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   by Jacob Solomon

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A person with tzaraat - he shall dwell in isolation… outside the camp (13:46-48).

The main part of Tazria-Metzora, is about the plague of tzaraat. R. Samson Raphael Hirsch writes that tzaraat is not 'leprosy' as we understand it - but a Divinely-imposed sign of moral deficiency. The Kli Yakar (on 13:2) divides the spiritual causes of tzaraat into three groups - gossip, arrogance, and greed:

1. Lashon Hara - as with Miriam's report about Moses' domestic life (Num. 12:10).

2. Gasut Ruach - haughtiness of spirit - as with Naaman. 'Naaman, the chief officer of the King of Aram was a great man before his maste' (Kings II 5:1), is understood by the Kli Yakar as to mean that he conducted himself in an arrogant manner.

3. Chemdat Mammon - jealous desire for money: Elisha had cured Naaman from tzaraat. Naaman offered Elisha payment, but he refused to accept. Gehazi, Elisha's student chased after Naaman and took the payment for himself. He was punished with tzaraat (Kings II 5:27).

Enforced isolation is severe punishment. The one form of torture permitted in civilized countries is solitary confinement - being totally cut-off from human contact. Psychologists strongly recommend that this punishment does not exceed 72 hours, as any excess can cause permanent damage to the human mind. For Man is not merely a sociable being. His very being is social; that is how Man is created. As G-d puts it: 'It is not good for Man to be alone' (Gen. 2:18). The company of other people is crucial for his own functioning and well-being.

This principle can explain the metzora's treatment by the community ordained by the Torah: 'He shall dwell in isolation - outside the camp' (13:48). The Rabbis explain that it means that he is cut off from the entire community. Talking to each other is not just a way of exchanging information. It is a necessity in itself. It within the way Man is created to live; as is food, clothing, and sleep. We are created to connect with others.

But the three sins of gossip, arrogance, and greed debase the sacred gift of the experience and depth of human communication.

Gossip (and especially where its content is practically untrue, in being understood out of context) unjustly lowers the esteem a person is held amongst those he values. It can make it more difficult for the victim to communicate and have his words taken seriously. It ultimately deprives him of his need to connect with others.

So does arrogance. The overbearing tend to lower other's feelings of worth as a person. Many a good potential communicator was cut down because of a cynical and patronizing parent or teacher who in 'cutting them down to size', gave the victim the notion that he is unworthy of having anything to say or do that is of value - negative self-concepts which often persist throughout life. Thus those who suffer arrogance often create a mindset where they do not feel they are worthy to connect sufficiently to others.

And finally greed. Many wrongly distrust people because of previous negative experiences with the avaricious. 'When he calls me, he's only doing it to see what he can get out of me'… Such an outlook can create an atmosphere where people do not wish to reach out, for fear that they do not want to be 'used'…

Thus, the three negative traits of gossip, arrogance, and greed kill human communication. In days of old, G-d showed His displeasure on those who indulged by making them experience what their conduct was doing to others - putting them into social isolation, so they might appreciate at first hand the consequence of their 'killing human communication'.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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