This week, we read Parshas Tazria, the first of two parshiyos dealing with the halachos of tzara’as. While next week’s parsha deals with what to do once you have tzara’as, this week, we discuss how it comes about. While tzara’as is commonly translated as leprosy, it is not actually a physical disease. While it might share some of the same characteristics, unlike leprosy, tzara’as can effect more than the human body. In addition to appearing on your body, tzara’as can also appear on clothing and the wall of a house. According to some opinions, each type of tzara’as comes as a result of a different sin. But everyone agrees that it appears on your body as a result of speaking lashon hara.
The three types of tzara’as correspond to the three layers of protection a person places over themselves. First, a person’s body protects itself. Next, we use clothing as protection from the environment. Lastly, your shelter protects you from greater dangers, and also provides comfort. The infection of tzara’as represents the removal of these coverings. As the tzara’as affects more and more of your personal space, more of you is revealed. It is for this reason that someone with tzara’as, when he is declared tamei, is obligated to leave his head bare (See Vayikra 13:45); in full symbolism of how his private actions have been laid bare before everyone.
The Kli Yakar looks at the development of the tzara’as and says an idea from the medrash. The actual order of how a person is affected by tzara’as is it first appears on his house, then his clothing, and only afterwards, if he still doesn’t do teshuva, does it appear on his body. Having it appear on your body seems to be the most embarrassing or unsightly, and therefore, says the Kli Yakar, there’s no way that the merciful Hashem would give the worst punishment first. Rather, first it appears on his house. If he doesn’t do teshuva, it comes on his clothing, and if he still doesn’t repent, it appears on his body.
If this is the proper order, how come the Torah presents the three levels in the opposite order, with the body coming first, then the clothing, and finally the house? The Kli Yakar explains that this is a show of the mercy of Hashem. When He warned Paroh about the upcoming makkos, Hashem warned him about Makkas Bechoros before even the makkah of Blood appeared. This was because Hashem first sends a warning with the worst possible punishment in order to motivate you to repent before any punishment begins. Then, He actually sends the easiest punishment in order not to harm you too badly. It is only if you don’t listen to the repeat warnings that He finally brings the worst punishment applicable; in our case, tzara’as on your body. The way that Hashem acted mercifully with Paroh, He did the same with the punishment of tzara’as.
Click here for last year's Dvar Torah for Parshas Tazria
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