Parshat Tazria/Metzora
(and Acharei Mot/Kedoshim) -
The Internal Structure of the Laws of Tumah and Tahara

(To prepare for this shiur,
see the questions for self study.)

Why do Parshiot Tazria/Metzora interrupt the logical flow from Parshat Shmini to Parshat Acharei Mot?

In case this sounds a bit complicated, don't worry, we'll begin this week's shiur by first explaining this question. Then we'll use its answer to help us arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of this section of Sefer Vayikra.

Recall that the first half of Parshat Shmini included the story of tragic death of Aharon's two sons - Nadav and Avihu (see 10:1-9). Now, considering that Parshat Acharei Mot opens with God's commandment to Moshe and Aharon in the aftermath of that event [see 16:1 - "And God spoke to Moshe and Aharon after the death of the two sons of Aharon..."], it would have been more logical for the Torah to include this commandment in Parshat Shmini - immediately after the story of their death!

However, instead of this 'logical order,' Sefer Vayikra records some five chapters (11-15) of various laws in between. In this week's shiur, we will attempt to understand why.

To do so, Part One will discuss why Nadav and Avihu were punished and the relationship of these laws to that story. In Part Two we outline this set of laws found in the interim in order to better appreciate their detail.

Part I -
What Did Nadav and Avihu Do Wrong?

There is a very simple reason why there are so many different opinions concerning Nadav and Avihu's sin: the Torah only tells us what they did and that they were punished, but it does not explain why. Therefore, to uncover that reason, the various commentators find clues either within that pasuk itself [10:1, e.g. "aish zarah"], or in the 'neighboring' psukim [10:8-11, e.g. they were drunk, did not ask Moshe first, etc.].

[See Rashi, Ramban, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Chizkuni, etc.]

It is beyond the scope of this week's shiur to explain the beauty of each "pirush" [note how each commentary is so convincing that it is truly hard to choose between them]. However, we will simply focus on a very general approach [what we like to call 'simple pshat'] which will help us understand how this incident relates to the theme of Sefer Vayikra and the progression of its parshiot.

Our approach is be based on the Torah's emphasis (and repetition) of the phrase: "ka'asher tzivah Hashem" [as God has commanded] not only in the pasuk that describes Nadav and Avihu's sin (see 10:1), but also at almost every step in the Torah's description of the building of the Mishkan, the seven day "miluim" ceremony, and the Yom HaShmini dedication ceremony.

Following Orders
Let's begin by noting this key phrase in Moshe Rabbeinu's opening explanation of the special korbanot on Yom HaShmini:

"And Moshe said: Zeh HaDavar - This is what God has commanded that you do [in order] that His kavod [Glory] can appear upon you [once again]..." (9:6; see also 9:1-5)
Carefully note how Moshe declares this statement in front of the entire "eydah" [congregation] that has gathered to watch this ceremony. [See 9:5! Note also in 9:3-4 that Moshe explains to the people that these korbanot will 'bring back' the Sh'china.]

But this was not the first time that Moshe had made such a declaration. Seven days earlier, as the seven day "miluim" ceremony was about to begin, Moshe had made an almost identical statement to Bnei Yisrael:

"And Moshe said to the entire eydah [gathered at the Ohel Moed - 8:3] - Zeh HaDavar - This is what God has commanded to do..." (8:5)
Why must Moshe, prior to offering these special korbanot, first explain the details of these procedures to the entire congregation who have gathered to watch?

Furthermore, throughout every step of both the seven day miluim and the Yom HaShmini korbanot, the Torah emphasizes over and over again this very same phrase "ka'asher tzivah Hashem et Moshe"!

To verify this, simply review chapter 8 [the miluim], noting 8:4,5,9,13,17,21,29 and especially the final pasuk:

"And Aharon and his sons did all the things ["ha'dvarim"] - asher tzivah Hashem - as God had commanded Moshe!" (8:36)
Likewise, review chapter 9 [the Yom HaShmini korbanot], noting 9:5,6,7,10,21! Note how the Torah concludes each stage of this special ceremony with this same phrase.

Finally, recall from Parshat Vayakhel/Pekudei that when Bnei Yisrael build the Mishkan we find almost the exact same pattern! Moshe's opening command to Bnei Yisrael is (again) almost identical:

"And Moshe said to the entire congregation of Israel [eydah] Zeh HaDavar asher tzivah Hashem - This is what God has commanded saying: Take a donation... " (35:4, see also 35:1)
And when the Torah describes how Bnei Yisrael complete the Mishkan and assemble all of its parts, this same phrase "ka'asher tzivah Hashem et Moshe" - is repeated some twenty times, (again) at the conclusion of each and every stage [coinciding with the end of each 'parshia'].

[See not only 35:29, 36:1, and 36:5 but also 39:1,5,7,21,26,29,31,32,42,43 and 40:16,19,21,23,25,27,29,32!]

