Torah Weekly - Parshat Tazria/Metzorah

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Parshat Tazria/Metzorah

For the week ending 5 Iyar 5761 / April 27 & 28, 2001

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    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.




    "This is the law of the Metzora." (14:2)

    When computers emerged from the dark ages of machine code, the buzz word which sold large numbers of those grey boxes was WYSIWYG. This was not a character with a long pointed hat out of a children's fairy story. It meant "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" -- the way things look on the screen will be the way they look on the paper.

    In our world, spiritual events go largely unoticed. We can't see our dining room table becoming spiritually elevated when we learn Torah on it or welcome guests around it for a Shabbat meal. We can't see the world becoming a holier place when we pray to G-d with devoted concentration. Similarly, we can't see hundreds of thousands of incorporeal beings perishing when a word of slander emerges from our lips.

    These events are so removed from our eyes that they stretch our credulity to the maximum. And yet they are happening around us all the time. This is not a WSYSIG world.

    There was a time, however, where spiritual realities were more manifest in the physical world.

    This week we read a double Torah reading -- Tazria and Metzora. They both deal with a spiritual affliction called tzara'at which was caused be various kinds of anti-social behavior. Tzara'at was not a physical disease but a malaise of the spirit. It was merely the physical symptom of a chronic spiritual illness. If we do not see such a disease today, it is because our bodies have become so desensitized to our spiritual state that they can no longer act as a barometer to our spiritual well-being.

    Someone afflicted with tzara'at is called a metzora. The word metzora is a contraction of motzei ra -- literally "to bring forth evil." This evil was principally the evil of speaking slander. However, tzara'at was also a punishment for other forms of anti-social behavior, notably, bloodshed, false oaths, sexual immorality, pride, robbery and selfishness.

    What do these acts have in common? They are all instances of the failure to be sensitive to the needs of others and to share their plight.

    The essence of society from the Jewish perspective is not that society should run smoothly for the sake of society, but that each individual should take up the yoke of their neighbor. In other words society exists so that man may exercise his kindness and his caring.

    When someone fails in these fundamental areas, he demonstrates that has failed to understand the purpose of society itself. Thus he has no place in society until he can cure himself of this failing.

    It is for this reason that he is exiled until he comes to the realization that WYSIWIG -- what you see is what you get.

    • Talmud Arachin 15b,16a
    • Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch


    Kings II 7:3 - 20


    The haftara opens with the plight of four men afflicted by tzara'at. The King of Aram had besieged Shomron, the capital city of the northern ten tribes. As a result, a tremendous famine waxed through the city. When all seemed lost and people were paying exorbitant prices for "food" not fit for rodents, Elisha prophesied that the next day there would be a plentiful food supply at inexpensive prices. One of the king's servants who had come to seize Elisha quipped: "If Hashem would make windows in heaven, could this really happen?" Elisha replied, "you will see the food, but you will not be privileged to eat any of it."

    When the four men afflicted with tzara'at saw that the army of Aram had fled for no apparent reason (the army had in fact been miraculously driven away by Hashem) they brought the news to Shomron. Elisha's prophecies were fulfilled. Hashem provided the promised prosperity, and the skeptical servant who ridiculed Elisha's prophecy about the price (sha'ar) of the food was trampled to death in the gate (sha'ar) of the city.

    Although a haftara does not normally end with retribution, perhaps this haftara which shows how Hashem treats people "measure for measure" provides us with confidence that when we are righteous we will be suitably rewarded.

    Based on the Me'am Lo'ez

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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