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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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We follow the Torah reading in Chutz La'Aretz, which is:

Parashas Beha'aloscha(66)

This week's sedra begins, unfortunately, the series of complaints that the People have during their trek in the Wilderness. The stay in the Wilderness was to be very short, but, as we will read next week (as we read in Eretz Yisroel this week) the stay in the Wilderness will be prolonged for 40 years. The end of the sedra (chapter 12) tells of Miriam and Aaron's speaking badly about their brother and leader, Moses. Miriam is punished with Tzora'as (leprosy).

Numbers 12:11,12

11. And Aaron said to Moses: Oh, please my master do not put iniquity upon us for what we have foolishly done and for what we have transgressed.

12. Please let her not be like the dead. That since he came from his mother's womb, it would be as half of his own flesh was consumed.


let her not be like the dead: Rashi: If you do not heal her by prayer who will confine her and who will purify her? I can not examine her because I am related. And a relative cannot examine the symptoms of leprosy. And there are no other Kohanim in the world. This is what is meant by : "that since he came from his mother's womb."


A metzora (leper) is ritually impure and makes others, he comes into contact with, impure. But a matzora is only halachically considered a metzora once the priest (Kohain) declares that he is a metzora, before that he is not impure nor can he make others impure. See Vayikra 14:35, 36 where the Torah tells us to remove the contents of a house that has signs of tzora'as on its walls, before the priest comes and pronounces it tzora'as, so that the contents won't become impure. We would ask: If it is tzora'as what does removing the furniture help? But we see that the tzara'as only begins from a spiritual point of view once the priest declares it tzara'as.


Rashi tells us that Aaron appeals to Moses to pray for their sister who is now a metzora. Aaron needs Moses' intervention, because, as he says, Aaron can neither make her a metzora nor declare her pure - since he is a relative, her brother, and relatives cannot do that. Therefore only prayer can save Miriam.

What would you ask on this comment? Read it well.

Your Question:


A Question: Rashi says that Aaron can neither "close her up" (i.e. pronounce her a metzora ) nor can he pronounce her "pure." Well, if she cannot be pronounced a metzora, than she is not halachicly a metzora, so why the need to pronounce her pure? In fact Tosefos in the Talmud ( Zevachim 102a) asks this question but gives no answer.

Another Question: We can add a second question: If she is in fact a metzora, what help would Moses' prayers have? A metzora is not "healed" through prayer. Rather through a priest pronouncing her pure.

Can you think of an answer?

Your Answer:


An Answer: One of the commentaries suggests an interesting idea. Miriam had the physical signs of leprosy. These physical signs are also an indication of a spiritual state called tzara'as . In Miriam's case she could not be considered a metzora since no priest (who was not a relative) had seen the physical signs and thus could not pronounce her a metzora. But the signs were still there. So when people saw Miriam, they would keep their distance from her. This is what Rashi is saying: Aaron beseeches Moses to pray for Miriam so that the physical signs would be healed, and then she could return to the camp accepted by everybody. Moses had to help her through prayer, precisely because Aaron could not do this in the usual spiritual way.


The lesson here is interesting and instructive. It seems to be that Tzara'as is basically a physical illness, with all the signs of leprosy. That is probably why quarantine is necessary. (closed up for 7 or 14 days away from everyone). But the Torah "took advantage" of the fact that there was an illness ---to teach us a moral lesson, not to speak loshon hara about others. This spiritual illness is "controlled" by the priest who is our spiritual doctor, so to speak. He pronounces our "illness" and he declares our healing. The Torah and prophets are replete with such messages: When something goes wrong in life we are taught to take advantage of this bad news to improve ourselves. In this way all "downs" are transformed into "ups" to help us climb higher in our lifelong spiritual quest.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.

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