(…he shall)…bathe his body in water; then he shall be pure. (Vayikra 14:9).
As the world was created
out of water
so is he conceived anew.
As an infant issues
from the water
so is he received, reborn.
he steps from the water
Wide-eyed he gazes,
as a newborn at the light:
is the world changed or is he?
The Etz Haim commentary of the JPS points out that in this ritual, the water symbolises more than cleanliness – rather rebirth and re-creation. The Sefer HaChinuch* (173) points out that the experience of illness and recovery has made the leper a new person who now has a different perspective on life and an opportunity to consider his deeds afresh.
*The Sefer HaChinuch is a work which systematically discusses the 613 commandments of the Torah. Published anonymously in 13th century Spain, it enumerates the commandments based upon Maimonides’ system of counting as per his Sefer Hamitzvot; each is listed according to its appearance in the weekly Torah portion and the work is structured accordingly.
Each of the 613 commandments is discussed, both from a legal and a moral perspective. For each, the discussion starts by linking the mitzvah to its Biblical source, and then addresses the philosophical underpinnings of the commandment. A brief overview of the halacha governing its observance is then presented – usually based on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah – and then a summary as to the commandment’s applicability.
Because of this structure, the work remains popular to this day. The philosophic portions are widely quoted and taught, while the legal discussion provides the basis for much further study.
The sixteenth century author Gedaliah ibn Yaḥyah credited the Sefer HaChinuch to Rabbi Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona (1235-c.1290), a Talmudic scholar and halachist; but others disagree, as the views of the Sefer HaChinuch contradict opinions held by HaLevi in other works. This has led to the conclusion that the true author was a different R’ Aharon Halevi, a student of the Rashba. Though there is a debate about who is the true author, there is a consensus that the Sefer HaChinuch was written by a father to his son when he reached Bar Mitzvah.
In 1980, Professor Israel Ta-Shma of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem argued that the author of Sefer HaChinuch was in fact Pinchas, the son of Elazar and the grandson of Aaron, who composed the work.