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Tzaraat in Parshat Tazria-Metzorah

אָדָ֗ם כִּי־יִֽהְיֶ֤ה בְעֽוֹר־בְּשָׂרוֹ֙ שְׂאֵ֤ת אֽוֹ־סַפַּ֨חַת֙ א֣וֹ בַהֶ֔רֶת וְהָיָ֥ה בְעֽוֹר־בְּשָׂר֖וֹ לְנֶ֣גַע צָרָ֑עַת וְהוּבָא֙ אֶל־אַֽהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֔ן א֛וֹ אֶל־אַחַ֥ד מִבָּנָ֖יו הַכֹּֽהֲנִֽים:

If a man has a se'eith, a sappachath, or a bahereth on the skin of his flesh, and it forms a lesion of tzara'ath on the skin of his flesh, he shall be brought to Aaron the kohen, or to one of his sons, the kohanim. (Vayikra 13:2)

In this week’s double parsha of Tazria - Metzorah, the Torah discusses the halachot related to Tzaraat, a skin condition often inaccurately translated as leprosy. If someone suspects that they have tzaraat, they need to be seen by a Kohein who will confirm their status, and then be declared ritually impure, and will be quarantined for up to 2 weeks outside of the camp or city.

Tzaraat not only affects a person’s skin but in more severe cases can also affect their clothing and their home. The clothing would need to be purified. Infected parts of the home would need to be removed, or in a severe case, the home would have to be destroyed.

Rashi explains that only a Kohein can declare someone to be afflicted with tzaraat. Once the Kohein confirms that the tzaraat has been healed, the afflicted person brings a sacrifice of 2 birds along with cedar wood, a scarlet threat, some of the ezov plant, and water from a flowing stream. He shaves his entire body. He remains in quarantine for another week, shaves his body again, and brings another sacrifice of 3 animals and oil. If the person is too poor to be able to afford these animals, he may bring birds instead.

Tzaraat is not so much a medical infection, rather it is a divine punishment, often (but not only associated with lashon hara (evil speech, gossip, etc). The most famous example is at the end of Parsha Bahaalotcha, where Miriam is stricken with tzaraat after speaking lashon hara about her brother Moshe. She was isolated outside of the camp of Israel, until she healed. Additionally, there are several examples in the book of Melachim about people afflicted with tzaraat who are forced to be in quarantine outside their cities.

But tzaraat is not a mere punishment. The time spent in quarantine is an opportunity for introspection and repentance, or teshuva. In fact, any time a Jew is afflicted with what seems to be a punishment or just a difficult time in life, teshuva is always a good idea!

שבת שלום!



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