In times of physical, social, and medical uncertainty, we can take steps to protect ourselves and promote recovery. At present, these steps include hand-washing, social distancing, and staying at home. The ancient Israelites also had ways to diagnosis and remedy illnesses, and they even practiced social distancing to ensure collective health. For the skin ailment known as tzara’at (צרעת), the priests would examine the patient to ascertain the right healing procedure (see Leviticus 13-14). While the prescriptions in Leviticus are for the sake of the body, Deuteronomy links tzara’at to the principle of setting one’s mind on the Lord. In this way, the Torah highlights the need to take care of our spiritual health alongside our physical wellbeing; meditation on Scripture and remembrance of God support the spirit, just as proper medical care supports the body.

According to Leviticus, the skin ailment of tzara’at (צרעת) necessitates priestly examination. If a spot on the skin “has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of one’s body, it is a case of tzara’at” (13:3). Those who exhibit possible symptoms of tzara’at are isolated, sometimes for a period of 14 days: “If the spot is white… but appears no deeper than the skin… the priest shall shut up the stricken person for seven days…. And if the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall shut up [the person] for another seven days” (13:4-5). In ancient Israel, the people knew the value of personal separation for the sake of health safety. Leviticus preserves a divine precedent for the kind of social-distancing that we can, and should, practice today.  

Deuteronomy also highlights the importance of following the tzara’at instructions:Take care (השׁמר; hishamer) in a case of tzara’at, that you observe diligently (לשׁמר מאד; lishmor meod), and do according to all that the Levitical priests shall direct you” (24:8). The Hebrew words for “take care” and “observe” come from שׁמר (shamar), which means to “keep” or “guard.” The charge to “take care” (השׁמר; hishamer) in this verse is the last of ten such instances in Deuteronomy—most of which remind readers to “take care” in their relationship with God. For example, Deuteronomy 6:12 reads, “Take care (השׁמר) lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” Moses also tells his people to “take care” to preserve their knowledge of Torah: “Take care (השׁמר) lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God… by not keeping his commandments” (4:23; 8:11). The responsibility to “take care” also extends to one’s neighbors: “Take care (השׁמר) that you do not neglect the Levite… [or] your poor brother” (12:19; 15:9). Finally, at the end of all these declarations to “take care” in our relationships with God and others—bonds that Jesus puts at the very heart the Torah (see Matt 22:36-40; Mk 12:28-32; cf. Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18)—Deuteronomy says to “take care” with skin ailments (24:8). Thus, the Torah uses the command to “take care” in order to connect spiritual practices (like Scripture study and remembrance of God and neighbor) with principles of bodily health, and thereby underscores the importance of both physical and theological care.

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

38 COMMENTS

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  1. So cleanliness is next to Godliness after all. One would think there might be some divine wisdom behind this old book. A real protection from spiritual/physical/emotional harm. If read , understood and applied.

  2. Wonderful! The LORD’S word is far far ahead. An off-the-discussion question, please. There is similarity between Moses’ brazen serpent on a pole and Medical Science’s symbol of a coiling snake on a pole/stick. It is claimed Medicine’s symbolism is linked to a Greek god, which I doubt.

    • Thanks for your question, Francis. The medical symbol of a snake on a staff is linked to Greek lore — usually associated with Asklepios (son of Zeus and god of healing/medicine). The Mosaic bronze serpent also leads to healing for the Israelites, but the Greek and Hebrew narratives are only comparable on a very surface level. Thanks again for reading; we’re glad you enjoyed the article.

  3. Dr. Schaser,
    This is the most balanced commentary I’ve read on faith & human living: no “hair splitting”; no “one group better or more included than the other”; all created by the perfect Creator, but flawed human beings, for good or ill. I tried to post your article to my FB & twitter, but was not allowed. It needs universal coverage, imho!
    Blessings & Shalom for everyone’s well being!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Jane. Sorry you couldn’t post it to your social media; don’t know what the issue might have been. We’re very glad to have you studying with us and that this article was impactful for you. Blessings and health to you and yours.

  4. We place great value on our freedoms even to the point the self control required to “Take Care” of ourselves and to protect others, spiritually and physically

    • See Deut 4:9, 23; 6:12; 8:11; 11:16; 12:13, 19, 30; 15:19; 24:8. So 24:8 is the last of nine previous instances, and there are ten total (I didn’t make this completely clear in the article, so your question helped me clarify it… thank you!)

  5. Jerry S.
    Thanks for posting this literature, I especially enjoyed reading Ch. 31-32. It ties well with Prof. Schaser’s articles on Satan, yet another perspective to “take care” and form a completer understanding from.
    J.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  6. This is great news from God about how we all can participate in our community even when and perhaps especially when in isolation. My sister Candy and I recently discussed the famous monk Thomas Merton and how surprised he was to find out how involved he was with the world!

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  7. Many thoughts here. Fascinating how our state of wellness is so both, equally and delicately interwoven to experiencing wholeness with God, and through wisdom of others. The mere importance how we can care for ourselves using wisdom given to us, almost like an unannounced gift, by recognizing the importance of taking heed to other peoples wisdom. Thank you for sharing. Great Article, Dr. Schaser.

  8. While scripture does indeed speak of quarintine, it is speaking of those who show signs of illness not isolating the whole population. This totally isolating everyone is unprecedented and overreach.

  9. You showed how intricately our physical and spiritual lives are interwoven. Our relationship to God and love for others is being overlooked by most in the current pandemic. To do what is necessary to save lives (physical and spiritual lives) should be utmost in our thinking. Thank you so much.

  10. Very interesting. I forgot about the distancing among the people in the Old Testament. Thanks for reminding me

  11. Yes.Today my first time read this subject from Israel Bible Center.That can never find in other books.Thank once again.

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