Posted on March 23, 2011
by Alex Krule
This week, we read the double portion Tazria-Metzora. These parshiot are linked in a very clear way; they both thoroughly and completely deal with matters of spiritual impurity and how the Kohanim are to deal to the various impurities brought upon the people of Israel. In fact, Metzora begins as a continuation of the case the “metzora,” or one who has an ancient disease called “tzara’at.” Many translate this disease as leprosy based on its symptoms, but, in actuality, the name of this disease cannot be translated, for it has a much more significant meaning behind it.
The disease called tzara’at is a very prominent condition within the bible. Two of the most well-know times when this condition appears is at the burning bush when God proves His power to Moshe and when Miryam and Aharon speak badly of their brother, but this portion deals mainly with diagnosis and treatment of and for tzara’at. At a pshat, or simple, level, it would appear as though the kohanim of the Tabernacle doubled as doctors as well. After all, there is plenty of detail about what parts of the body are afflicted by this condition (examples include hair becoming white in certain areas, snow-like scales falling off of the body, and other white inflammations of the skin). However, as Professor Arnold M. Eisen observes in this week’s JTS Weekly Torah Commentary, the kohanim are not doctors; “Medicine is not the art he [the kohen] practices.” Instead, says Professor Eisen, we learn that one of the jobs of the kohen includes diagnosing Israelites of spiritual purity or impurity. The reason why tzara’at cannot be merely translated at leprosy is because tzara’at is a spiritual disease that manifests itself through symptoms such as discoloration of skin and hair. The disease is not caught through germs or a virus, rather, according to Masechet Arichin 15b, it is a result of being spiritually impure for not being emphatic of others or speaking lashon harah, or evil tongue/gossip, about others, as seen in the situation of Miryam and Aharaon.
The details of the diagnosis of tzara’at is mainly found in parashat Tazria while the treatment is primarily found in parashat Metzora. I encourage you to look at how the Torah describes how certain individuals must do certain sacrifices and other actions in order to aleve the condition of tzara’at. It is interesting to see how certain individuals’ actions, such as a poor man’s, differs from that of a regular man, regardless of original sin or offense. Can you think of something that happens in the world around you that is deserving of this tzara’at? Do you think that there is a way that you can prevent these things from happening?