Tzaraas: Spot the Problem
Where a man sees tzaraas, a spot of leprosy on his skin, he is pronounced
spiritually impure by the kohen and has to take leave of the Jewish camp
to undergo cleansing and spiritual rectification (Leviticus 13-14).
Similar rules of impurity apply where tzaraas is found on clothing or
on his house.
The appearance of tzaraas, leprosy was a major cause for concern.
It was a spiritual malaise - one that was unnaturally revealed through
At any time, the soul, like the body, is either in a healthy or in a sick
state. An infected body necessitates a doctor's consultation whereas the
sickness of the soul requires the specialist consultation of the righteous
Sages. They act in the capacity of spiritual physicians, to heal and cure
any malady which inflicts the soul (Rambam, Introduction to Avos).
In Biblical times, where the Children of Israel lived on an elevated
existence, G-dliness dwelled in their midst such that it penetrated every
level of their lives – their bodies, their clothes and their homes. Thus,
in the circumstances where the isolated sinner had fallen short of the
exacting standards of his peers, either him, his clothing or his home was
inflicted with tzaraas – a illness which was a kindness insofar as it
alerted him to his spiritual failings and prompted him into repentance
(Ramban, Vayikra 14:47).
The ideal state is the co-existence and harmony between "body" and "soul"
with one reflecting the other. The Shem MiShmuel explains how, in the same
way that the final departure of the "soul" leads to a radical
transformation of the "body", similarly, defilement to the Jew's original
state of "holiness" was mirrored in the "body". This was apparent in the
appearance of tzaraas.
The main iniquity that is the cause for tzaraas, of course, is the crime
of lashon hara, gossip or slander (Arachin 15-16).
The tragedy of lashon hara is revisiting of the Serpent in the Garden of
Eden. This creature, as the incarnation of evil, spoke the original
slander against G-d which led to the forbidden eating from the Tree of
Knowledge. Of course, the Primeval Sin was responsible for the entry of
impurity into the world, and for the entry of the breakdown in the
relationship between "body" and "soul" in the disobedience of G-d - which
would ultimately lead to their complete separation in death.
So when a Jew utters lashon hara, he is emulating the disaster wrought by
the Serpent; a path that leads to spiritual contamination, isolation from
G-d and distance from holiness.
Appropriately, the person with tzaraas is examined and pronounced impure
by a Kohen, the priest whose service in the Temple is conducted in the
utmost of purity. He becomes one of the 4 categories of people who are
considered spiritually dead (Nedarim 64b), a corpse being the epitome of
defilement and spiritual contamination. An outcast of society, he has to
leave the sanctity of the Jewish camp wherein the Divine Presence rested
as his leprous spot attests to his "inner" sinful behavior that is
Where spiritually compromised, the spots of tzaraas appear on his body,
clothes or homes. Now that the inner holiness of the Jewish soul has been
sullied, he is no longer afforded the spiritual protection in all 3
environments where his affinity to G-dliness is revealed in the tefillin
tied to his body, in the tzitzis attached to his garment, or with the
mezuzah on the doorposts of his homes (Menachos 43b).
Only with the treatment of the sin, to spiritually cleanse his soul in
full repentance, would the tzaraas disappear. Today, we are not fortunate
to merit this spiritual malady to highlight our misdeeds.
But we still strive to make sure that G-dliness and holiness enter and
penetrate every level of our lives – our bodies, our clothes and in our
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene and Torah.org.