Clarifying Roles – Parshat Metzora

If someone needs help with charity, they go to a charitable organization. If you need help building a budget you meet with a financial expert. if you're looking for emotional help you seek out a social worker, psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professionals. You might think that with a skin ailment, you would look for a dermatologist or the like. If there is a mold-like growth on your walls , you might seek out a plumber, engineer or some other construction expert.

So we read with fascination in this week's (and last week's) parsha that if there is a specific skin ailment or mold-like growth on our walls, we consult with…..a kohen. Okay, so we can understand that  you do not see a professional. After all, as we wrote in last week's blog,1 the leprosy mentioned in the Torah is not a medical ailment but is rather considered a physical illness due to spiritual weakness. So, wouldn’t the next obvious choice be  a learned rabbi who specializes in these cases and is well-versed in the various kinds of leprosy? Or even a Levite who is appointed with teaching?2 The answer is still no. Not even a prophet? Nope. The kohen branch of the tribe of Levi is singularly appointed with making these determinations with regards to biblical leprosy. Why is he singled out from the entire tribe to be able to make this determination?

The biblical leper has been smitten with leprosy because of his inability to relate with other people in a positive manner. Rabbi Hirsch writes: "This punishment (of leprosy) visits upon those who cannot stay clear of poor social behavior - greed, lying, tattling, stinginess, etc."So, too, the way back into society will follow the opposite track. Therefore, specifically the children of Aharon will be those chosen to help this leper back into society.

Why, we ask again, the children of Aharon? It is said of Aharon: "Be of the students of Aharon: Love peace. Pursue peace. Love humans. And bring them closer to Torah."4 Aharon's love of humans was unconditional. That is why his family was chosen to speak with the leper about his affliction. "A single spirit underlies the different roles of the kohen – a strong sense of love, friendship and concern for every person," says Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik. This is precisely what was missing in his own makeup; this is precisely how he starts to refuel. The Torah's approach, continues Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, was designed to maintain and restore the leper's sense of dignity even though he must be isolated.4

When we sanction others – whether at work, in the family setting or elsewhere – we try to emulate the kohen. This may not always be easy. We may be feeling angry, frustrated, vengeful or threatened. The other person may be deserving of heavy sanctions. And then we are challenged to ask ourselves – "How do I do this with love?"

It is understandable if we act out of our unpleasant emotions. Few would blame us. But we aim to act on a higher, human level. What is demanded of us is to rise above the situation – that is our challenge in the situation. It may not change the sanction itself. The sanction/punishment may be deserved and must be meted out. But at least we would know that we acted from a higher level of our own humanity. We can make that choice to not simply react from our emotional state even if it would be  And perhaps we not only help that person but empower ourselves in the process. As Dr. Viktor Frankl writes, he "may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself."6

The kohen can and must do this with the leper. We can do it too.


In memory of my mother, Hentcha Leah bat Yitzchak Lipa, hk"m

Refuah sheleimah for Malka bat Gittel


  1. LogoParsha, Avoiding Leprosy.
  2. Devarim 33:10
  3. Rabbi Hirsch's commentary at the end of his essay in Vayikra 13:59.
  4. Avot 1:12
  5. Darosh Darash David, Rabbi Avishai David – in the name of Rabbi Joseph B, Soloveichik, p. 237
  6. Frankl, Viktor E.. The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy (p. 299). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

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