Parshas Tazria discusses the concept of tzaraas, poorly translated in English as leprosy. Tzaraas was the miracle disease that only appeared when a person spoke lashon hara. Tzaraas could appear on buildings, clothing, or a person’s skin. When someone thought they had tzaraas, they would go to the Kohen who would then determine if this spot was actually tzaraas or not. The fact that these lesions appeared on inanimate objects as well as people, and the fact that they appeared instantaneously was proof to the fact that they were not a common disease, but rather a direct sign from Hashem for this person to correct their speech habits.
There is a famous Gemarah (Nedarim 64b) that says there are four living people who are comparable to dead people. One of those four is a metzorah, a person who has tzaraas. The Sichos Mussar explains that you might think the reason a metzorah is compared to a dead person is that because of all the pain and suffering he goes through, he would rather be dead. However, he proves that this is simply not true. The first proof is from the pasuk in Tehillim, “יסר יסרני יה ולמות לא נתנני” “God has chastised me exceedingly, but He has not given me over for death” (Tehillim 118:18). We see clearly that with all the pain that Dovid HaMelech was put through, it was worth it for him as long as he remained alive.
Another proof to this is the famous Gemarah (Sotah 11a) that says when Paroh asked his advisors if he should enslave the Jews, one of his advisors, Iyov (Job), did not say anything and was punished with all sorts of troubles, which are well documented in Sefer Iyov. Another of his advisors, Bilaam, told Paroh to enslave the Jews and was punished by Hashem by being killed later on. Obviously, Bilaam’s punishment had to be worse than Iyov’s, so we see clearly that death is a worse punishment than suffering.
Therefore, says the Sichos Mussar, the reason why a metzorah is comparable to a dead person must be because of another law concerning people with tzaraas. When a person was confirmed to have tzaraas, he was forced to leave the camp (or city after Bnei Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael) and live by himself for a week. The fact that this person was alone, kept away from people, is how he is most comparable to a dead person. This punishment comes מידה כנגד מידה, measure for measure of his crime. Tzaraas is the punishment for speaking lashon hara, which causes rifts between people. So too this person also develops a rift, and is kept away from the nation until he can do teshuvah.
From the greatness of this punishment, we can see the greatness of the sin. The first person recorded in the Torah to have tzaraas was Miriam, as a result of her saying lashon hara about her brother, Moshe (See Bamidbar 12). The Rambam analyzes this story. Miriam spoke about her brother, whom she was greater than, whom she raised, whom she placed herself into danger in order to save, did not even say anything disparaging about him but rather equated him with all the other prophets who were around at the time, what she said it didn’t even bother Moshe, and still she got tzaraas! It is clear that lashon hara is a very serious sin that we must be careful to avoid.
However, from the punishment, we also see how much Hashem loves us. The reason Hashem punishes measure for measure of the sin is in order for us to be able to make the connection between the sin and the punsihement easier and figure out what we did wrong. By tzaraas, first it appears on the person’s house, then on their clothing, and only then, if they still haven’t repented, does it appear on their skin. While tzaraas on the skin can be any number of medical conditions, tzaraas appearing on a house or a piece of clothing is obviously unnatural. Usually, Hashem does not like to take the world out of its normal order, He prefers to allow nature to operate by its’ own laws (under His supervision of course). The fact that He is willing to break the rules of nature in order to warn a person about their lashon hara, something that He does not do by every sin, is a sure sign of his desire for us, His children, to speak only good about each other. With such a show of affection, how can we refuse?
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