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P A R A S H A - P A G E
by Mordecai Kornfeld
of Har Nof, Jerusalem
Founder of the Dafyomi Advancement Forum

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This issue is dedicated to the memory of Pinchas ben Avrohom Yitzchak Berger, father of Avi Berger of Kew Gardens Hills, NY. Yahrzeit: 16 Adar.

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Parashat Tazria 5757

This is the Halachic requirement of the Metzora (a person afflicted with Tzara'at; a leper) on the day he (is healed and) becomes Tahor.... He should bring two live pigeons, a cedar branch, a string dyed red and a hyssop (oregano) plant (which will all be used for the ritual).... He should then shave off all of his hair. (Vayikra 14:2,4,8)

Oral tradition has it that the Metzora would be shaved as smooth as a gourd (Dala'at). (Sota 16a)

Why did the Gemara choose this unusual simile in order to describe the shaving of a Metzora? An analysis of the sin which originally brought about the affliction of Tzara'at will help us to better understand this matter.


It is a repeated theme in Midrashic literature that the punishment of Tzara'at is reserved for those who bad-talk or slander others. As Rashi (Vayikra 14:3, based on Erchin 16b) tells us, "Tzara'at is meant as a punishment for the slanderer or gossip, who chatters senselessly. This is why the purification process of the Metzora requires pigeons, which are always chattering noisily."

In that same verse, however, Rashi quotes a seemingly contradictory Midrash which attributes the punishment of Tzara'at to another sin. "The Metzora brings an cedar branch because Tzara'at is brought upon a person as a punishment for arrogance [and the tall, straight cedar tree is symbolic of the arrogant]" (Rashi ibid., see also Erchin 16a).

In fact, the two Midrashim complement each other. The sin of the slanderer itself stems from arrogance, as the verse states, "One who *slanders* his friend in secret, him I will destroy; one who has *proud* eyes and a *haughty* heart, him I will not tolerate" (Tehillim 101:5 -- the two parts of this verse refer to the same sinner, see Erchin 15b). This is why the Gemara tells us, "What is the remedy for those who slander? ...They should humble themselves, as the verse states (Mishlei 15:4), "One who has made [his words] crooked should break his spirit" (Erchin 15b).


Humility is the remedy for both the slanderer and the Metzora. As the Gemara tells us, "One who is 'soft' and modest will be readily healed from physical afflictions, while one who is tough and adamant will not be readily healed" (Rashi ibid.).

All of the laws of the Metzora's quarantine can be viewed as lessons in humility. The Metzora must show his Tzara'at to a Kohen so that the Kohen may pronounce it as Tamei or Tahor (depending upon its color and other factors). Even if the Metzora is himself a great scholar, or himself a Kohen, he must go to another Kohen to show his Tzara'at (Nega'im 3:1; 2:5). The Metzora must *humble himself* before the representative of Hashem.

When one invites the Kohen to view his Tzara'at, the Metzora may not state decisively, "I have Tzara'at," no matter how certain he is of the matter. Rather, he must say to the Kohen, "I have something that *is similar to* Tzara'at." (Rashi Vayikra 14:35, from Nega'im 12:5). A Metzora's imposed exile from walled cities is obviously a humbling experience, as is the destruction of a person's Tzara'at-infected garments or houses.

The complete shaving of a Metzora (twice -- on the day that his Tzara'as is healed and seven days later!) also teaches humility. A person's hair decorates his body, making it appear more honorable. For this reason, long handsome locks tend to make a person grow arrogant, as with Yosef the son of Yakov, (Rashi, Bereishit 39:6) and Avshalom the son of King David (Shmuel II 14:26, Sota 10b). In contrast, the Gemara (Nazir 4b) relates the story of a young man with long, beautiful locks of hair who swore to shave his head in order to defeat his arrogant impulses. The shaving of a Metzora accomplishes the same goal -- it is meant to humble him.

The Gemara (Berachot 56b) tells us, "One is not shown Delu'im (Pl. form of "Dala'at" -- gourds; pumpkins) in a dream, unless he fears heaven with all his might." Rashi explains that this is because the word "Delu'im," can be read "Dalu Ayin", or "Raise your eyes [to heaven]." Rav Nissim Gaon suggests another reason that Delu'im represent G-d fearingness:

Delu'im are the largest of the vegetables, yet they do not raise themselves off the ground -- in fact, the larger they get, the more they sink into the earth. So, too, are those who fear their Creator. No creature is on a higher spiritual level than they, yet the more Hashem grants them fame and grandeur, the more they humble themselves. (Rav Nissin Gaon, Berachot 56b)

How appropriate it is to compare the shaven Metzora, whose experience is meant to be a humbling one, to a Dala'at!


A healed Metzora's Taharah (purification) climaxes with the offering of a Korban Asham (guilt offering), the blood of which is sprinkled on three parts of the Metzora’s body: his right big toe, his right thumb and the inner lobe of his right ear (Vayikra 14:28). I heard from a Rebbi of mine, Hagaon Harav Moshe Shapiro, a beautiful explanation for why these three places were chosen for the sprinkling of the blood.

(A) As we have mentioned earlier (section II), Tzara’at is brought upon a person as a punishment for slandering or talking about the shortcomings of others. The Torah (Vayikra 19:16) refers to the slanderer as a Rachil (lit. "peddler"). Rashi explains that the word Rachil (spelled Reish, *Chof*, Lamed) is identical with the word Ragil (Reish, *Gimmel*, Lamed) since the letters "Chof" and "Gimmel," which are both guttural letters, may be interchanged. The word "Ragil" (root: Regel, or foot) denotes that the slanderer commonly *wanders* about, snooping on the private doings of others and then peddling his newly-gained information elsewhere.

The "foot" thus plays a major role in the sin of the Metzora. This is why the blood of the Korban, which is sprinkled on the Metzora to cleanse him of the Tum'ah (ritual impurity) brought about by his Tzara’as, is sprinkled on his right *foot*. It is meant to remind the Metzora to never again use his feet for slandering. (The big toe, in particular, is sprinkled upon because it is the most prominent part of the foot.)

In a similar manner, Reb Moshe explained, blood is sprinkled on the Metzora's right thumb and on the lobe of his right ear in order to remind the Metzora to make proper use of those organs in the future. The Gemara tells us:

Why are a person’s fingers shaped like pegs (i.e. wider at the bottoms and narrower at the tops)?” So that when he hears something which he should not be listening to, he can use them to plug his ears.

Why is a person’s ear relatively stiff, except for the little "tail" which protrudes at the bottom? So that when he hears something which he should not be listening to, he can plug his ears with that little protrusion. (Ketuvot 5b)

Just as the Torah commands us not to slander others, it commands us not to *listen* to those who slander others (Shmot 23:1). This can be accomplished by using a finger or the soft portion of the ear, to prevent one's self from listening to slander.

Blood is sprinkled on the thumb of the Metzora as a reminder for the Metzora to use his fingers properly in the future. If he ever hears a person speaking slander, he should plug them in his ears. (Again, the thumb is chosen to represent the other fingers due to its prominence.) Similarly, blood is sprinkled on a prominent part of the Metzora's ear in order to remind him that he must use his ears properly in the future. When slander is spoken, just insert the natural plug with which Hashem provided us!

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