Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Expectation of Cleansing: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 14 with anonymous poem, The White and Scarlet Thread

Daily Readings
Job 42 Exodus 33:7-23 Leviticus 14 I Timothy 5

Daily Text: Leviticus 14

Expectation of Cleansing
There is in Leviticus 14:2 an expectation that the person afflicted with tzara‛at will be cleansed at some point. At that point the priest will go to him outside the camp. There is the assumption that the afflicted person has been isolated, though his or her spouse could accompany the individual outside the camp. In the pronounced cleansing two birds are utilized. One is killed and the second is dipped in the blood of the first and then the person to be cleansed is sprinkled with the blood from the living birds feathers. That living bird is then released to fly outside the camp thereby becoming an atoning symbol for the person. After the person bathes in water, washes his clothes and shaves all the hair off his body, he is cleansed.

A house suspected of having tzara‛at is treated similarly. Plaut (185) notes that if a person stays in a home that is unclean, he or she becomes unclean. However, if they are in there before the pronouncement is made they have no uncleanness! Likewise, once the owner suspects tzara‛at in his house and goes to inform the priest, the priest gives him time to remove from his house all of its furniture and appointments before he comes to determine its ritual purity! This is another small indication that whatever the tzara‛at was, it wasn’t seen as life-threatening for either the individual involved or the community. It was simply a ritual matter. Interesting also is that the two bird ceremony was required for declaring a house, once unclean, to be clean again. What significance did the atonement of a house have? Lichen or mildew are two of the obvious possibilities for this tzara‛at in a house. Matters were not predetermined, however, in favor of cleansing. A house could be destroyed and presumably a human afflicted could be unclean for life.

The White and Scarlet Thread
The Message of the Atonement

Turn, O Israel, turn and live;
Thought to thread of warning give.
Lo! the solemn hour is here.
May the thread be white and clear
Though deep sin the conscience darken.
Sinner, pray and God will hearken.

Collect for the Day
Eternal God, we hereby vow to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tzedakah as we begin this day of holiness. We shall not forget the words of Your prophet, who called us to share our bread with the hungry, to clothe the naked, and never to hide ourselves from our own kin.
[477:56 at the Kindling of the Yom Kippur Lights]


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