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Parashat Tazria-Metzora 5772 – 04/25/2012

Parshiot Tazria-Metzora

Submitted by Robert Rabinoff

That the affliction is upon him (13:46)

Be careful with tzara’at afflictions to do exactly as the Kohanim, the Levites tell you, as I have commanded them, be sure to do it (Deut 24:8)

In the section on kosher and non-kosher animals in last week’s parashah, we are introduced to tumah (ritual impurity) that comes from outside a person and contaminates him.  This contamination prevents him from entering the Temple precincts (the Mishkan in the desert), which is why it is introduced at this point, immediately after the Mishkan is inaugurated.  This tumah is relatively mild; one must immerse in a mikveh and wait till sunset and the tumah is gone.  In a few cases (e.g. eating neveilah / carcass of an animal that hasn’t been properly slaughtered) one’s garments have to be immersed as well.  Men wearing Armani suits are well-advised to avoid neveilah.

In our portions we turn to a very different kind of tumahtumah that comes from within one’s body.  This includes the tumah of niddah (menses), tumat yoledet (childbirth), keri (seminal emission), zav (gonorreal discharge in a man), zavah (unusual menstrual flow in a woman), and tzara’at (the skin eruptions that form the bulk of parashat Tazria).  These forms of tumah are more severe; many require extended periods of purification and some require offerings and/or other rituals to remove them.  They are also more severe in that they can be transmitted to others, as well as to clothing and furnishings like bedding and the like.

Why is this second form of tumah so much more severe?  I think the answer is simply that it is something that erupts from within us.  It is an external manifestation of an internal impurity.  As we have pointed out before, tumah carries the connotation of “stopping up” – indeed one of the manifestations of the zav condition is a stopping up of the male member with the discharge.  What is getting stopped up?  It is the flow of the Divine from its “home” in the transcendent, infinite basis of creation, through the individual, into creation.  When the impurity comes from the outside, to be sure there is a blockage, but it is more like crud on the outside of a pipe.  It may corrode the pipe, but it is fairly easy to wash off.  When there is corrosion or plaque or some other kind of obstruction inside the pipe however, that is a totally different ball of wax.  Now, not only is there mechanical blockage that restricts the flow, but even the flow that does get through is no longer clear and smooth – rather it is turbulent and turgid.  It has much less pressure behind it, having basically wasted its energy turning over and over on itself.

The most severe of these “internal” forms of tumah is tzara’at, generally mistranslated as leprosy, but actually having nothing at all to do with the disease now known by that name.  It is an eruption on the skin that is actually a symptom of a severe character deficiency, most often speaking ill of others or slandering others.  It only occurred in Eretz Yisrael, and only to the Jewish people, and only at a time when we were all living on a much higher spiritual plane, and were sensitive enough to hear the message that tzara’at was conveying to us.  (Just as a personal note, my case of psoriasis, which I’m convinced [solely on the similarity of sound and of course the fact that psoriasis is a skin condition] is the Greek rendering of tzara’at, erupted when I was in Israel, almost 30 years ago.  Obviously I still have not gotten the message or been able completely to correct the underlying problem.)

In its comment to the first quote above, the Artscroll Series Vayikra states:

The implication is that the contamination exists only so long as the tzaraat is actually on his body, but if he were to have it removed surgically, he could go through the purification process given in ch. 14 (Sifra).  However, since the Torah forbids the removal of a tzaraat affliction (Deut 24:8), the Sages decreed that its willful removal cannot be used to purify the metzora (Nega’im 7:4-5).

I think what our Sages are telling us is that an inner problem requires an inner solution.  One cannot put a band-aid on a cancerous lesion and expect anything good to happen.  Rather when we have an external sign of a deep-rooted internal problem, we have to go to the root of the problem and clean it out.  Do we have tzara’at?  Maybe we should look at the way we speak about others, or even better, maybe we need to correct the way we think about others – to value others for themselves, to focus on their strengths and good qualities rather than their weaknesses and challenges.  Merely cutting off the external symptom does nothing for the underlying problem – in fact, by hiding it, from society and from ourselves, we preclude the possibility of self-improvement, leaving the problem to fester until it erupts again.

Gd designed human beings to be perfect pipelines for His infinite energy and intelligence to flow into and perfect the material world.  It is our responsibility and our privilege to remove the impediments in ourselves that impede this flow.


Pirke Avot, Chapter 2

Mishnah 16

R. Yehoshua says: An evil eye, an evil inclination and the hatred of people take a person out of the world.

The “evil eye” generally refers to the subtle influence of jealousy upon one who is flaunting his wealth or good fortune.  Here Rabbi Lau indicates that it means miserliness or a grudging attitude on our part towards others’ good fortune.  While the “evil eye” directed at us from others is certainly damaging, all we can do about it is to live modestly, without ostentatious consumption or bragging about all the good that Gd has given us.  But what other people do about our good fortune is beyond our control.  What we can control is our reaction to other people’s good fortune.  Do we treat them with disdain?  Do we make excuses why our fortunes are not so great (although even this is a wrong attitude – all the challenges Gd sends us are only for our own good!)?  Do we use other people’s good fortune as a spur to our greater accomplishment in life, or do we just send them bad vibes because we’re jealous?  Or do we get angry?!  If our reaction to others is less than open and joyful, remember, we’re taking ourselves out of the world – this world (since we’re wasting energy that we could be using to perfect ourselves) and the World to Come (since we’re disrupting the harmony of creation and damaging our own souls with impure thoughts and emotions).  The answer is not to be attached to the material.  The material world is constantly changing – one day we’re up, the next day we’re down Gd forbid.  When our mind is fully expanded and we cleave to the infinite Gd, we have a pipeline to infinite blessings, enough to fill our own life and to overflow to the lives of everyone around us.