Metzora in Manuscript: Why two names?

Friday, 12 April, 2019 - 5:51 am

Metzora Name.jpg

The opening of the portion of metzora states:


And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: This shall be the law of the metzora - person afflicted with tzara'ath, on the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the kohen. The kohen shall go outside the camp, and the kohen shall look, and behold, the lesion of tzara'ath has healed in the afflicted person. Then the kohen shall order, and the person to be cleansed shall take two live, clean birds, a cedar stick, a strip of crimson [wool], and hyssop. The kohen shall order, and one shall slaughter the one bird into an earthenware vessel, over spring water. [As for] the live bird, he shall take it, and then the cedar stick, the strip of crimson [wool], and the hyssop, and, along with the live bird, he shall dip them into the blood of the slaughtered bird, over the spring water. He shall then sprinkle seven times upon the person being cleansed from tzara'ath, and he shall cleanse him. He shall then send away the live bird into the [open] field.


The name of the Torah portion is commonly known, as found in all the modern day printed editions of the Torah, as Metzora. This is based on the opening: ‘This shall be the law of the Metzora (person afflicted with tzara'ath).’


The name that is found, however, in Sa’adiah Gaon, in Rashi’s commentary[1] and Maimonides,[2] when referring to the Torah portion that discusses the laws of the purity of the Metzora is not Metzora but Zot Tihyeh, based on the opening words proceeding Metzora: ‘This shall be.’


Five names


In the manuscripts there are in fact five different names offered for the name of the Torah portion: 1. In most manuscripts the Torah portion is called Zot Tihyeh. Other names include: 2. Zot Tihyeh Torat HaMetzora, 3. Torat HaMetzora, 4. haMetzora, 5. Metzora.



Ending only: Zot Tihyeh


1. In CCC MS 165, fol. 87, there is no name at the beginning of the portion at all. In the ending, in order to break up the text from the following Torah portion, it writes: ‘Here ends (chasolatZot Tihyeh.’ Similarlyin MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188 (1301-1400), fol. 122, there is only a name of the portion at the end, which is: Zot Tihyeh.



Beginning: HaMetzora, ending: Zot Tihyeh


In MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-1225), fol. 66the name of the portion at the beginning is HaMetzora and ending is Zot Tihyeh.



Beginning and end: Zot Tihyeh


In MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396), fol. 107, and MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425) fol. 134, both the beginning and end of the Torah portion have the title Zot Tihyeh.



Beginning: Zot Tihyeh Torat HaMetzora, ending: Torat HaMetzora.


In MS. Michael 384 (1399), fol. 84the opening is Zot Tihyeh Torat HaMetzora and ending is just Torat HaMetzora.



Beginning: Zot Tihyeh, ending: Metzora.


In MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408) fol. 65, the opening of the portion is Zot Tihyeh and ending is Metzora.


Why the change in the name?


Besides the portion of Metzora, all the other names of the Torah portions are the same in the manuscript as the printed edition. The only exception is: the portion ofBamidbar is referred to as Vaydaber in MS. Opp. 34. Many have additional adjacent words to the names, or vary in the length of the names, in the beginning of the Torah portion to how they are named in the end, but all have the names how they are commonly known today included in the names found in the Oxford Rashi manuscripts. The only Torah portion where one can find an entirely different name with no similarity is the portion of Metzora, whereby it is called in the manuscripts Zot Tihyeh and commonly known as Metzora.


There are two Oxford manuscripts however that contain the name Metzora in theanme of the Torah portion: In MS. Michael 384 (1399), it is called Torat Hametzoraand in MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408) is it called Metzora at the end, while the beginning is called Zot Tihyeh. These two manuscripts indeed appear to reflect a link between the name of the Torah portion how it was referred to in the past and how it is commonly known today. The majority of the manuscripts and Rashi’s own preferred name of the Torah portion, as Maimonides, has the name of the Torah portion Zot Tohyeh. The question may be asked: why was the name change from being called for centuries Zot Tihyeh to the name Metzora?


Earlier words


A reason for the use of the name Zot Tihyeh in earlier times may be simply, as found in all the other names of the Torah portions, due to them being closer to the opening of the Torah portion - before the later word Metzora.  This would further support our question: why the change the name to the word found later on: Metzora?


Three answers


A simple answer to this question may be found in a difference between the names how they appear in the manuscripts to how they appear in the published editions. While the names almost all, besides Metzora, contain common words found in both the manuscripts and how it they are commonly known today, the names in the manuscripts are almost always more than a single word, for example ‘V’eleh hamishpatim,’ ‘v’ata tetzaveh,’ V’eleh Pekudei.’ The names appear to have been later contracted to a single word for easier reference. This is in fact reflected in some of the manuscripts themselves, between the name as it appears in the opening to how they appear in the closing. For example, Tzav et Ahron in the beginning of the portion of Tzav in MS. Opp. 34 is contracted to just Tzav when signaling the end of the portion. The same may be true regarding Metzora, whereby it was first known by two words ‘Zot Tihye,’ but when in the process of contracting the names, it became known as Metzora – the subject of the portion – as opposed to a non-distinct word ‘Zot’ or just ‘tihye.’


A second reason might be that the name Metzora means a leper. In earlier times, they may have preferred not to identify a portion of the Torah with such a name. This is especially the case in light of the Midrash that is also quoted in one manuscript of Rashi[3] that the word Metzora is a contraction of the words ‘Motzee Shem ra’ – someone who speaks evil. For this reason, Rashi and Maimonides, as found also in the majority of the manuscripts, may have chosen to avoid using such a word as the name of a portion of the Torah. In fact, some refer to the portion by the proceeding word ‘tahara’ – purity, to avoid the use of the word Metzora. Some have the custom to not call the name of the Torah portion by any name at all.[4] In later generations, with spiritual decline, less concern was given for this consideration. 


A third reason for the change in name may be not due to a spiritual decline but on the contrary due to the inspiration of Kabbalistic teachings. Rabbi Chaim Vital (1542 -1620), the foremost disciple of Rabbi Isaac Luria, wrote the teachings of Lurianic Kabbala in the work Etz Chaim, where he comments that a principle cause for the Tzara’at is the neglect of the study of Torah. The verse is then suggesting, by the fact that it states Torat Hametora, as opposed to Taharat Hametzora, that the that the rectification for the Matzora is the study of Torah. Interestingly, in MS. Michael 384 (1399), the name of the Torah portion is Torat Hametzora. In this context the focus of the word Metzora is not, as per the Midrashic teaching, the negative Motzee shem ra (evil talk), but on the contrary the meaning of the wordMetzora in this context is in light of the study of Torah that serves as the rectification for the Metzora.[5]


This change in the perspective of the Metzora from the Midrashic focus on its negative state to its transformed spiritual state in connection with the study of Torah, may be understood, as the Rebbe points out, due to a transition in Jewish history from an earlier period of greater exile – the dark ages – when most apparent was theabsence of Divine revelation and its concealment to a time that is closer to the time of redemption, when, as David says in Psalms, the darkness itself will shine, thus enabling a concept that may have been negative to become, through its transformation, into something profoundly positive – reflected in the fact that a portion of the Torah about its laws is known by the name Metzora, in light of the teachings of the Kabbala as recorded by Rabbi Chaim Vital in the Etz Chaim.[6]




[1] Leviticus 13:8.

[2] Mishneh TorahHilchot Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah 8:4.

[3] MS. Michael 384.

[4] Likkutei Sichot 7:100, footnote 5 and 7:103 footnote 40.

[5] Likkutei Torah, Metzora, 25a.

[6] Likkutei Sichot 7:103.


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