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   by Jacob Solomon

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This is the law of tzaraat (loosely, but erroneously translated as leprosy) (14:57).

Remember what … G-d did to Miriam, on your journey from Egypt (Deut. 24:9)

The Rabbis (Talmud Arachin 15b plus various Midrashic sources) imply that tzaraat - the main subject of the above parashiot - is not a physical disease per se, but the physical symptoms of something spiritually wrong with the offender. It is a condition that tells the person so afflicted that he must change his behavior. Tzaraat is not only a symptom of the sin of slander (as in case of Miriam, who spoke adversely against Moses - Num. 12:1), but also of haughtiness (as with Naaman - Kings II 5), bloodshed, false oaths, sexual immorality, robbery, and selfishness. G-d rebukes this anti-social behavior by temporarily removing the offender from society, through imposing the laws of tzaraat.

It is clear that all the above concern bad conduct between people. They are not specific to the Israelite nation, but despised by right-thinking people in any civilized society. However, that common factor may be sharpened a little in the following way.

Few things are achieved by one person only - education, medical treatment, transport systems, manufacturing, and balanced utilization of natural resources all require collaboration between individuals and organizations. People have to trust one another for that to work. They have to know that their confidences will be respected. For example, a young man with a personal problem needs the confidence in a spiritual mentor that his or her tongue will not wag, with sharp adverse effect on marriage and employment prospects - (especially when justifying the breach of confidence with a twisted interpretation of the holy sources in the ego-expansive selfish gossip's favor- and adding insult to injury by saying that it is all for the victim's benefit). Otherwise - lacking a mentor he can trust, he will keep the issue to himself - often with disastrous consequences. And commercially - if a person produces something worthwhile - whether a book, or a method of hardening plastics to substitute for steel, he needs the confidence that he can develop his product without the patent being stolen and shamelessly incorporated into someone else's manufacturing schedule. Or that (most commonly) she will not be targeted for sexual favors as currency to ensure advancement in the business. Or that society will not tolerate perjury in business for gain - whose spirit can include grossly misleading advertising. Indeed there are many situations on record where business rivals have been 'put out of the way' by rivals in a 'terminal' manner.

That is a hidden, reverse side, proactive, message of tzaraat - namely that the Holy Nation sets the world standard in matters that promote the trust for people worldwide to maximize the social and economic benefits from trust in one another. It is that challenge that the Jews of today must face at a greater level…

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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