In summary, the Torah goes out of its way to inform us that Moshe gathers the entire eydah together to explain the precise details of what they must follow ["zeh ha'davar asher tzivah Hashem..."] before each and every one of the three key events the Mishkan, i.e. before:

Afterward, the Torah also informs us how Bnei Yisrael indeed follow each command - "ka'asher tzivah..."! Clearly, the Torah is sending a very strong message that in regard to the Mishkan, God demands that man must act precisely in accordance to His command - without changing even one minute detail.

Nadav and Avihu's Punishment
With this background, we can better understand why Nadav and Avihu are punished on Yom HaShmini when they decide (on their own) to offer k'toret. Note the Torah's description of their sin:

"And Nadav and Avihu each took their firepan, put in it fire and added k'toret, and they brought an alien fire in front of God which He had not commanded them ['asher lo tzivah']."
Their fire is considered "aish zarah" [alien] simply because God 'did not command them' to offer it. Nadav and Avihu may have had the purest intentions, but they made one critical mistake - they did not act according to the precise protocol which God had prescribed for that day. Considering that the entire eydah gathered at the Ohel Mo'ed recognize that Nadav and Avihu have strayed from protocol, they must be punished, for the lesson of that day was exactly this point - that in the Mishkan man must meticulously follow every detail of God's command.

[Note that this interpretation does not negate any of the other opinions which suggest that Nadav and Avihu had done something else wrong [such as drinking or disrespect of Moshe, etc.]. It simply allows us to understand the severity their punishment even if they had done nothing 'wrong' at all (other than doing something which God had not commanded).]

From a thematic perspective, their punishment under these circumstances is quite understandable. Recall the theological dilemma created by a Mishkan - a physical representation (or symbol) of a transcendental God. Once a physical object is used to represent God, the danger exists that man may treat that object [and then possibly another object] as a god itself. On the other hand, without a physical representation of any sort, it is very difficult for man to relate to God at all. Therefore, God allows a Mishkan - a symbol of His Presence - but at the same time, He must emphasize that He can only be worshiped according to the precise manner "as God had commanded Moshe."

[See also Devarim 4:9-24 for the Torah's discussion of a similar fear that man may choose his own object to represent God [a "tavnit..."; compare Shmot 25:8-9, "v'akmal".]

The Problem of 'Good Intentions'
This specific problem of 'following God's command' in relation to the Mishkan takes on extra meaning on Yom HaShmini.

Recall our explanation of Aharon's sincere intentions at the incident of Chet Ha'Egel, i.e. he wanted to provide Bnei Yisrael with a physical symbol of God which they could worship. [See previous shiur on Ki-Tisa.] Despite Aharon's good intentions, his actions led to a disaster, and, because of Chet Ha'Egel, K'vod Hashem [God's Glory / Sh'china]) which had appeared to Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai (see Shmot 24:17) was taken away (see 33:1-7).

Due to Moshe's intervention, God finally allows His Sh'china to return to the Mishkan which Bnei Yisrael build. Now, on the very day of its dedication, just as the Sh'china is about to return to the Mishkan (see 9:23-24), Nadav and Avihu make a 'mistake' very similar to Aharon's original error at Chet Ha'Egel.

[Not only can this explain why they are so severely punished, it may also help us understand their father's reaction of: "va'yidom Aharon" (and Aharon stood silent) - see 10:3).]

Finally, this interpretation can help us understand Moshe's statement to Aharon: "This is what God had spoken - b'krovai akadeish..." (see 10:3). Recall the parallel, which we have discussed many times, between Har Sinai and the Mishkan. At Har Sinai, Bnei Yisrael and the Kohanim were forewarned:

"And God told Moshe: Go down and warn the people that they must not break through [the barrier surrounding] Har Sinai, lest they gaze at Hashem and perish. The Kohanim also, who come near Hashem, must sanctify themselves ('yitkadashu' - compare 'b'krovei akadeish' - 10:3), lest God punish them." (Shmot 19:21)
As this inaugural ceremony parallels the events of Har Sinai, God's original warning concerning approaching Har Sinai, even for the Kohanim, now applies to the Mishkan as well. Therefore, extra caution is necessary, no matter how good one's intentions may be. [See also Chizkuni on 10:3!]

Back to Sefer Vayikra
Now we can return to our original question. In Sefer Vayikra, the sin of Nadav and Avihu introduces an entire set of laws that discuss improper entry into the Mishkan. After this tragic event, the sefer discusses the various laws of "tumah v'tahara," which regulate who is permitted and who is forbidden to enter the Mishkan (i.e. chapters 11-15). Only afterward does Sefer Vayikra return (in chapter 16) to God's command to Aharon concerning how to enter the Mikdash properly on Yom Kippur.

