Avoiding Leprosy – Parshat Tazria
I love puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles, logic puzzles, number puzzles and more. I try to guess the murderer in murder mysteries. I love a good enigma and am still fascinated by the liar's paradox. (Statement 1: I always lie. Statement 2. I am telling the truth). They get me thinking – even if I don’t know the answer.
There are few concepts in the Torah that are more enigmatic than the advent of Tzaraat (Eng. leprosy). It seems like a skin disease though it is diagnosed by the Kohanim, the priests, instead of doctors. So, if it is not a physical ailment what is it then? Seforno, the 16th century Italian sage, who was himself a medical professional, explained along the lines of majority, traditional Jewish thought that there are two kinds of leprosy – that which is described in the Torah and that which is the skin disease treated in his time. He adds that the Torah's form of leprosy no longer exists.2 The Talmud, as well, explains that tzaraat only comes due to transgression of seven forbidden behaviors – first among them is the evil tongue.3 So, again we see leprosy as some kind of spiritual ailment which only a kohen can diagnose or is caused by transgressions. But why then, are there three types of skin leprosy when only one should suffice?
Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, basing himself on a Midrash,4 explains that the three different forms of spiritual leprosy - Se'et, Sapachat and Baheret - correspond to three unhealthy human characteristics – arrogance, loss of dignity and superficiality. Each of the three skin forms of leprosy correspond to one of these characteristics. Se'et, a rising, corresponds to arrogance, Sapachat, a growth, corresponds to loss of dignity and Baheret, lightness, refers to superficiality.5
To combat, or even prevent, this spiritual leprosy, one should then behave in the opposite manner. Humility, dignity and depth of experiential living should be our guiding lights. Humility, implies the fact of our own imperfections and therefore should not feel superior to others, is a sign of courage. Dignity, implies the way a man holds himself so that even when faced with doom and disaster he displays his humanity and strength. Depth, is the level on which we ought to experience our lives fully, with pleasant and even unpleasant experiences to be allowed to be felt and experienced.
If we behave with humility, dignity and depth, then we not only avoid the discomfort of leprosy, we will live a life well worth living.
In memory of my mother, Hentcha Leah bat Yitzchak Lipa, hk"m
Refuah sheleimah for Malka bat Gittel
Have A Great Shabbat!