One of the peculiarities of tzaraas is the fact that someone whose body is
fully engulfed in the disease is considered tahor (ritually pure). Tzaraas
is an affliction that is commonly misidentified as leprosy. In fact, whereas
leprosy is a medical condition, tzaraas is the physical manifestation of a
spiritual deficiency. The Torah lists a number of blemishes and blotches
which would appear on various areas of the body which, if identified by a
trained Kohen (priest) to be tzaraas was declared to be tzaraas, would
render the bearer tamei (ritually compromised) and he or she would be sent
out of the local population center to a remote location, where the bearer
would contemplate his deeds, attempting to identify that which he did which
brought G-d to deliver this malady. The most common cause was lashon hara
(slanderous speech). But the Torah notes that if "the Kohen shall look and
the affliction covers his entire flesh then he shall declare the affliction
to be pure, having turned completely white, it is pure. And on the day that
healthy flesh appears in it, it shall be contaminated." (Vayikra/Leviticus
13:13-14) How is it that partially afflicted he is impure but completely
diseased he is pure?
This is the nature of a spiritual illness. The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael
Meir HaKohen Kagan of Radin; 1838-1933; author of basic works in Jewish law,
philosophy and ethics and renowned for his saintly qualities) explained that
this illness is consistent with G-d's revulsion for haughtiness, as stated
in Mishlei/Proverbs (16:5), "The haughty of heart are an abomination of
G-d," and His appreciation of humility.
The root cause for a willingness to speak derogatorily of others is the
feeling that the negative traits or acts of others makes the speaker
superior to him. Rabbi Kagan elucidates that the tzaraas sufferer is exiled,
not even allowed to reside with other others who have tzaraas, to humble him
as he considers his great sin and repents. This is necessary for someone who
bears only a few splotches of tzaraas, who without being exiled and forced
to spend a week in absolute solitude, would feel no significant consequence
to being tamei and could, therefore, dismiss it as irrelevant. The exclusion
from society is a necessary component to appreciating the Divine displeasure
and creating the humility that is key to repentance. But for one who is
completely afflicted, from the top of his head to the tip of his toe, there
is no dismissing the situation; therefore, exile is extraneous and unneeded,
thus the Torah classifies him as tahor.
We no longer have tzaraas as a reminder that G-d maintains an interest in
our spiritual success, but He does send us reminders on a regular basis.
They may not be as obvious as turning lily white from top to bottom, but
they are there…we just need to look for them.