Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 17 April 2021 / 5 Iyar 5781

Parashat Tazria - Metzora

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Corrected Social Sin

The final step in the purification process of the Mezora is the offering of three sheep: one as a guilt-offering, one as an ascent-offering, and one as a sin-offering. The combining of these three shades of dedication is almost without parallel. (The nazir also brings all three types offering, but in the case of the nazir, the sin and ascent-offerings may be birds.) Furthermore, all three are accompanied by libations of oil, flour and wine — a phenomenon without parallel.

Tzara’at is a punishment not just for slander, but for other cardinal social sins, including haughtiness, deceit, bloodshed, rabble-rousing, perjury, sexual immorality, robbery and stinginess. (Arachin 16a; Vaykira Rabbah, Metzora). One who discovers a tzara’at mark (nega) understands that he has been “touched” by the finger of G-d (nega means touch). He understands that his social behavior provoked G-d’s anger. On account of his foul social behavior, he is removed from the community. Because he incited unrest among his brethren, he is separated from everyone.

His offerings are intended as corrective measures for these social sins. All three animals are to be sheep — he must view himself as one who has been shepherded by G-d. In his arrogance — the root of all social sin — he forgot G-d. Part of his restoration includes reducing his ego and accepting his position as a sheep in the flock being shepherded by G-d. All three offerings must be accompanied by flour, oil and wine, because upon re-entry into G-d’s community, he must remember that all his possessions, his existence (flour), prosperity (oil) and joy (wine) in life depend on his faithfulness and duty, and not on his own power and devices.

The guilt-offering is most prominent among the three — and it reflects a personality who is on the verge of desolation due to his selfishness in the sphere of control and interests (The term for guilt-offering, asham, is related to the word for desolation, shamem.)

Normally, the blood of a guilt-offering is applied entirely to the Altar. But, in our case, the blood is applied to various parts of the metzora. This is highly significant, and seemingly paradoxical. We might have expected the blood — representing the life force — to be dedicated to the Altar as a sign of subordination and dedication to G-d. But instead, the blood is placed on the metzora himself! This guilt-offering represents the progress from desolation into life and health. An integral part of that process is a commitment to rehabilitate man’s own personality. Man’s care for his own personality, his aspirations for life and health, his healthy self-esteem and fulfillment are also endeavors dedicated to G-d. Part of the process of shedding the ego and arrogance that has put him on the verge of desolation is developing a healthy and vibrant sense of self and purpose. Only then can he rejoin the ranks of community, purged of social sin.

  • Sources: Commentary, Vayikra 14:10, 14

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