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Vayikra/Leviticus 13:46 All the days that the affliction is on him, he shall be unclean - he is unclean; he shall dwell alone, his dwelling outside the camp.
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The affliction in question is tzara'at, translated in most Bibles as 'leprosy' although it bears no relationship to the medical disease of that name, and in others as "skin disease". The Rabbis taught that this was a supernatural sign of affliction administered directly byHaShem in cases of gossip or slander, known in Hebrew as lashon hora or "evil tongue". This idea is supported by the way that a person with tzara'at had to "cover over his upper lip; and he shall call out, 'Unclean! Unclean!'" (Vayikra 13:45, JPS). By covering the upper lip, you also cover the mouth, thus giving a strong visual indication that what comes out of the mouth is unclean.
As far as we know, tzara'at was not contagious in the medical sense of the word, so the (person with tzara'at) could be examined by the priest and brought in an out of the camp quite safely. It was, on the other hand, considered contagious at a spiritual level - in the same way that other habits can be 'caught' from people who have them - so, as our text says, the person so designated as unclean (or ritually impure) is put in isolation, outside the camp. Baruch Levine points to the phrase - all the days while - and explains that "the upshot of this provision is that an individual suffering from acute tzara'at may be permanently banished. In "The L-RD struck [King Azariah of Judah] with a plague, and he was a leper until the day of his death; he lived in isolated quarters, while Jotham, the king's son, was in charge of the palace and governed the people of the land" (2 Kings 15:5, JPS), an afflicted king remained for the rest of his life in a place called 'the place of quarantine'".
The word , 'alone', attracts the attention of the commentators. One of the earliest comments comes in the Talmud: "Rabbi Samuel ben Elnadab asked of Rabbi Hanina, or as others say, Rabbi Samuel ben Nadab, the son-in-law of Rabbi Hanina, asked of Rabbi Hanina; or, according to still others, asked of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: How is the leper different [from other people also designated as ritually impure] so that the Torah said: 'He shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his dwelling be?' [The reply was:] He separated a husband from his wife, a man from his neighbour; that is why the Torah said: 'He shall dwell alone'" (b. Arachin 16b).Rashi confirms this: "Since he caused a parting through malicious talk between a man and his wife and between a man and his colleague, he too shall be set apart", while the Baal HaTurim paraphrases "Six things the L-RD hates; seven are an abomination to Him: ... one who incites brothers to quarrel" (Proverbs 6:16-19, JPS) to say, "because he created strife between brethren by speaking lashon hora and thus caused them to dwell apart". Even others who are impure, whether with tzara'at or for another reason, are not allowed to stay with the afflicted person; he must be in total isolation so that his words cannot affect or cause damage to anyone else.
The phrase , "outside the camp", also needs a little clarification. Drazin and Wagner explain that, "this means outside the three camps the Israelites had in the wilderness. In concentric circles, they were the areas of the Tabernacle, the Levites and the Israelites." The Tabernacle was in the center or the camp, surrounded on all sides by a ring of the Levites; then the eleven and two half-tribes camped in formation around the Levites, three tribes in each quarter. The person with tzara'at was isolated outside all three spaces. Once the Israelites entered the Land, however, the situation changed. Once the Temple had been built in Jerusalem, the tribes lived in their ancestral holdings around the Land, the Levites lived in the six designated cities of refuge and among the people. Did the person afflicted with tzara'at have to live outside the Land itself? Drazin and Wagner continue, "In the land of Israel, 'outside the camp' was outside Jerusalem."
Writing in advance of his third visit to the Corinthian church, Rav Sha'ul spoke a little nervously about what he might find there: "perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder" (1 Corinthians 12:20, ESV), all things - directly or indirectly - caused by lashon hora, the evil tongue. James too, concerned about the damage that can be done by the things people can say, wrote, "And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell ... but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:6-8, ESV). But is this simply a Jewish thing, or is there backing for it in Yeshua's teachings as well? In Luke's gospel, Yeshua warns the disciples that "whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops" (Luke 12:3, NASB), while in Matthew's gospel He explains that "every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36, NASB). This is so important that Yeshua adds: "For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned" (v. 37, NASB). Ouch! If we think back over our own words and speech in the last six months, it probably won't be difficult to find things that we said as an aside, in private, that weren't entirely complimentary about someone else, or some put-down or dismissive remark that we snorted out in a moment of derision. It is so commonplace, such a human habit that - as James said - it is almost impossible to break.
Where do we stand, then, as followers of Messiah? Is there no hope for us? Consider first of all Yeshua's summary of His own ministry, when asked by the disciples of John: "the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matthew 11:5, NASB). Among other things, lepers are cleansed; in contemporary Hebrew thought, those with tzara'at are made clean. Yeshua's ministry is big enough to include fixing the problem of the evil tongue. Notice that the text groups this miracle with four other key miracles: seeing, hearing, life from the dead and the preaching of the gospel. Which us was not blind to the truth, but now sees Yeshua? Which of us was not deaf to the words of G-d, but has now heard the voice of the Ruach? Which of us, as believers in Yeshua has not been born again?
Now consider the story when Yeshua heals ten men with "leprosy" in Luke chapter 17. They stand at a distance and cry out to him to ask for help; He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests and as they go, they are cleansed of tzara'at. Only one turns back, glorifying G-d and thanking Yeshua - a Samaritan. After asking why only one of the ten has responded, Yeshua tells him, "Rise, and go your way; your faith has made you well" (Luke 17:19, NASB). This appears to make the difference between simply being cleansed and being made well or whole: an open acknowledgement of G-d's actions and thanking Yeshua. This is in line with Rav Sha'ul's statement in Romans: "with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation" (Romans 10:10, NASB). The mouth and the heart have to be in alignment, both deliberately turned to G-d.
Our faith, then, cannot be silent; it cannot be a personal decision that we keep to ourselves and refuse to allow to change our lives. Our mouths, in particular, will not come under G-d's authority until we use them to speak out the truth of the gospel and proclaim what G-d has done in our lives. As we determine to give G-d the glory for rescuing and redeeming us, to share Him with others and speak His words of truth and authority into the world around us, then we become vessels of G-d's mercy and our tendency to say the wrong things will be changed by His grace. Our tongues will be tamed by the power of heaven and our isolation outside the camp will be at an end.
Further Study: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12; 1 Timothy 5:24-25
Application: Take a careful inventory over the next few days of exactly what you say to people and the way you use your mouth - whether to bless or to curse (James 3:9). Then ask the L-rd if that is what He wants you to be saying and take His advice about what to say in future!
Comment - 07Apr13 12:27 Jenny: Very clear - had to agree with it and said 'Ouch' just where the author did. Very glad I read it because I needed to be reminded of this very thing but also glad for the help and remedy.
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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