Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Parshat Metzora

The Four Lepers

The Parshat Hashavua continues the theme of tzara'at and the haftara tells the story of four lepers who saved ancient kingdom.

In order to understand the story, we need some background.

Ben Hadad, king of Aram was besieging the city of Samaria. The siege caused a severe famine for the inhabitants of Samaria, so much so that a donkey's head sold at 80 pieces of silver and a small amount of dove's dung sold for five silver pieces. Moreover, the king comes across an episode of cannibalism, when a mother ate her own child.

The king blames Elisha, the prophet, for the famine and tries to have him killed. However, Elisha prophesizes that the famine would end the very next day. Indeed, a se'ah of fine flour would be sold for as little as one shekel.

One of he king's officers scoffed at this news. Even if the siege would end the next day, with Israel being victorious in battle, there was no way they could be rehabilitated to such an extent that the value of flour would drop so quickly.

And so our story begins, the four lepers, who live outside the gates of the city, in keeping with the rule that lepers were impure and would be forbidden from entering the camp.

They accept that if they stay put, they would die of hunger. However, if they turned themselves over to the Arameans, they would have small chance of being spared. That is what they decide to do.

Yet, when they approach the Aramean camp, they find it deserted of human life. The Arameans, believing that the Hittites and the Egyptians were on the way to rescue them, fled. So hasty was their departure that they left all their supplies behind.

When the lepers discover this, they inform the king of Israel. The story is verified and with the abundance of food, famine ends, and just as Elisha had promised, "seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel" (II Melachim 7:16).

One of the messages of this story is to teach us the swiftness of salvation: one day food was so scarce that Israel was reduced to eating animal feces and even cannibalism, yet the very next day, flour had lost its value. A similar event occurred at the Exodus, one moment Israel believes itself to be on the verge of annihilation, a few hours later, the Egyptians were all lying dead on the banks of the Red Sea.

However bad our predicament may be, however, unending the sorrow may seem to last, one must never give up hope that it all can change in an instant that our sorrow can to turn to joy, that our fears of annihilation can actually herald our redemption.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Parshat Tazria

Tzara'a – a Physical or Spiritual disease

This week's parsha deals with an issue which does not seem to be relevant to our modern lives – tzara'at – often translated as leprosy, though the symptoms described in the Torah bare little resemblance to Hansen's disease.

The Torah goes into to great detail describing the symptoms, quarantining the patient from others and the procedure of purification. Indeed, when the patient was in the vicinity of others, he had to call out "unclean, unclean" (VaYikra 13:45)

The assumption to be drawn from here is that in the ancient world, tzara'at was a common highly contagious disease. Nevertheless, the abbis contend that this illness was a physical illness that was inflicted by God as result of sin. How do they come to this conclusion?

Torah brings us two episodes of people with tza'rat:

The first person was Moshe: "put your hand into your bosom," and he put his hand into his bosom, and he took it out, and behold, his hand was leprous like snow" (Shemot 4:6).

The second was his sister, Miriam: "The cloud departed from above the Tent, and behold, Miriam was afflicted with tzara'at, [as white] as snow" (Bemidbar 10).

Both the illnesses were inflicted as resulted of speaking the ill of others, Moshe claimed that Israel would not believe Israel him when he promised them freedom form slavery (see Rashi on Shemot 4:6), while Miriam had spoken ill of Moshe and his wife.

Therefore, even though the illness had a physical manifestation, its origins lay in sin.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Tazria, entitled: "Seven Followed by Eight" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Tazria, entitled: "The Sin-Offering of the Mother" appears at

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