In Part Two, we discuss the content of this special unit of mitzvot from chapter 11-15.

Part II -
Who Can Enter the Mishkan: Tumah and Tahara

We often find ourselves lost in the maze of complicated laws concerning "tumah" and "tahara" that the Torah details in Parshiot Tazria and Metzora. Even though it is not easy to understand the reasoning for these laws, the internal structure of these Parshiot is quite easy to follow.

In Part II, we outline the flow of parshiot from Parshat Shmini through Metzora and attempt to explain why they are located specifically in this section of Sefer Vayikra.

The Unit
As Board #1 shows, each of these five chapters deals with a topic related in one form or manner to "tumah" (spiritual uncleanliness).

Not only do these parshiot discuss how one contracts these various types of tumah; they also explain how one can cleanse himself from these tumot, i.e. how he becomes tahor. For the simplest type of tumah, one need only wash his clothing and wait until sundown (see 11:27-28,32,40). For more severe types of tumah, to become tahor one must first wait seven days and then bring a set of special korbanot.

This entire unit follows a very logical progression. It begins with the least severe type of tumah, known as "tumah erev" - one day tumah (lit. - until the evening), and then continues with the more severe type of tumah, known as "tumah shiva," seven day tumah. Within each category, the Torah first explains how one contracts each type of tumah, then it explains the how he becomes tahor from it.

The outline in Board #2 summarizes this structure. Note how each section of the outline concludes with a pasuk which begins with "zot torat...":

About the Outline
I recommend that you review this outline as you study the Parsha. Note that even though the details are very complicated, the overall structure is actually quite simple.

Note also how the Torah summarizes each section with a phrase beginning with "Zot torat... - this is the procedure (or ritual) for..." [See the previous shiur on Parshat Parah in which we discussed the meaning of the word Torah in Chumash.] The repetition of key phrases such as these is often helpful towards identifying the internal structure of parshiot in Chumash.

Our division of the outline into two sections, one-day tumah and seven-day tumah, may at first appear to be a bit misleading for we also find many cases of one-day tumah in the second section. However, the cases of one-day tumah in the second section are quite different for they are caused by a person who had first become tamey for seven days. Therefore, we have defined them as 'secondary' tumah in that section.

[Tumat keri (15:16-18) may be another exception since it is an independent one-day tumah; however it could be considered a sub-category within the overall framework of tumat zav.]

[See also further iyun section for a discussion why the one-day tumah section includes kashrut laws.]

Why the Interruption?
Now that we have established that chapters 11-15 form a distinct unit that discusses the laws of tumah and tahara, we can return to our original question - why does this unit interrupt the natural flow from Parshat Shmini (chapter 10) to Parshat Acharei Mot (chapter 16)?

The concluding psukim of this unit can provide us with a possible explanation. As we have noted in our outline, this entire unit contains an important finale pasuk:

"V'hizartem et Bnei Yisrael mitumatam... And you shall put Bnei Yisrael on guard [JPS - see further iyun regarding translation of 'vhizartem'] against their tumah, lest they die through their tumah by defiling My Mishkan which is among them." (see 15:31)
This pasuk connects the laws of tumah and tahara to the laws of the Mishkan. Bnei Yisrael must be careful that should they become tamey, they must not enter the Mishkan. In fact, the primary consequence for one who has become tamey is the prohibition that he can not enter the Mikdash complex. There is no prohibition against becoming tamey; the only prohibition is against entering the Mishkan should he be tamey.

Hence, the entire tahara process as well is only necessary for one who wishes to enter the Mishkan. If there is no Mishkan, one can remain tamey his entire life with no other consequence (see further iyun section).

With this background, we can suggest a common theme for the first 16 chapters of Sefer Vayikra - the ability of Bnei Yisrael to enter the Mishkan, to come closer to God. Let's explain.

The first section of Sefer Vayikra, chapters 1-7, explains how and when the individual can bring a korban and how they are offered by the kohen. The next section, chapters 8-10, records the special Mishkan dedication ceremony, which prepared Bnei Yisrael and the Kohanim for working in and using the Mishkan. As this ceremony concluded with the death of Nadav and Avihu for improper entry into the Mishkan (when offering the "k'toret zara"), Sefer Vayikra continues with an entire set of commandments concerning tumah and tahara, chapters 11-15, which regulate who can and cannot enter the Mishkan. This unit ends with laws of Yom Kippur, which describe the procedure of how the "kohen gadol" (high priest) can enter the most sacred domain of the Mishkan - the Kodesh K'doshim.

Even though these laws of tumah and tahara may have been given to Moshe at an earlier or later time, once again, we find that Sefer Vayikra prefers thematic continuity over chronological order (see shiur on Parshat Tzav). First, the Sefer discusses who cannot enter the Mishkan. Then it explains who can enter its most sacred domain.

