In Parshat Metzora, we learn the method of purification for one who has been afflicted with Tzaraat. The process seems quite unusual. The Metzora brings two birds. One is slaughtered; the other is taken with a cedar, a hyssop, and a piece of wool dyed in a red color which comes from a worm, and all of this is dipped into the blood of the first bird over מים חיים. He shaves all the hair off his body, and is then confined until the seventh day of purification, when he shaves himself again. On the eighth day, he brings three sheep – one as a Korban Asham, one as a Chatat, and one as an Olah. The Asham is sacrificed and the blood is placed on the ear, hand, and leg of the Metzora. The Metzora must also bring a לוג of oil, part of which is applied again on the Metzora’s ear, hand, leg, and then finally to his head.
Rashi gives several brief comments about the reasons for several of the items that are brought. He says that birds are brought because they are always moving their lips, just like the Metzora’s constant Lashon Hara causes his Tzaraat. He says the tall cedar shows how the Metzora was too conceited, and the insignificant hyssop and the tiny worm from which the dye comes show him how insignificant he is now.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that the purpose of all the elements of the Metzora’s purification is to show that he is giving up his self-centered and animal life and now dedicating his life to Hashem. A wild bird is slaughtered, signifying the end of the Metzora’s animal life. Each item that the Metzora brings is to represent the animal life the Metzora used to live. The cedar and the hyssop are the highest and lowest forms of plant life, respectively, while the wool (from a mammal) and the worm are the highest and lowest forms of animal life. Together with the wild bird they represent the life of all organisms except man. However, the dipping is done in the presence of the מים חיים, which symbolizes pure life. The Metzora is told to use his “animal instinct” and dedicate it to Hashem in order to achieve this purity in life. Following this, the Metzora shaves all the hair of his body, the covering of his body, which symbolizes the Metzora’s self-centeredness that caused him to not care for others. The Metzora is shaved again on the seventh day of purification to show his complete devotion to Hashem.
On the eighth day, the Metzora is reborn as a Jew, just as he entered Brit Avraham on the eighth day of his life. The Asham that he brings is to represent his leaving behind every impurity in his previous life. If the Tzaraat appears again after he brings the Asham, he must bring another Asham for he has not successfully left his impurities behind. However, this Asham is not like others; the Matanot are similar to those of an Olah but it is eaten like a Chatat. Therefore, with the Asham, he vows to leave behind all the immorality, symbolized by the Chatat aspect, and shows his direct devotion to Hashem, symbolized by the Olah aspect. The blood of this Olah is put on the ear, hand and foot of the Metzora, to show that the Metzora must use the rest of his life to two effects. First, to dedicate himself to Hashem, as the blood from the Asham is applied to the מזבח, and second to bring himself to the level of a truly good human being, through thoughts (represented by the ear), through actions (represented by the hand), and through effort (represented by the foot). Finally, the oil that the Metzora brings represents physical health, and teaches the Metzora an important lesson. If he wants physical health, he will have to devote every resource of his body, his thoughts, actions, and all his effort to Hashem. The remainder of this oil is applied to the Metzora’s head, the true source of every thought and action. The Metzora is now ready to devote his life to serving Hashem in every way.
Rav Hirsch shows us what the true meaning of the Metzora’s purification was. Up until now, the Metzora had led a life straying from Torah. Now, as he realizes this, he must start a new life, following in Hashem’s ways.