Hyssop, אזוב, is used several times in the Torah in purification processes. See for example Shemos 12:22, where Moshe Rabbeinu summoned all the elders of Israel and told them:

Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two doorposts.

Concerning a metzora, e.g. a leper, the purification process also involves hyssop, as told in Vayikra 14:4-6:

the priest shall order two live pure birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop to be brought for the one to be purified [...] and he shall take the live bird, along with the cedar wood, the crimson stuff, and the hyssop, and dip them together with the live bird in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the fresh water.

Rashi tells us:

אזוב HYSSOP — a kind of herb which has thin stalks.

The Toldos Yitzchok, in his commentary on Vayikra 14:4 explains the reason why the Torah commands to take cedar wood and hyssop. Cedar wood is from a big tree, hyssop is small (my own interpretation of this Toldos Yitzchok).

Dovid HaMelech in Tehillim 51:9 also refers to hyssop:

Purge me with hyssop till I am pure

Why was hyssop used in some purification processes, does hyssop represent something deeper?

I am looking for an explanation from mefarshim, contemporary very welcome!

1 Answer 1


On the technical side, hyssop is a plant from which ointments that have antibacterial and antifungal properties can be produced (see here and here for example). Such healing ointments were also made in ancient times. For example, among Yemenite Jews it was believed that the hyssop could cure various sorts of skin diseases based on the verse "Purge me with hyssop till I am pure" (Mazor Me'Teman by Rachamim Adani, p. 29).

On a deeper side, one of the reasons that leprosy befalls a person is because of arrogance, so several sources explain that because a person raised himself up proudly like a great cedar tree, he was struck with leprosy. To be healed, he must make himself small as a hyssop, which is a small and modest plant. See here, here, here and here for example (these sources aren't contemporary, though).

  • 1
    +1, nice find. Did not know that there were also antibacterial properties in hyssop. So, according to the sources mentioned, it has specifically to do with being "small as hyssop", e.g. being humble?
    – Shmuel
    Oct 18, 2022 at 14:08
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    @Shmuel yes (15 char).
    – Harel13
    Oct 18, 2022 at 16:42
  • But....... why especially is hyssop connected to being humble and modest? Why not another plant? Is that because this plant occured back in that time?
    – Shmuel
    Oct 18, 2022 at 20:03
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    @Shmuel the hyssop is a small plant with humble properties. It doesn't need too much to survive. The same could be said about many thorny plants, for example, but unlike most thorny plants, the hyssop is very useful - it can be made into various ointments or used in cooking for flavoring. In other words, the idea is that a person should be humble and productive, and only through humility can a person really reveal their true potential and be of great service to society.
    – Harel13
    Oct 18, 2022 at 21:30
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    About other plants - I have no idea why specifically the hyssop other than properties I mentioned in my answer and the above comments. Odds are that if we went through every plant we'd find other relevant ones, but bear in mind that it has to be a plant known to the Israelites, so that minimizes the number considerably.
    – Harel13
    Oct 18, 2022 at 21:41

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