Tzaraas: Spot Checks
The appearance of tzaraas, a leprous spot upon man's skin necessitated a
check by the kohen who would determine whether this rendered him as
spiritually impure (Vayikra 13-14).
One point worthy of reflection, in the realization that tzaraas was a
spiritual rather than a physical malaise, is why this specifically
develops upon the skin.
Granted that this was due a spiritual default within the person – such as
haughtiness or speaking lashon hara, evil speech. But why the "spot check"
appearing on the body's surface? Why this peculiar outer manifestation of
the inner defects within man?
The transition in Adam's primeval sin, as we've discussion upon other
occasions, was from a body radiating an incandescent Ohr, "light" in G-dly
service to a more physical body with Oyr, "skin" that blinded and veiled
the inner soul within man. The word Oyr, "skin" is related to
Ivver, "blind person" because in his diminished, fallen state, his body
now took on a layer of skin. It became a veil rather than a reflector to
reveal the divine in the universe.
Skin is the layer of separation, the interface between within and without.
In a sense, it is the symbolic boundary between the soul within man and
the body that covers it. Accordingly, this powerfully evokes the tragic
result of sin, as originating in the Garden of Eden, as an "strengthened"
barrier constructed between man and G-d.
In past generations, people were clued into their spiritual performance.
Where they lapsed by not living up the ideal, there immediately surfaced
an external manifestation and clear indicator of their inner defect. This
was a supreme act of divine kindness as it enabled them to quickly fix
their wrong-doings. And to take steps to remove this undesirable blockade.
Here tzaraas formed upon the skin to indicate the presence of
a "spiritual" blockage, or the partial withholding that was preventing the
Pneimiyus, "the inner essence" within man's soul, to be fully revealed and
Such contamination affects the essence of man's spiritual endeavors. And
in the same way the total withdrawal of the life force from within the
person radically impacts upon the composure of the body, so too, explains
the Kuzari, does the withdrawal of even some of the divine light within
man also result in a changed appearance as evident in tzaraas.
Like a sewage, drain or pipe blockage requires a plumber for the system to
be fully functional, so too, is the employment of a religious plumber
necessary in order to remedy the spiritual failings externally manifest in
Enter Mr. Kohen.
The task of the kohen was to spiritually unblock the obstacle and
readdress the causes of the sin. He admonished the sinner to cleanse out
the contamination clogging up his soul and to eject evil from within. That
called for his full repentance for his iniquities. And who better than the
kohen? He was tuned into the concept of Pneimiyus, "internality" where his
whole being was devoted to the worship of G-d in the Sanctuary and whose
head, the kohen gadol, was the one to enter the Kodesh Hakodoshim, "the
inner sanctum" on Yom Kippur.
Only through employing the greatest efforts to demolish this blockage, can
the inner holiness be revealed. The tzaraas vanished once his repentance
Our task today, albeit where this mitzvah has no practical application, is
to contemplate our actions, speech and thought and unblock all those
sinful attempts to conceal His Presence. We have to invest all our efforts
in making our beings a conduit to reveal G-d in the universe.
The course is presented by Osher Chaim Levene, author of SET IN STONE (2004: Targum) about the meaning of mitzvah observance and PEOPLE OF THE BOOK (2007: Targum) about the biblical personalities. A London-based writer and educator whose website www.mitzva.org explores the wisdom of the commandments, he learned at the Gateshead and Mir Yeshivas, holds a Bachelor of Science (Honors) business degree from London's City University, and is a Member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.