Thursday, April 07, 2005

III-4 Tazria: Social Leprosy with a Jaundiced Eye

7 April III-4 Tazria: Social Leprosy with a Jaundiced Eye

Torah: Lv 12-13:59 JPS transl

Haftorah: 2Kgs 4:42-5:19 JPS transl


1. Lv 12:1-13:5
2. Lv 13:6-13:17
3. Lv 13:18-23
4. Lv 13:24-28
5. Lv 13:29-39
6. Lv 13:40-54
7. Lv 13: 55-59


Tazria is concerned with the laws governing childbirth,"brit milah"-circumcison and tzar'as-"leprosy" with its associated physical and spiritual impurities. Tazria balances birth with its hope of new life and creativity with warnings of degenerative disease that corrupt the person, physically and spiritually, appearing in the clothes and home and extending to society. Tzara'as or "leprosy" is a spiritual and physical illness, corrupting the life of a person. Only the Kohen administered diagnosis. Rabbinical interpretion explores the passage metaphorically, acknowledging that spiritual corruption is contagious and, unless isolated, is a malignant cancer in society. Isolation is imposed on contagious diseases: scarlet fever or diptheria. Such plagues fall on the good and the bad, the innocent and the guilty, but "tzara'at", frequently translated as leprosy, is asssociated to "lashon hara" –slander. Slander and gossip corrupt society, defacing it as a degenerative disease that mutilates the body while robbing it of its functions.


"As for the person with a leprous affection, his clothes shall be rent, his head shall be left bare, and he shall cover over his upper lip; and he shall call out, "Unclean! Unclean!" He shall be unclean as long as the disease is on him. Being unclean, he shall dwell apart; his dwelling shall be outside the camp." Lv 13: 45-46 JPS

"He who guards his mouth and tongue
Guards himself from trouble" Prv 21:23 JPS

Social Leprosy with a Jaundiced Eye

The punishment seems injust. Contemporary readers exclaim, "How barbaric!" presuming the Kohen to be a witch doctor attending a physical ailment, conducting a magical ritual. Misconception arises from inaccurate translation, relating the malady to the known physical disease, associated with noses and fingers rotting away and people dying in putrid conditions of leper colonies.

This is not tzara'as. Year after year, preachers spout polemical diatribes, regarding the cruelty of Judaism and the compassion of Jesus with the leper, exacerberating the conflict. This is not leprosy, the dreaded physical illness; but a spiritual rot formenting in the hidden depths of the soul and emerging in the superficial appearance of a person's house, clothes and ultimately his body. Ostracism occurs only after every other precaution has been taken, with exacting detail, in the forty-third verse. The rabbis, concerned with the well-being of the individual, expanded these passages, preserving discussion in the Talmud and adding further commentary throughout the centuries.

Tzara'as is a spiritual ailment afflicting the person and his environment. Tzara'as is related to "metzora" derived from "motzi ra" -- to bring out evil-- specifically the sin of "lashon hara." What is "lashon hara"? Speaking evil, uttering the negative, spreading gossip. Rabbi Tendler advises us to learn about a particular problem in Torah, look for the first appearance. Lashon hara first appears in Genesis 3:1-5, "Did God really say you shall not eat of any tree of the Garden?" The snake incites doubts, questioning the authority of Eve's understanding. Other appearances of "leprosy" and pestilence/ plague are related to speaking evil or thinking or formenting the negative: Ex 4: 6-7 (Moses protests that the Israelites will not heed him); Ex 32:35 (aftermath of Golden Calf); Nr 12:10 (Miriam speaking against the Cushite); and Nr 13:32, 14:11-12 (in response to the negative reports of the ten spies).

Tzara'as is declared impure, "tamai / tumah" since the condition is unwholesome and associated with death, rather than life. Destructive and corruptive, it brings spiritual death.

Rabbi Frand explains that there is a second meaning hidden in the text of Lv 13:55, providing further enlightenment, "the Kohen shall look, after the affliction has been washed, and behold (if) the affliction has not changed its appearance (lo hafach es eino) and the affliction has not spread, it is contaminated, you shall burn it in fire..." * Frand explains, "lo hafach es eino," means the appearance shall not change, but the text contains a wordplay: the eye has not changed . Talmud teaches there is a tzara'as associated to "tzoras ha-ayin"-narrowness of eye or an evil eye. This interpretation provides deeper understanding of the entire passage. A jaundiced eye does indeed bring death and makes all things impure. What was good, becomes twisted and corrupt. A person's perception can distort their vision of life, corrupting and tainting their actions.

Tzara'as was a supernatural condition in ancient times after the Israelites entered into Canaan to the time of the temple. The Kohen were trained to detect particular signs to assist the person correct his way of life. Tzara'as appeared in three forms: dwelling, clothes and body. The most superficial level was discovered in the walls of a house, but as the plague intensified, it appeared in the clothing until ultimately in the person's body. Each level allowed the person to make teshuvah, to change his ways. At the most intense level of physical affliction, change becomes virtually impossible. Someone, addicted to alcohol or drugs, goes through an intensive program not only to purify the body of the accumulated poisons, but to reprogram psychology. Going into dry-dock does not cure the problem of addiction. Afterwards, the person must alter his entire lifestyle. He must change destructive habits to constructive; a negative environment to positive; corruptive buddies to supportive friends. He must change the external influences as well as his internal. Both are requisite to make a full recovery.

