Everyone Is Vulnerable
The entire subject of tzoraat is shrouded in mystery and wonderment. The
exact nature of the disease is not really known to our medical
The traditional translation of tzoraat as leprosy is undoubtedly
misleading and inaccurate. The rabbis of the Talmud treated this disease
as mainly a spiritual one, albeit reflected in actual physical symptoms.
Slander, narrowness of vision, jealousy of others and bad character traits
were assigned by the rabbis as being some of the potential causes of the
onset of the disease.
Since tzoraat could occur not only on one’s body but on one’s clothing and
in the walls of one’s house, it made everyone vulnerable- stripped bare of
the veneer of possessions and false appearances that characterize human
life. They are exposed publicly as being people of poor character, greedy,
self-centered and even malicious towards others.
In the haftorah of the week we read of the four metzoraim – Gechazy and
his three sons – who were cursed by Elisha for their greed and for the
desecration of God’s name when Gechazy pursued Naaman, the Aramean
general, and asked for the wealth that Elisha had refused to accept.
Even in the moment of triumph when they discovered the encampment of their
enemy to be deserted and abandoned, they could not restrain their impulse
of greed and proceeded to loot the camp before reporting their discovery
to the king of Israel.
Apparently it is easier to cure tzoraat itself than it is to remove the
character flaws that brought about the tzoraat in the first instance.
Since tzoraat was a disease of character traits and flaws, it is natural
that the Torah placed the responsibility of diagnosing and curing the
disease, not upon doctors or healers, but rather on the kohein – the
priest of Israel.
The kohein was to be the spiritual mentor and guide for Jews. The prophet
proclaimed: “For the lips of the kohein shall guard knowledge and wisdom
and people shall seek to learn Torah from him for he is likened unto an
angel of God.”
The kohein was the sole healer of these hidden character weaknesses that
lay deep within a person’s soul and personality. Apparently with the
decline of the spiritual strength of the kohanim in Second Temple times,
the disease of tzoraat also disappeared.
We have no record of its actual appearance in Second Temple times, though
the rules of purification enumerated in this week’s parsha were continued
to be studied and appear as a separate mesechet in the Mishna.
The rabbis always spoke of tzoraat as something that required study and
analysis – drosh (to search and analyze.) If one actually did that and
underwent the searing self-analysis that is required to uproot the
possibility of tzoraat in one’s person then in the words of the
rabbis “vkabel sachar - one will be rewarded and receive payment.”
That lesson remains valid for all times and under all circumstances. We no
longer have any kohein capable of discerning tzoraat nor do we actually
have tzoraat itself in our midst. But, the root causes of tzoraat still
exist abundantly within us and our society.
Before the coming of the great Pesach holiday let us attempt to purify
ourselves from those negative causes and traits.
Rabbi Berel Wein