In Lev. 14:4–5, it is written,

4 Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: 5 And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water: KJV, 1769

ד וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וְלָקַח לַמִּטַּהֵר שְׁתֵּי צִפֳּרִים חַיּוֹת טְהֹרוֹת וְעֵץ אֶרֶז וּשְׁנִי תוֹלַעַת וְאֵזֹב ה וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וְשָׁחַט אֶת הַצִּפּוֹר הָאֶחָת אֶל כְּלִי חֶרֶשׂ עַל מַיִם חַיִּים

During the cleansing ceremony of a leper, was it the priest who provided the two birds or the leper who was being purified?

3 Answers 3


From the language of the MT,

וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וְלָקַח לַמִּטַּהֵר

it looks like the subject of both "command" and "take" is the priest. A more linear translation would be:

And the priest will command, and [he, the priest] will take for the person who was purifying [himself] two ...

So, from the text itself it looks like the priest provided the birds for the purification ceremony as well as the cedar, hyssop and scarlet, probably from the Temple treasury rather than from his own pocket. This is consistent with the material used in the other ceremonies that are not sacrificial, such as the ashes of the red heifer used for purification from contact with corpses, and the dust, water and earthenware vessel used in the oath of purgation (Numbers 5:17).

There is no definitive tradition in the Talmudic literature regarding this question.

R. Dr. J. H. Hertz wrote in "The Pentateuch and Haftorahs", second edition, Soncino Press, London, 1972, page 470:

commanded to take. The birds and articles required for the ceremony were not necessarily provided by the leper himself. This fact disposes of the idea that the birds were intended as a sacrifice. And further, no portion of the birds was placed on the altar. The first part of the ceremony must be interpreted as a symbolic representation of the leper's restoration to life and his re-admission into the camp of Israel.

cedar-wood. The most durable of woods, with the strongest resisting power to decay; and therefore symbolical of the cured leper who had overcome the putrefying affects of his disease. Maimonides, however, declares 'I do not know at present the reasons for any of these things'; vis., the cedar-wood hyssop and scarlet.

scarlet. According to Rabbinic tradition, a band of wool, dipped in scarlet, was used.

hyssop. See on Exod. XII 22; it was a convenient instrument for sprinkling, as its leaves readily absorb the liquid and freely give it out when shaken. It was used in ceremonies of purification where sprinkling was included (Num. XIX 6, 18), and therefore became later associated with the idea of cleanliness (Ps. LI 9).

  • I appreciate the impulse to address the answer from the Hebrew; the NET Bible analysis differs from the way you describe it here. Any thoughts on that note?
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 7, 2017 at 22:19
  • @Dɑvïd The NET is disturbed by the hanging verb "command", then makes an incorrect assumption that he must be commanding "to take", and tries to support this using the LXX and the Pshitta, both of which are interpretive translations that deal with the same problem in the MT that we have by "fixing" the verse. The NET then assumes that this fix reflects the urtext. Circular reasoning. Both Onkelos and Jonathan translations render literally, "And the priest will command, and he will take...", a better service to the reader in the absence of a convincing textual finding for a mistake in the MT.
    – user17080
    Jan 8, 2017 at 3:48

I went to BibleHub.com, plugged in the Lev. 14:4, then clicked the Commentaries link at the bottom of the page. These results appear (not all agree):

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (4) Then shall the priest command to take.—Literally, And the priest shall command, and he shall take, that is, the leper shall take. To avoid the ambiguity as to the person, the translators of the Authorised Version adopted the rendering in the text. As the relatives of the cured leper procured the things prescribed for the purification, some of the ancient versions render it, And they shall take.

Barnes' Notes on the Bible These birds were provided by the priest for the man. They were not, like the offerings for the altar, brought by the man himself (compare Leviticus 14:4 with Leviticus 14:10), they were not presented nor brought near the sanctuary, nor was any portion of them offered on the altar.

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges 4–7. The priest was to see that two living clean birds were brought.

Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed,.... The command is by the priest, the taking is by any man, as Ben Gersom observes; anyone whom he shall command, the leper himself, or his friends. Aben Ezra interprets it, the priest shall take of his own; but he adds, there are some that explain it, the leper shall give them to him, namely, what follows: (End of Quote)

The interlinear source I use has:

  1. And~he-instructs (u~tzue h6680)
  2. the~priest (e~ken h3548)
  3. and~he-takes (u~lqch h3947)
  4. for~the~one-cleansing-(him)self (l~mter h2891)
  5. two-of(-) (shthi h8147)
  6. birds (tzphrim h6833)
  7. clean-ones (teruth h2889) ...

