Parshat Tazria - Metzorah
The Torah commands a woman to bring a korban after the birth of a child. A son is to be circumcised on the eighth day of his life. The Torah introduces the phenomenon of tzara'at (often mistranslated as leprosy) — a miraculous affliction that attacks people, clothing and buildings to awaken a person to spiritual failures. A kohen must be consulted to determine whether a particular mark is tzara'at or not. The kohen isolates the sufferer for a week. If the malady remains unchanged, confinement continues for a second week, after which the kohen decides the person's status. The Torah describes the different forms of tzara'at. One whose tzara'at is confirmed wears torn clothing, does not cut his hair, and must alert others that he is ritually impure. He may not have normal contact with people. The phenomenon of tzara'at on clothing is described in detail.
The Torah describes the procedure for a metzora (a person afflicted with tzara'at) upon conclusion of his isolation. This process extends for a week and involves korbanot and immersions in the mikveh. Then, a kohen must pronounce the metzora pure. A metzora of limited financial means may substitute lesser offerings for the more expensive animals. Before a kohen diagnoses that a house has tzara'at, household possessions are removed to prevent them from also being declared ritually impure. The tzara'at is removed by smashing and rebuilding that section of the house. If it reappears, the entire building must be razed. The Torah details those bodily secretions that render a person spiritually impure, thereby preventing his contact with holy items, and the Torah defines how one regains a state of ritual purity.
So Far Away
"The kohen shall look, and behold! The affliction has covered his entire flesh, then he will declare the affliction to be pure." (13:13)
Tzara'at, frequently mistranslated as leprosy, was a disease caused by spiritual defects, such as speaking lashon hara (slander). (Nowadays we are on such a low level spiritually that our bodies do not reflect the state of our spiritual health in this way.)
The verse here is puzzling for if "the affliction has covered the entire flesh" of the person that must mean that he is far from pure, and yet the Torah tells us that the kohen shall "declare the affliction pure". How can he be pure if the affliction covers his whole body?
The answer is that he is so far from being cured, having ignored all the warnings to do teshuva (repent), that the disease ceases to perform any further purpose. Thus the Torah specifically says not that the kohen shall declare him pure; rather that "the affliction is pure". He, on the other hand, is as far from purity as is possible.
- Based on the Ha'emek Davar and Rabbi S. R. Hirsch
"...and he shall be brought to the kohen." (14:3).
When a person speaks lashon hara it indicates that he has no concept of the power of speech; that he considers words to be insignificant in comparison to actions. As the nursery rhyme says "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me."
Nothing could be further from the truth. When a person speaks evil, he awakes a prosecutor in Heaven, not only against the target of his speech, but also against himself. An angel stands by the side of each of us recording our every word. In order to teach those who speak slander the power of just one word, the Torah instructs that the offender be brought to the kohen. But, even as he is on his way to the kohen, his body covered with tzara'at for all to see, and until the kohen actually pronounces the word "Impure!" he is still considered totally pure. Similarly, he cannot regain his former status, although his disease has healed completely, until the kohen again pronounces him to be spiritually pure.
From this, the speaker of lashon hara is taught to reflect on the power of each and every word. For with one word he can be made an outcast, and with one word he can be redeemed.
- Based on Ohel Yaakov