This week we have two portions – Tazria and Metzora – often referred to together. And this blog will be pulling commentary or interpretation from many sources. The Talmud asks why those affected with biblical leprosy or tzara at are called metzora. The word metzora comes from two words, motzi meaning to bring forth and ra meaning evil. So biblical leprosy seems to have come from evil speech or lashon hara – slander, gossip, etc. There are other opinions or commentaries about the cause of it, including possible stinginess, but I will focus here on the concept of evil speech.
Two birds are offered as sacrifice for the afflicted because they chatter as people do when they are “chattering” about others.
Midrash Rabah says that if the tzara at is found on the stones of the home they can simply be removed if the person repents. If the person does not repent than the house must be torn down. If found on the clothes and the person repents then they can be cleaned and the person purified. If the person is not repentant, the clothes must be burned. Likewise if found on the skin, the person can be purified but if not repentant, the person must live alone, away from others.
Cedar and hyssop are used for the purification, and the Midrash Tanchuman says that the reason is that the person, by their speech has made themselves bigger – like the cedar – but must be humble like the grass to repent. Sometimes when we speak “evil” about others it is because we are trying to elevate ourselves. If we can’t do it in a positive way, we do it in the negative by lowering others so we appear to ourselves as above them. The bible is clear that we are to humble ourselves in God’s sight; that if we are to be exalted he is to be the one to exalt us, not ourselves.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe talks of something that touches me: that it is the job of the Kohen to diagnose and declare someone unclean, and later purified. The sages of Israel say that we need to be like the sons of Aaron, people who love peace and bring all God’s creatures close to the Torah. So how does it make sense that the person supposed to be about love has to make this terrible pronouncement, one that will cause division in the camp and separation in the family. It is precisely this that makes it the job of the Kohen who can do it in a loving way without judgment and who longs for the restoration of the person. The Rebbe says that when the Kohen must do this it is a very delicate thing for it is not only the diagnosis but the very pronouncement that is damning. It would be easy to judge but the priest is able to leave a hope for redemption through repentance; that the person will turn back to God.
In rabbinic literature the leper is compared to the messiah, and the reverse, the person who is outside the camp. Our messiah today is outside the camp and it is our mission to bring him back into the camp of Israel. Are you willing to go outside the camp, to bring the messiah back to his people. I hope and pray that you are.
As always, we pray for refuah shlema, a complete healing, for those affected by the virus.
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