This week, we read the double parshah of Tazria-Metzora which deals primarily with the affliction known as Tzara’as, commonly translated as Leprosy. Unlike Leprosy however, tzara’as is not caused by bacteria but rather by your words. As punishment for speaking Lashon Hara, Hashem would cause the perpetrator to break out in tzara’as. Today, tzara’as does not exist. The laws are complicated and extensive and the majority of both parshiyos is spent dealing with them.
At the beginning of Parshas Tazria, Hashem begins to discuss the laws of tzara’as with Moshe and Aharon. “אָדָם כִּי יִהְיֶה בְעוֹר בְּשָׂרוֹ שְׂאֵת אוֹ סַפַּחַת אוֹ בַהֶרֶת וְהָיָה בְעוֹר בְּשָׂרוֹ לְנֶגַע צָרָעַת וְהוּבָא אֶל אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן” “If a person will have on the skin of his flesh a s’eis, or a sapachas, or a baheres, and it will become a tzara’as affliction on the skin of his flesh; he shall be brought to Aharon the Kohen…” (Vayikra 13:2). The basic process of tzara’as goes as such, if a man suspects that a lesion on his skin could be tzara’as, he goes to the resident Kohen and presents it to him. The Kohen then determines if it is tzara’as, making the man tamei (spiritually impure), or not. The terms in the pasuk of “s’eis”, “sapachas”, and “baheres” are three types of lesions.
The Kli Yakar takes this introductory pasuk and uses it to explain the very essence of tzara’as. He explains that a person afflicted with tzara’as is known as a Metzora, which is formed from the phrase “מוציא רע”, meaning to bring out evil. Tzara’as is used to punish someone for something bad he has done of which no one would ever be aware that he had even done anything. Therefore, Hashem gives him tzara’as so that everyone should see that he has sinned. This is why the pasuk tells me twice that the tzara’as will be found “on the skin of his flesh”. It is teaching me that these lesions had the potential to be a simple medical problem, but in reality, we find out that they are really the result of his sins.
There are many explanations in Chazal as to which exact sin results in tzara’as, but the Kli Yakar says that the three most likely explanations are Lashon Hara, Haughtiness, and an overwhelming desire for money. (For the Kli Yakar’s reasoning behind this, feel free to email me.) He the explains how these three sins correspond to the three types of lesions mentioned in the pasuk. The language of “s’eis” indicates that the lesion is slightly raised on this skin. This type of tzara’as corresponds to haughtiness which causes you to raise yourself over the rest of humanity. “Sapachas” means that the lesion is depressed into the skin. This corresponds to the desire for money since when you acquire money it does not make you a better person, unlike when you acquire a good trait which does. The acquisition of money can only bring you down, just like this form of tzara’as goes down into your skin. The last one is “Baheres” which has the whitest shade of all three lesions. When you speak Lashon Hara about a person, you cause him to go white, since hearing you say bad things about him will cause him to feel faint. From here we clearly see the reason the pasuk mentions all three types of lesions is to correspond to the three potential reasons for a person getting tzara’as.
The Kli Yakar then moves on to the next part of the pasuk. Why is it necessary for the Kohen to be the one to check the tzara’as? Why can’t you go to any learned individual and ask him to check it? Won’t he know just as well? The answer is because Kohanim are known as having the three good middos which directly counteract these three bad ones. There is a famous Chazal that Aharon HaKohen was someone who constantly pursued peace, and worked his hardest to bring tranquility amongst all Jews. This counteracts the sin of Lashon Hara which causes people to break apart. The gemarah in Chullin (89a) teaches us that Aharon was amongst the most humble men of all-time, the perfect counter for the sin of haughtiness. And finally, Kohanim had no portion in Eretz Yisrael, and were reliant on korbanos and donations of Terumah from the masses to survive. They had no connection or desire for money, their whole survival was predicated on Hashem’s will and kindness. Our hope is that when someone comes to the Kohen with tzara’as, he should recognize his sin and realize that just like the holy Kohen sitting in front of him, he too can be great and go back on his evil ways.
From this it would seem that it is a great loss to us that we no longer have tzara’as. While it would be embarrassing to be recognized publicly as a sinner, at least we would have a clear wakeup call to repent. One reason we don’t have it is a result of our sins, but perhaps another reason is because we can rise above it. We have the power to recognize in ourselves when we are doing wrong and correct our ways even without tzara’as! Let us take the lesson of tzara’as and make a greater effort to eradicate ourselves of our sins. In that merit, may we be zoche to see the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days.
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