A sufferer of moral tzar'as need look inside himself for the cause destroying his life and examine his environment to make productive changes. Changing the environment is relatively easy, but each person is a turtle, carrying his shell on his back. Ultimately, we must live with ourselves. It's very difficult to be friendly with a porcupine, although they say the porcupine has a very soft heart.

The progression of tzara'as from the superficial to the innate isolates the person, not the Kohen or the society. Do you sit by the squalid drunk on the metro? The stench of his clothes repels company. The condition did not happen overnight, but resulted from a progressive disease eventually destroying his life. At different times, opportunities of reversal existed until finally, it became an irreversible loss of a once valuable life. At each level of tzara'as, the Kohen visits the person. With each visitation, recovery is possible; but recovery depends on the person to change his life. Just as an alcoholic must recognize the destructiveness of his condition, someone suffering tzara'as, involved with lashon hara or having a jaundiced eye, must acknowledge it before healing occurs.

Obstinancy in pursuing a destructive life results with the person becoming an anathema to the community. Ostracism then happens.

In Vienna, a diplomat suffered discoloration and swelling in his feet. He went to the doctor for diagnosis. The diplomat ate large amounts of Danish butter. In fact, his refrigerators were packed. The doctor prescribed a diet and proscribed Danish butter. The diplomat continued his way of life. The toes turned black, swelling increased until extreme gangrene. Ultimately, the diplomat flew to Canada where his leg was amputated. It's easy to blame the doctor, but he did his job conscientiously. Who created the condition? Who refused to reform? Is the doctor culpable? No. We are responsible not only for what we ingest, but what we produce: physically and spiritually.

* Rav Frand, Tazria 5762
contains the Medrash of rabbi Yannai and the peddler

An Evil Eye- Pirkei Avos 2:16


"But Moses spoke up and said, "What if they do not believe me and do not listen to me, but say: The Lord did not appear to you?"...The Lord said to him further, "Put your hand into your bosom." He put his hand into his bosom; and when he took it out, his hand was encrusted with snowy scales!" Ex 4: 1, 6-7 JPS

"As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales! When Aaron turned toward Miriam, he saw that she was stricken with scales. And Aaron said to Moses, "O my lord, account not to us the sin which we committed in our folly. Let her not be as one dead, who emerges from his mother's womb with half his flesh eaten away." Nr. 12: 10-12 JPS


Rabbi Loevinger, Kolel 5760, Tazria
" Thus the Talmud interprets this verse as teaching that the afflicted person's publicizing of his plight was not to bring him shame, but to bring him the prayers and compassion of the community. (Moed Katan 5a; Sotah 32b)"

Rabbi Roderick Young, Tazria: A Gay Perspective on Persopective and Disease
"Tzara'at was interpreted by the Rabbis of the Talmud as being the manifestation of a very particular sin. A person with tzara'at is called a metzora (usually translated as "leper"). To the rabbinic ear, this sounded like the words "motzi ra," ("bring about evil") which in the phrase "motzi shaym ra" means "to spread slander about someone." Tzara'at was therefore understood to be a specific warning against gossip and slander."

Rabbi Andrea Lerner, Tazria: Clean Up Your Act
""Rashi: And (he) shall cry, "Unclean! Unclean!" announcing that he is unclean, so that (people) should withdraw from him.
He shall dwell alone, "(Other) unclean people shall not dwell with him. And our Rabbis have said, 'Why is he different from other unclean people to dwell alone?' Since he caused a separation through evil talk (lashon hara) between husband and wife, or between a man and his friend, (therefore) he also should be separated (isolated).""

Yanki Tauber, Tazria Metzora: The Runaway Soul
on creating a balance between "ratzo"-escape and "shove" settling down

Kolel, Tazria-Metzora 2002/5762
the story of rabbi Yannai and the peddler hawking the Elixir of Life

Rabbi Loevinger, Kolel 5760, Tazria

Rav Frand, Tazria 5757 Learning A Lesson From G-d Through Punishment
" When a person speaks Lashon Horah, the first sign from G-d is "Look at the wall". If a person reacts at that point, realizes that he has spoken Lashon Horah, and decides to repent and take corrective action...But what happens if the person doesn't react and doesn't take the suffering as an instructive lesson from G-d? Then things get worse and worse. ...

Happy is the person who has the foresight and the insight, the perception and the honesty, to react in the correct fashion when something like this happens. "

Rav Frand, Tazria 5761: Two Birds: One For 'Evil Speech' and One For 'Good Speech'
"Adam had the best situation imaginable. He was sitting in the Garden of Eden. Angels fed him. Nothing could be better! But then the Snake came and argued - "Nah! It's not so perfect. You do not have the Tree of Knowledge; you are not god-like!" The Snake looks at a situation that is virtually perfect and finds fault with it. He focuses on the flaw.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Tazria: The Leprosy of Irresponsible Speech

Rabbi Lauren Berkun Eichler, Tazria 5763

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos Tazria 5760: Getting Beneath the Skin

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos Tazria 5759: Not in Heaven!

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights Tazria 5761

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights 5758


Rav Kook, Shemini: Purity by Immersion

Rivkah Slonim, Tazria-Metzora:The Mikvah
The greneral how, what and why of a Mikvah and its significance for Jewish community and family life

Mikveh Org

The Laws of Family Purity
a collection of links

Ritual Purity
a collection of links


Post a Comment

<< Home