The Preist's Supreme Task: Diagnosing Spiritually Damaged Souls
The Torah’s concept of cleanliness and uncleanliness, of purity and
defilement, differs greatly from our ordinarily accepted notions and
definitions. We appreciate the necessity for physical cleanliness. So does
the Torah. Having a clean body is one of the prerequisites for acceptable
prayer and performance of any of the mitzvoth. It is also part of our
requirement to honor our bodies and to show respect and consideration for
other human beings as well.
But that is not the thrust of the cleanliness and purity that the Torah
indicates in this week’s parsha. The Torah speaks of a type of uncleanliness
of spirit and soul that somehow manifests itself physically. This type of
spiritual uncleanliness stems from human behavior that violates Torah
principles and values – especially evil speech.
This type of behavior sullies our souls. In Biblical times the physical
effects of such behavior could literally be seen on one’s body. Painful and
ignominious as the skin eruption was, it had a positive result of warning
one as to the consequences of one’s negative behavior and speech.
In our time this physical manifestation and warning is no longer present.
But the dreadful process of damaging our souls by such behavior and speech
continues to apply even today. We say in our prayers daily that the Lord
granted us at the beginning of our lives a soul that was pure. When we
return it to our Maker we should try to return it as close to its original
state as possible. That is in effect what the entire parsha of Tazria is about.
The task entrusted to the kohein was to somehow assess the damage, if any,
done to the soul. He had the expertise to be able to do so simply by
examining the physical body of the person. It was one of the gifts of the
kohein. He possessed such an ability to discern spiritual damage from
viewing external symptoms. Apparently a holy person is able to do so.
Legend has it that the famed ARI (Rabbi Isaac Luria of sixteenth century
Safed) was able to tell a person what one’s sins and spiritual defects were
simply by looking at the person’s face. Legend also tells us that, because
of this power, people rarely visited or conversed with him. We are reticent
to know the real truth about ourselves and the state of our souls.
In Biblical times the Lord, so to speak, forced us by physical symptoms to
come to the kohein and confront our true spiritual state. This was a
blessing, albeit in disguise, for it allowed for the necessary diagnosis
that could eventually lead to spiritual repair, improvement and advancement.
This is the supreme task of the kohein in helping others achieve their
betterment. It was therefore a spiritual experience of advancement for the
kohein as well. Helping others always helps to cleanse one’s soul and
advance one’s spirit.
Rabbi Berel Wein