'el or Hif'il, "to look at, or behold", or perhaps even , "to explore, examine, try". Indeed, many translations (CJB, ESV, NIV, NKJV, NRSV) offer "examine" as the English translation at this point because it does convey the idea of an inspection better than simply "look at", but this may not be altogether justified.
TheSforno is concerned that it is the priest who should carry out the observation and from his lips that a decision should flow. Citing "For the lips of a priest guard knowledge, and men seek rulings from his mouth; for he is a messenger of the L-RD of Hosts" (Malachi 2:7, JPS), the Sforno explains that "since all afflictions are decided by their mouths, they will gain expertise regarding the levels of appearance, so being able to differentiate between one affliction and another." Because this is the exclusive role of the priests, they have sufficient experience and practice to be able to determine the cause for the wound's appearance. It would seem that while an inspection has to take place, a lot depends upon the person who carries it out and their skill and experience. Doctors, as a class, have a wide and varied "bed-side manner" in the way they talk to and interact with their patients. Some are very engaging, being concerned to put the patient at their ease; others can be rather patronising, while others are totally detached and clinical which may make the patient feel "like a side of meat hung up on a hook in the corner of the cold room".
From this, then, it is reasonable to suppose that the examination is not intrusive or demeaning. In order "to see", the wound and its surroundings must be exposed as well as sufficient skin area to determine the "normal" skin colouration and texture; the person with the wound need not necessarily strip naked and stand around in public for half an hour while the priest thinks about it. "To see", on the other hand, clearly mandates vision: the inspection must be thorough enough to fulfill its purpose - determination of tzara'at or not - but not to humiliate the sufferer. It must be "matter of fact" and avoid embarrassment, but provide no opportunity for deceit or cover-up. If found to be tzara'at, then the afflicted person must be declared unclean and sent outside the camp; this for the sake of both the person concerned and the rest of the people; this is a serious undertaking, but is a direct command from HaShem to enable Him to dwell among the people in the camp. Concealing a wound which might have developed into tzara'at, so that it was not inspected and the appropriate action taken, or obscuring it so that a true diagnosis could not be determined would compromise the purity status of the whole camp.
Let us carry this forward to ministry situations today. Whether formal counselling, deliverance ministry or simply helping lame dogs over stiles, the same ground rules must apply. A key verse here is, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working" (James 5:16, ESV). This is certainly not a call for massive public confession of sins by individuals - unless their sin has affected the majority of the people, so that a public acknowledgement is necessary - for that might entail a huge and disproportionate humiliation. On the contrary, the phrase "one another" is used twice, suggesting that either another individual or at most a small group setting is more in James' view. The word "confess" clearly implies a significant degree of openness and transparency on the part of the one making the disclosure, but doesn't give permission for a full-scale interrogation beyond what is strictly necessary for confession; more, it certainly doesn't speak of a comprehensive life questionnaire and persistent digging where the person does not want to go. It is for the Holy Spirit to convict of sin and then for man to confess it. Pressure for the confession of something "significant" or spectacular, either for the listeners to feel that they have done their job properly or for the discloser to get the listeners off his back - perhaps even by making something up or making more of it than strictly true - is both manipulative and abusive. Finally, the prayer is made by "a righteous person", just a single person. This is, of course, not totally prescriptive; modern safeguarding best-practice would suggest that there should always be two listeners and that gender issues should be carefully observed, but many counsellors will work one-to-one with clients of the same gender as themselves.
Tzara'at is a physical manifestation; it is a discolouration of an area of skin, possibly including the growth or absence of hair of a changed colour, and with either swelling in or around the affected area. While, to a layman, it may appear or sound similar to leprosy - and is so translated in older versions of the Bible - it does not match the clinical profile of any known form of leprosy or skin disease. The rabbis have long held the position that it is a supernatural sign, imposed by the Almighty in response to certain sins that would not otherwise be visible, such as slander, speaking badly of others behind their backs, judging people harshly and so on. The declaration of impurity and isolation from other people by removal from the camp, provides a means of preventing those contaminated words or toxic attitudes from affecting other people; it also provides space and time for the offender to realise that their words and attitudes have been visible to G-d if not to other people and that repentance and confession are required before they can be restored to fellowship.
While tzara'at is not seen physically today, that does not mean that the words and attitudes held to trigger its appearance no longer exist. If anything, the behaviour of society seems to deteriorate in each generation - at least in the eyes of those in each previous generation - and bad attitudes and bad-mouthing have never been more openly displayed. Instead, perhaps, of an external physical manifestation, we now see an internal manifestation. Self-worth or image, respect for others, behavioural standards are all plummeting as people believe the lies that the enemy sells them: that they are alone or abandoned; that they are rejected, dirty or shameful; that they are worthless, inadequate and hopeless. These internal scars spiral down into worse and worse behaviour that simply confirms the lies. Without hope and no visible way out, people become totally focussed on the now, on short-term demands and pleasures; it is never worth thinking about tomorrow or the long-term because that may never come and, in any case, it won't be any different: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (Isaiah 22:13, ESV).
As believers in Messiah, we have the truth that breaks the lies of the enemy. We know that there is a way out. Just as those with tzara'at had a time for repentance after which they were healed, offered a sacrifice as a sin offering and could re-enter the camp, we know that recognition of the lies, repenting of bad lifestyle choices, confession of sin and seeking G-d's forgiveness in Messiah Yeshua, leads to reconciliation both with G-d and with man as people are rehabilitated into the family of G-d. There they find wholeness, acceptance, security and self-worth as they grow into their true identities as sons and daughters of G-d and throw off the lies of the past.
Further Study: 2 Kings 20:1-7; Hebrews 12:12-15; Acts 19:17-20
Application: Where are you living right now? Are you isolated outside the camp because you are unclean, or hiding somewhere inside the camp, afraid to reveal your impurity, for fear of being put out? Take hold of the freedom we have in Messiah and claim His purity and hope for your life today. There is a way out for you and it is Him: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6).
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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