Adonai said to Moshe and Aharon, “If someone develops on his skin a swelling, scab or bright spot which could develop into the disease tzara‘at, he is to be brought to Aharon the cohen or to one of his sons who are cohanim. The cohen is to examine the sore on his skin; if the hair in the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to go deep into the skin, it is tzara‘at, and after examining him the cohen is to declare him unclean. If the bright spot on his skin is white, but it does not appear to go deep into the skin, and its hair has not turned white, then the cohen is to isolate him for seven days. On the seventh day the cohen is to examine him again, and if the sore appears the same as before and has not spread on the skin, then the cohen is to isolate him for seven more days. -Leviticus 13:1-5
Chapter 13 is significant in that it is one of those rare times when YWVH addresses BOTH Aaron and Moses.
In verse 2, the Lord spells out the general skin conditions that could potentially turn into TZARA’AT.
They include rashes, swelling, and hair and skin discolorations.
So how did the priest determine if a particular skin condition was TZARA-AT or not?
The Scripture gives us the following 3 symptoms:
The hair color in the affected area turned white.
The rash had penetrated beyond the surface of the skin.
The afflicted spot on the skin left a gaping depression that was DEEPER than the surrounding skin area.
Again, any prognosis about whether a given skin rash was TZARA-AT or not HAD TO BE MADE BY THE PRIEST!
The afflicted person was not allowed to diagnosis him or herself.
It was the priest’s job to DISTINGUISH BETWEEN THE CLEAN AND THE UNCLEAN.
One may wonder what happened if the skin abnormality was at the stage where it was difficult to determine if it was serious or not?
For example, what if an affected area had started to turn white but the hair color in the affected area was still normal?
Under those circumstances, we are told the person was sent into isolation but still not sent OUTSIDE THE CAMP.
According to the great Hebrew sage Rashi, there was actually a special tent or shelter located near the outskirts of the camp (but still INSIDE the camp) that was prepared for those folks who were suspected of having TZARA-AT but had not yet been officially diagnosed.
Once a person was suspected by the priest of TZARA-AT, we are told he or she had to wait for 7 days before being re-examined.
During this period, the afflicted person is in a state of limbo so to speak.
Psychologically, it must have been a very torturous 7 days.
Have you ever been tested for a serious disease but had to wait for a week or two to get the final results?
It’s quite nerve-wracking, isn’t it?
You’re kept in a state-of-suspense where you have no idea whether you’ve actually contracted some life-threatening disease or not.
Well, this is how those suspected of TZARA-AT must have felt.
After the first 7-day period, the patient was examined again.
If his or her condition had improved, the patient was pronounced CLEAN and was allowed to resume life as normal.
But if the condition had not changed or even worsened, he or she was sent back into quarantine for yet another second 7-day period.
Finally, after 14 days, the day of final judgement had arrived, so to speak.
If after 14 days, the skin condition had improved, the person was pronounced CLEAN.
However, if after 14 days, the condition hadn’t changed or worsened, the afflicted was pronounced UNCLEAN and was forced OUTSIDE OF THE CAMP as long as the skin disease remained.
Recall our study of the new mother who gave birth and had to go through a period of GREATER IMPURITY followed by a period of LESSER IMPURITY.
In both periods of impurity, the new mother was still considered UNCLEAN.
The same goes for those folks who were in limbo awaiting the final diagnosis from the priest whether they had contracted TZARA-AT or not.
Even though the priest had not yet officially pronounced them CLEAN or UNCLEAN, in terms of status, they were still considered UNCLEAN.
A person even just suspected of TZARA-AT was not allowed to live with his family or mingle with the general population.
And of course, during this period, those suspected of TZARA-AT were barred from participating in any religious rituals.
I mentioned earlier that the prevailing assumption surrounding TZARA-AT was that it was an outward mark of some hidden or inward UNCLEAN spiritual condition known only to the Lord.
The idea was that the person afflicted with TZARA-AT had committed some unknown sin against God and as a result was now being punished for it.
First, I have to let you know that the Bible doesn’t necessarily equate TZARA-AT with some unknown offense one may have committed against the Lord.
So I wouldn’t necessarily assume that TZARA-AT is the result of some sin you may have committed.
However, it does remind me of our study of the ZEVAH or “Peace Offering” back when we were studying the Levitical sacrifices.
Recall that one of the reasons the ZEVAH was offered up was to atone for a sin one may have committed but wasn’t sure.
Connect this with the belief that TZARA-AT was a punishment from God due to some unknown transgression committed against Him, and you can see why the more paranoid among the Israelites probably performed a heck of a lot of ZEVAH sacrifices to make amends for sins that could have possibly resulted in TZARA-AT.