A bird of atonement

The plague-stricken house whose unfortunate fate was described in the previous Torah portion can still be salvaged. After the scraping of the stones and the replastering comes the crucial examination of the premises. If the plague has not appeared again, the cohen proclaims the house to be pure.

The premises still need to be purged since the plague, as stated earlier, means that the inhabitants have committed the sins connected with the speech, specifically the gossip.

The purification rite in Leviticus 14:51 involves a number of different components also used in the purification of the leper. Since the plague of the house is considered a lesser evil than leprosy, instead of bringing the sin-offering and a guilt-offering, the owner of the house sets free the second of the two birds, used in the ritual.

Tur HaAroch writes, “The procedure is analogous to the שעיר המשתלח, the “scapegoat” that we are familiar with from the Day of Atonement rituals, although that scapegoat is thrown to its death.” Thus the Torah recognizes the fact that not all sins are similarly grave.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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