Parshas Tazria – The Affliction of Tzaraas
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Tazria, we learn about the affliction of Tzaraas. Often erroneously translated as leprosy (which is a contagious illness), tzaraas can be more precisely defined as: a spiritual illness with a physical manifestation. The nega tzaraas, the tzaraas affliction, is not contagious. It is limited to the afflicted individual as a sign of deficiency in his character traits, behavior and soul.
Chazal (Arachin 16a) teach that the negah tzaraas is brought upon the person due to a number of possible sins.
א”ר שמואל בר נחמני א”ר יוחנן על שבעה דברים נגעים באין
על לשון הרע ועל שפיכות דמים ועל שבועת שוא ועל גילוי עריות ועל גסות הרוח ועל הגזל ועל צרות העין
R’ Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of R’ Yochanan: Tzaraas afflictions come upon a person for any one of seven sinful things: (1) for lashon harah (2) for murder (3) for vain oaths (4) for illicit relations (5) for haughtiness (6) for theft and (7) for stinginess.
Rashi explains: צרות העין – שצרה עינו באחרים ואינו מהנה שכיניו מכליו ע”י שאלה, He is stingy with others, not allowing them to benefit from him. (For example), he does not lend his utensils out to his neighbors.
The person of warped character, who lacks respect for others (a common theme in the above seven sins), is ill on the level of his soul, and Hashem sends him the nega tzaraas as a physical sign and reminder of his spiritual illness.
R’ Pam zt’l teaches, “One of the seven possible causes of tzaraas is gasus ha’ruach, arrogance. Every person has the inborn need to be special, which is an expression of the unique tafkid (mission) which he has come down to this world to achieve.
“Some people are able to attain greatness (on their own accord and accomplish their task here by bringing their positive character traits to fruition).
“There are others who satisfy their need to feel accomplished in a different way. They derive pleasure and elevation by degrading those around them. They criticize the shortcomings of their friends and acquaintances and belittle their attainments. They feel uplifted when they can deflate others. The method of doing this is usually through lashon ha’rah and other violations of the laws of proper speech.
“Tzaras is the punishment for such behavior, and the sinner must sit alone outside the town. If someone approaches him, he is to call out about himself: Impure! Impure! (Vayikra 13:45). His isolation gives him the opportunity to contemplate his improper behavior and speech and will hopefully motivate him to do teshuvah (to repent for his sins).
“After he resolves to eradicate the feelings of haughtiness that brought him to gossip about and slander his fellow Jew, he can begin the purification process. As described in the beginning of Parshas Metzora, he must bring two birds whose constant chirping is symbolic of his verbal misdeeds. Next he brings cedar wood, which is a type of tree that grows very tall and wide and whose imposing, regal bearing is similar to the arrogance displayed by the metzora.
“He then brings a crimson-colored wool thread, which comes from a lowly creature, and binds the thread with a hyssop plant, a lowly bush. This represents the metzora’s task to uproot his arrogant behavior and strive to be humble” (A Vort from R’ Pam, p.143).
Every person is uniquely endowed with talents, capabilities and strengths, and each person must recognize his or her own positive traits. It is those positive aspects that we must channel and use to better ourselves, to help our fellow Jews, and ultimately, to serve HKB”H in all that we do.
And yet, while we must appreciate our talents and use them well, we must remember the Source of all that we have – from material to spiritual, from our physical abilities to our character traits, from our talents to our wisdom and intellect. Every single aspect of our lives is a gift from Hashem. To use our capabilities to aggrandize ourselves over others, to look down upon others who have less than we have, to build ourselves us by putting other people down, is a haughtiness that will not be tolerated by the Ribbono Shel Olam.
The very last teaching in Mishna Avos exhorts us to always remember that כל מה שברא הקדוש ברוך הוא בעולמו, לא בראו אלא לכבודו – all that HKB”H created in His world, He created only for His kavod (glory and honor) (Avos 6:11).
As great as any mortal may become, he is, ultimately, a servant of Hashem, and haughtiness, which inevitably leads to lashon harah, is a great sin before Hashem and fellow man.
The true giants amongst us take no pride in who they are or what they have, always knowing it is only by the grace of G-d, in His infinite kindness, that life and blessing have been bestowed upon them.
It happened one time that the upstairs neighbor of R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman zt’l, R’ Yitzchak Grodzenski, inquired about R’ Shteinman’s trip to the United States. “They tried feeding me chazir (pig) in America!” R’ Aharon Leib lamented. R’ Yitzchak, who had been to the United States several times, was very surprised. “Who tried giving you chazir?” he demanded. “Everywhere I went,” R’ Aharon Leib replied, “people tried giving me kavod (honor). I’m working to make sure that none of the chazir has any effect on me!” (Reb Aharon Leib, Artscroll, p.234)
May we be proud enough to embrace our unique kochos and use them well, and humble enough to know that all that we have is only a gift from Hashem.
בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,