It would be definitive, for me, if the 4th line, "l~mter" could read "from rather than "to".....but 'from' is typically 'm'.

Another mixed area (line 3) is the Heb. word 'lqch' - it could mean 'accept/receive':

H3947 laqach law-kakh' a primitive root; to take (in the widest variety of applications). KJV: accept, bring, buy, carry away, drawn, fetch, get, infold, X many, mingle, place, receive(-ing), reserve, seize, send for, take (away, -ing, up), use, win.

Thanks for asking the question. Don't know what prompted you to ask this, but I found a gem I'd been looking for while doing the search. :)

EDIT for response to Comment.

Well, I really didn't have a plum in this pie. Thought perhaps by scratching the surface, a vein might open and I'd discover what might have prompted the Q...which didn't happen.

However, I just recalled a similar scenario:

Gen. 15:9

  1. And~he(Lord Yahweh)-is-saying (u~iamr h559)

  2. to~him(Abram) (ali~u h413)

  3. take-you! (qch~e 3947) ((take her?))

  4. l~i (for~me)

  5. heifer (ogle h5697)...

Gen. 15:10

  1. And~he (Abram)-is-taking (u~iqch h3947)

  2. for~him (l~u)

  3. ath(-) all-of (kl h3605)

  4. these... (heifer, goat, ram, 2 fowl) and divided them ('cept the fowl).

Now, did Abram round up the critters, or did Yahweh provide? ;)

I still don't know, nor why it would be helpful to know for sure....but will leave the door ajar for future input.

  • 1
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    – user862
    Jan 7, 2017 at 21:55

Aside from its occurrence in Lev. 14:4 and 14:5, the syntax -ְוְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן ו also occurs in at least three other verses:

  • Lev. 13:54

נד וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וְכִבְּסוּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ הַנָּגַע וְהִסְגִּירוֹ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים שֵׁנִית

  • Lev. 14:36

לו וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וּפִנּוּ אֶת הַבַּיִת בְּטֶרֶם יָבֹא הַכֹּהֵן לִרְאוֹת אֶת הַנֶּגַע וְלֹא יִטְמָא כָּל אֲשֶׁר בַּבָּיִת וְאַחַר כֵּן יָבֹא הַכֹּהֵן לִרְאוֹת אֶת הַבָּיִת

  • Lev. 14:40

מ וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וְחִלְּצוּ אֶת הָאֲבָנִים אֲשֶׁר בָּהֵן הַנָּגַע וְהִשְׁלִיכוּ אֶתְהֶן אֶל מִח֣וּץ לָעִיר אֶל מָקוֹם טָמֵא

Notably, Lev. 14:36 proves that the subject of the verb following the prefixed וְ (conjunctive vav) is not the priest, but another entity. The following is the context of Lev. 14:34–36:

  1. When the Israelites enter the land of Canaan, Yahveh inevitably infects one of the Israelites’ houses with a leprous plague.
  2. The owner of the house comes and tells the priest, “It seems to me that there’s something like a plague in the house.”
  3. Then the priest shall command that they clear (empty) the house before the priest comes to see the plague, so that all that is in the house is not made unclean; and afterward, the priest shall come to see the house.

Notice that the priest commands, וּפִנּוּ אֶת הַבַּיִת—“clear the house.” First, וּפִנּוּ is conjugated in the plural number, so it cannot correspond to the singular הַכֹּהֵן. Furthermore, logically the priest is not the one who clears the house, because the house must be cleared before the priest comes to see the house and the plague therein. It is only afterward that the priest comes to see the house. Thus, those who clear the house cannot be the priest.

In conclusion, in the syntax -ְוְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן ו, the וְ may be understood as “that,” so that the phrase וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וְלָקַח לַמִּטַּהֵר שְׁתֵּיצִפֳּרִים חַיּוֹת may be translated as:

then the priest shall command that he take two living birds for the one cleansing himself...

Of course, this interpretation and translation leaves us with the unusual notion “that he (the leper) takes [the two birds] for the one cleansing himself” when the one cleansing himself is the leper himself. If indeed the leper takes the two birds for himself, we might expect וְלָקַח לוֹ (“that he takes for himself”) rather than וְלָקַח לַמִּטַּהֵר (“that he takes for the one cleansing himself”).

The lamed prefixed to the Hitpaʿel participle—לַמִּטַּהֵר—suggests that the one taking (although not the priest) is a different entity than the one cleansing himself. This may simply suggest that another person besides the priest and the leper (e.g., friends or family of the leper) took the two birds on behalf of the leper. Again, the syntax suggests that the priest commands, but another person performs the action of the command (cp. Lev. 14:36).

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