Zehirut - Being Careful
Up until this point, we have discussed the technical aspects of the structure of this unit in Parshiot Shmini, Tazria and Metzora. Is there any significance to these laws of tumah and tahara today as well?

The simplest explanation is based on our parallel between the Mishkan and Har Sinai. Just as Bnei Yisrael's encounter with God at Har Sinai required special preparation, so too man's encounter with God in the Mishkan. It would not be proper for man just to 'hop on in' whenever he feels like entering the Mishkan. Instead, each time an individual plans to offer a korban or enter the Mishkan for any other reason, he must prepare himself by making sure not to come in contact with anything which would make him tamey. Should for any reason he become tamey, he must wash his clothes and wait until the next day. Should he himself contract a major type of tumah such as tzara'at or zav, then he must wait at least seven days and undergo a special ritual which will make him tahor.

All of these complicated laws cause the man who wishes to visit the Mishkan to be very careful and constantly aware of everything he touches, or carries, etc., thus enhancing his spiritual readiness for entering the Mishkan.

Today, even without a Mishkan, man must still make every effort to find God's Presence, even though it is hidden. Therefore, man's state of constant awareness and caution concerning everything that he says and does remains a primary means by which man can come closer to God, even though no Bet HaMikdash exists.

Virtual ClassRoom enhancements by Reuven Weiser.

For Further Iyun
A. In relation to the translation of the word "v'hizartem et Bnei Yisrael..." (15:31), see Ibn Ezra. He explains that the word does not stem from "azhara" = warning, but rather from the word "nazir," to separate oneself ["zarut"]. Then "nun" simply falls which is noted by the dagesh in the "zayin." See Ibn Ezra inside!

B. Since this section of chapters 11-15 discuss various laws of tumah and tahara, one would expect it to include the laws of tumat meyt (caused by touching a dead person). Instead, the Torah records these laws in Parshat Chukat, Bamidbar chapter 19. It appears as though that parsha was 'spliced' from this unit and 'transferred' to Sefer Bamidbar. This parsha is one of many parshiot in Sefer Bamidbar that would appear to 'belong' in Sefer Vayikra instead. Im yirtzeh Hashem, we will explain the reason for this in our shiurim on Sefer Bamidbar - "v'akmal."

C. At first glance, the section in our unit that discusses one-day tumah (chapter 11) appears to be discussing "kashrut" (dietary laws) more than tumah, for it details which animals are permitted or forbidden to be eaten. However, the dietary laws are mentioned here because one becomes tamey should he eat the meat of an animal that is tamey.

To prove this, simply compare this parsha to the dietary laws in Parshat Re'ay (see Dvarim 14:1-21). There we find only dietary laws and not laws of tumah and tahara. Therefore, laws such as "basar v'chalav" are mentioned in that parsha, while the laws of tumah are not!

D. These laws that discuss who can and cannot enter the Mikdash are sometimes referred to as Hilchot Biyat Mikdash (see Rambam Sefer Avodah). Obviously, these laws apply only when a Mikdash exists, as there is no other consequence of 'becoming tamey' other than limited entry to areas containing Sh'chinah.

Nonetheless, there are several circumstances when it is still necessary to know these laws. For example, entering Har HaBayit even when there is no Mikdash requires that one not be tamey. These laws also relate to eating trumot and ma'asrot.

E. See 11:44-45:

"...v'hitkadishtem, v'yehiytem k'doshim, ki kadosh ani v'lo t'tam'u et nafshoteichem.... ki ani Hashem ha'maale etchem m'eretz mitzrayim, l'hiyot lachem l'Elokim, v'heyitem k'doshim... l'havdil bein ha'tamey u'vein ha'tahor..."
This finale of the section explaining one-day tumah connects the theme of Sefer Shmot, that Hashem took us out Egypt in order that we become His nation, to the laws of tumah and tahara. To become God's nation, we must be like Him. Just as He is "kadosh" (set aside, different), we must also be "kadosh."

Man's spirituality begins with his recognition that he is different than animal. Although man and animal are similar in many ways, man must realize that he was set aside by God for a higher purpose. God blessed man with special qualities in order that he fulfill that purpose. [See Rambam in Moreh Nvuchim I.1 regarding the definition of tzelem elokim. It is not by coincidence that the Rambam begins Moreh Nvuchim with this concept.]

These laws of "tumat ochlim" teach Am Yisrael that they must differentiate between man and animal, and between different types of animals. By doing so, man will learn to differentiate between divine and mundane, between "tamey and tahor," and finally between good and bad, right and wrong, etc.

F. In previous shiurim, we explained how the cycles of seven found in Chumash relate to our need to recognize the hand of God behind nature. Why do you think that we also find cycles of seven in the laws of tzara'at, zav, and zavah, which appear to be the exact opposite, that is abnormalities in nature?

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