Urgent message:

It’s hard to believe that more than six months have passed since the murderous attack on October 7th, and that the most challenging situation in Israel continues, with little prospect of resolution. I urge all to continue to pray for the bereaved families, the hostages, the missing and the many casualties. If possible, please recite Psalm 121 (Hebrew/English ArtScroll Siddur, p. 534-535) and Psalm 130 (p. 540-541) at least once a day. Please also try to perform additional mitzvot, send funds to help the needy and grieving families, and attend the rallies that are being organized in support of Israel.


May the Al-mighty protect the State of Israel, its citizens and bless it with peace!

“Some Important Lessons to Learn from the Ancient Biblical Malady, Tzara’at
(updated and revised from Tazria 5765-2005)

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Tazria, focuses on the ancient Biblical disease צָרָעַת–Tzara’at that, according to the biblical commentators, would afflict those who spoke לְשׁוֹן הָרָע—l’shon harah, evil, about others.

The possibility that a social or ethical violation could be the cause of a dermatological disease, seems rather absurd to most contemporary observers. Yet, in some of our previous analyses we have attempted to expound on the wisdom that is to be found in the rituals and meanings that are associated with this ancient disease. On this occasion, however, we wish to share with you some important lessons that may be gleaned from the nuances of the Biblical texts that are found in parashat Tazria.

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter points out the intriguing juxtaposition of parashat Tazria with the previous parasha, parashat Shemini. He notes that the Torah in parashat Shemini lists the various species of animals and birds that are permitted and forbidden to be eaten. Immediately following the list of forbidden foods, is the portion that deals with Tzara’at, the disease that afflicts those who speak l’shon hara (evil). Rabbi Salanter notes that, unfortunately, most people are far more concerned about eating forbidden foods and animals that were not properly slaughtered, than they are about “eating” human beings alive by speaking l’shon hara about them. Declares Rabbi Salanter, that is why parashat Tazria follows parashat Shemini, to teach that “eating a human being” is to be regarded with no less severity than eating a forbidden worm!

In Leviticus 13:3, the Torah instructs the Kohen (priest), וְרָאָה הַכֹּהֵן אֶת הַנֶּגַע, to look at the mark on the skin of the flesh, and determine whether it is indeed the disease Tzara’at or a general blemish. The Mishnah in Negaim 2:5 states: כָּל הַנְּגָעִים אָדָם רוֹאֶה, חוּץ מִנִּגְעֵי עַצְמוֹ, A person can inspect all afflictions, except his own. Our rabbis explain that most people are able to quickly discern the shortcomings and failures of others, but find it exceedingly difficult to see their own shortcomings. This is why the Torah requires that an impartial person (a Kohen) must come to inspect a suspected blemish. We see, all too often, that people who are mean, who anger easily, who are not charitable, who accuse others of having these very same defects, are usually totally oblivious to their own shortcomings. That is why every person needs his/her own Kohen–a mentor or a friend, who is not afraid to tell him/her what their own personal shortcomings may be.

In Leviticus 13:3, the verse concludes with the words: וְרָאָהוּ הַכֹּהֵן, וְטִמֵּא אֹתוֹ, and the Kohen shall look at it [the blemish] and declare him contaminated. The obvious question is why is the phrase and the “Kohen shall see” repeated both at the beginning of the verse and at its conclusion? Rabbi Y.Y. Trunk of Kutna, (cited in Itturei Torah) is said to have responded to this unusual sentence structure by stating that we should learn from the dual repetition that when we seek to evaluate a person, we should not only look at their shortcomings, at the place of their affliction, but rather look at the whole person, and make a special effort to search for, and inspect each person’s good qualities. That is why it says that the Kohen will “look” at the affliction, and then “see”–the entire person.

While it is often easy to focus on people’s frailties, it is usually helpful to place the negatives in context–by looking at the whole picture of the whole person. One may discover that in the overall picture, the good qualities of a person often outweigh the negatives. Consequently, those who truly desire to help their neighbors will always try to put those failings in context because of the overwhelming good that can be found in that same person.

In Leviticus 13:3, we learn that after the Kohen’s first inspection, he may be unable to discern for certain whether the blemish is truly the disease Tzara’at. In such ambiguous cases we are told that the afflicted person is put in quarantine for seven days. In Leviticus 13:6, we learn that after the seven day incubation period the Kohen looks at the blemish again. If the Kohen sees that the blemish has dimmed and has not spread on the skin, he declares him טָהוֹר–“tahor”–pure–it is a skin disease of some sort, but not Tzara’at. The afflicted person then immerses himself and his garments and is considered pure.

Our rabbis teach that there are two ways of looking at an affliction that has not spread. One may proclaim that the fact that the blemish has not completely healed clearly indicates that the disease is still present. On the other hand, one may look at the infection and say, the fact that it has not spread is a positive sign–obviously the blemish is in the process of healing. While both these assessments are objectively truthful and not exaggerations, each person sees the affliction from their own perspective. The Torah, in effect, proclaims that the Kohen, who should be a person of sensitivity and compassion, is to regard the fact of not spreading as a positive sign, and declare the infected person clean.

Rabbi Simcha Bunam used to cite the verse in Song of Songs 1:4, מָשְׁכֵנִי אַחֲרֶיךָ נָּרוּצָה, draw me, and I will run after you. Citing the Talmud in Kiddushin 22b, Reb Bunim noted that there are two ways to attract a living animal. One way is to call after, and beckon the animal, the other is to hit it with a stick so that it runs ahead. Says Rav Bunim, G-d also has two ways to attract the Jewish people to Him: through afflictions or by calling out to them in love so that they respond in repentance (Mayana Shel Torah, by Alexander Zusha Friedman, p. 73.)

We pray that the Jewish people will hear G-d’s call and respond to His beckoning of love, so that we need not be afflicted, and that our lives will be enriched by the message of His Torah. May we all, diligently, study His message so that we can transmit it to the entire world, and that very soon all humankind will respond positively to G-d’s loving call.

May you be blessed.