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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

28. Priests Were the Original Grifters

Exploring the spiritual-impurity-to-priestly-offerings pipeline.

Parshah Metzora

TL;DR of the Text

Major Themes

  • Religious shame and humiliation

  • Religion as a vehicle for control over our environment

  • Sexual shame

*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash: the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

Leviticus 14: 2-8*

“This shall be the law of the metzora on the day of his purification: He shall be brought to the Kohen…He shall take [a live bird] with the cedar wood and the crimson thread and the hyssop, and he shall dip them and the live bird into the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the spring water. Then he shall sprinkle seven times upon the person being purified from the tzaraas…

The person being purified shall immerse his clothing, shave off all his hair, and immerse himself in the water and become pure. Thereafter he may enter the camp; but he shall dwell outside of his tent for seven days.”

The word “metzora” refers to someone diagnosed with the tzaraas skin affliction. 

First of all, this whole process sounds like what you get when two friends try to one-up each other. “What if we put Fruit Loops on the sundae?” “I’ll do you one better - let’s put nacho cheese on it!” etc. 

I mentioned this passage to call attention to the last part of it. The metzorah was declared ritually pure and could re-enter society, but the person had to live outside his tent for a week? Considering the substantial proof that this tzaraas thing was not an actual transmissible disease, the only possible explanation for forcing someone to live right outside their home for a week, in full view of their community, is humiliation. 

Leviticus 14: 21-22*

“If he is poor and his means are not sufficient, then he shall take one male lamb as a guilt-offering for a wave-service to provide atonement for him; and one tenth-ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a meal-offering, and a log of oil. And two turtledoves or two young doves - for whichever his means are sufficient - one shall be a sin-offering and one an elevation-offering.” 

Let’s get this straight. First, the metzora had to face the humiliation of being deemed “spiritually impure” because of a sunspot. Then, he endured exile from his community. Finally, after everything, the purification ritual was also stratified based on wealth, so everyone would know if he were poor?

Even the poor person’s offering seems quite expensive. I’m sure there were many people who couldn’t have afforded it. If the offering really were that important, you’d think there would have been only one option affordable enough for anyone to purchase it.  

Success Kid meme where the triumphant baby is Israelite priests after they figured out the more sins they made up, the more offerings they got.

Leviticus 14: 34-37*

“When you arrive in the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I will place a tzaraas affliction upon a house in the land of your possession; the one to whom the house belongs shall come and declare to the Kohen… the Kohen [shall] come to look at the house. He shall look at the affliction and behold! - the affliction is in the walls of the house, depressions, deep greens or deep reds; and their appearance is lower than the wall.”

Ancient pagans performed sacrifices to appease nature because they believed every natural event was the result of some god’s intentional decision. We look at paganism today and can understand the fear driving their beliefs. Nature was scary! Not that it isn’t terrifying now, of course. But considering how little control humans had over their environments back then, it made sense for them to deify nature in order to create some semblance of control over their situations. 

The same thing happened here. In fact, I don’t know if we ever lost this thread in our religions. Our religions have become more complex, but at their root they still offer an all-encompassing explanation for, well, everything.

The affliction described in this passage might be mold. To think that the Israelites woke up finding mold in their house and believed it was a judgment from God! Imagine the overwhelming fear of life and nature this created! 

Leviticus 15:2*

“Any man who will have a discharge from his flesh, his discharge is contaminated.” 

It wouldn’t be a religion if we didn’t have a nice big helping of sexual shame! If a man’s flesh (penis) got contaminated from his discharge, not only was he contaminated, but so were: his bedding, anything he sits on, and his riding equipment. Anyone who touched his penis or anything his penis touched also became contaminated by proxy. If the contaminated person spat on another person, the second person became contaminated (because somehow his spit was connected to the discharge coming from the opposite end of the body?)   

Oh, and if the guy with the penis discharge touched any pottery (with his hands, not his penis,) every piece of pottery had to be broken. 

Of course, all of these types of contamination came with mandatory offerings. Maybe the whole point was to maximize the offerings for the priestly caste. 

The following few paragraphs go through the exact same contamination and atonement-offering process for female menstruation because of course everyone needs to be shamed for their bodies! 

*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


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