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Most of the content of parashiot Tazria and Metzora is about the plague of tzaraat.
R. Samson Raphael Hirsch writes that tzaraat is not leprosy as we understand it, but G-d's actively indicating spiritual and moral deficiency in an individual. The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzva 168) explains, "To fix in our souls that G-d's Providence applies to every human being individually… to the slightest details, and so it is with a sufferer of tzaraat during the days of his confinement. If he repents, then purifying signs will appear and he will be healed. If he does not repent, then the opposite will happen."
Based directly on Tenach sources, the Kli Yakar states that tzaraat appeared in response to the following behaviors:
1. Lashon Hara, gossip (as with Miriam's report about Moses' domestic life). The Kli Yakar observes that it is in the nature of a gossiper to draw attention to weaknesses in great people - however small, just like flies who look for open wounds to infest - however small.
2. Gasut Ruach, haughtiness of spirit, as with Naaman. "Naaman, the chief officer of the King of Aram was a great man before his master," (Kings II 5:1) is understood by the Kli Yakar as showing arrogance even towards his superiors.
3. Chemdat Mammon, desire for money or simply greed as with Gehazi, the student of Elisha. Elisha cured Naaman from tzaraat. Naaman offered Elisha payment, but he refused to accept. Gehazi chased after Naaman and took the payment for himself. He was punished with tzaraat (Kings II 5:27).
Common to all three is small-mindedness. Such individuals feel ill-will towards the situation and possessions of others.
Even a small degree of the spreading of the tzaraat symptoms means that the person is declared tameh. Yet if the tzaraat covers the entire body, the person is tahor (13:13). Why should a complete cover of tzaraat render a person tahor?
The Kli Yakar explains that complete cover of tzaraat indicated a superficial depth of the skin condition, but a small cover meant that it had penetrated more deeply. It was the insidious nature of latter condition that was the reason it was pronounced tameh.
In addition, it may be suggested that the complete cover of tzaraat is a particularly severe means of rebuke: G-d causing a person to be publically dishonored. It is akin in spirit to the Rambam's ruling that it is permitted for a teacher to shame a student in public if it is absolutely necessary for his spiritual progress (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:5). If the teacher is not able to correct the student's conduct in a less extreme way, he has the discretion to embarrass his student publicly.
Not all people could take their social misdeeds to heart through the appearance of small symptoms, the discreet treatment following withdrawal from society, being examined by the kohen, and reflecting on what they did wrong and resolve to improve. Nothing less than public embarrassment would jolt them into action. No cover up or withdrawal from society. The Almighty Himself knows who those individuals are: as King David put it, G-d "creates… their heart, understands their deeds" (Psalms 33:15).
Perhaps today's equivalent is situations when series of things just go wrong, one after the other. A person should consider that it is G-d's wake up call to pay attention to a character flow and improve attitude and behavior towards others.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 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: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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