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   by Jacob Solomon

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It is the plague of tzaraat. The Priest shall examine him and pronounce him ritually unclean (13:3).

The main part of Parashat Tazria and the next parasha, 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:

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 master," (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).

Common to all groups is small-mindedness - as above. Such individuals feel ill-will towards the situation and possessions of others.

What appears unusual is the amount of detail that the Torah goes into about tzaraat, in comparison to other more everyday issues which the Torah covers more cursorily or hardly at all. As the Mishna (Hagiga 10a) observes:

'The laws concerning the dissolution of vows… have no basis on law explicitly stated in the Torah. The laws concerning the Sabbath, the festival-offerings, acts of trespass… have scant basis on law explicitly stated in the Torah. But many laws, such as those concerning civil cases, Temple service, ritual cleanliness, and forbidden marital relations do have plenty of basis on law explicitly stated in the Torah'. The Talmud (Hagiga 11a) adds: 'Tzaraat-signs have considerable Torah basis and few laws, [defilement through] tent-covering has scant Scriptural basis and many laws. But what practical difference does it make? If you are in doubt about anything concerning leprosy-signs, search the Torah, but if you are in doubt about anything concerning [defilement through] tent-covering, search the Mishnah.'

So what is special about the laws of tzaraat that merit a double cover of almost two Parashiot, when other laws get a much poorer showing in the text?

In response, look at the first of the Ten Commandments:

'I am the Lord your G-d, Who brought you out of the Land of Egypt' (Ex. 20:2).

That is what heads the Ten Commandments. Even the Sabbath, and the prohibitions of murder and adultery do not make it to the top of the table.

The implication is that the Torah is centered in seeing the Creator's hand in everything, and Man working in partnership with the Creator.

In some cases, the onus is on Man coming to G-d.

In other cases, the onus is on G-d approaching Man.

Vows are something on which our traditions appear to frown on, on one hand (c.f. Eccl. 5:4 and Nedarim 9ab), and on the other hand taken very seriously if they are actually made (Deut. 23:24). Thus the Torah remains silent in means of releasing people from vows so that they should not be lightly indulged.

The Sabbath involves approaching G-d through human effort - on Man coming to G-d.. So does travel to Jerusalem three times a year to partake of the festival offerings. (And trespass - c.f. 22:14 is the mirror image of an act of approaching His property inappropriately by mistake.) Part of that approach is making an effort to learn those laws. It is well-known that people make more effort to learn something if it is not placed on a plate, but a little elusive… making it something of a challenge…

But tzaraat (alongside with the Tabernacle, containing the Holy of Holies) implies the onus of G-d approaching Man. With tzaraat, He approaches Man by showing his displeasure at the behavior of individuals - a Divinely imposed sign of moral deficiency, apparent to all who come into contact with him. With the Tabernacle, (and later the Temple) He puts His presence amongst His People and humanity: 'They shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I will live within'.

Thus the space given by the Torah to tzaraat, (and also the Tabernacle) is a hint of the important of recognizing G-d's Presence at all times and taking to heart every sign of His Presence, in every generation.

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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