From the first time I learned about the concept of Tzaraas, I always remember feeling a combination of wonder and horror. The idea that there could be this “check engine light” if you will for our spiritual health is incredibly powerful. At the same time, it is terribly scary.
But maybe one of the most interesting halachos associated with tzaraas, is found towards the end of Parshas Tazria:
We know that tzaraas arrives in different ways, but one is with a white spot on one’s skin. But what happens if this white spot is so large that it is no longer a spot, but it covers the ENTIRE BODY?
(יג:יג) וְרָאָה הַכֹּהֵן וְהִנֵּה כִסְּתָה הַצָּרַעַת אֶת כָּל בְּשָׂרוֹ וְטִהַר אֶת הַנָּגַע כֻּלּוֹ הָפַךְ לָבָן טָהוֹר הוּא:
The Kohein comes and he sees that the tzaraas is covering all his flesh, and he declares the lesion TAHOR.
And not surprisingly, this halacha has caused quite a stir in the commentaries. The smallest amount of white makes this person a metzorah, he or she is excommunicated from the camp, must sit outside for at least 7 days and possibly much more. And yet, the lesion is so large that it covers his or her ENTIRE BODY they are now TAHOR!? How could this be and what does it mean?!
The Chafetz Chaim, Rav Yisrael Meir HaKohein Kagan, who was quoted in thousands of shuls this Shabbos, writes that in order to understand this halacha we need to have a better grasp of the GOAL of Tzaraas.
And in order to do so, the Chafetz Chaim draws our attention to the story of King Achav in Melachim Aleph.
Achav was one of the worst, most devastating Kings of Yisrael, as he supported and spread Avoda Zara throughout his kingdom.
In one particularly horrible incident, Achav and his Queen Izevel set up an innocent man, Navot, to be executed, so Achav could steal his land.
Immediately following Navot’s murder, Hashem sends Eliyahu to Achav, and he says to him:
מלכים א פרק כא
כֹּה אָמַר יְקֹוָק בִּמְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר לָקְקוּ הַכְּלָבִים אֶת דַּם נָבוֹת יָלֹקּוּ הַכְּלָבִים אֶת דָּמְךָ גַּם אָתָּה:
Hashem has said, in the place where the dogs lapped up the blood of Navot, the dogs will do the same with your blood!
Immediately, Achav tears his clothing, and begins the process of Teshuva. He has a moment of clarity and changes his ways.
And upon seeing Achav’s sincere teshuva, Hashem sends a new message to Eliyahu:
מלכים א פרק כא
(כט) הֲרָאִיתָ כִּי נִכְנַע אַחְאָב מִלְּפָנָי יַעַן כִּי נִכְנַע מִפָּנַי לֹא אבי אָבִיא הָרָעָה בְּיָמָיו [בִּימֵי בְנוֹ אָבִיא הָרָעָה עַל בֵּיתוֹ:]
I have seen that Achav has humbled himself before Me. Therefore, I will not bring the evil on him in his lifetime.
Says the Chafetz Chaim: We see how when we are willing to humble ourselves in front of HKBH, it has the power to remove terrible decrees that HKBH has decreed on us, and certainly to delay them for a long time.
Part of the process of teshuva for the Metzorah is that he is sent out of the camp, Badad Yesheiv Michutz Lamachane.
And the Gm in Zevachim 117a explains that the reason he is sent out of the camp is NOT so that others don’t become tamei from him. He is sent out “shelo yeshev tamei acher imo”, so that others who are already tamei don’t sit together with him:
Why is this so important?
Because as long as he has his friends with him he can be distracted and he can argue “that white thing? I’m sure it’s nothing! It’s probably a mistake!”
However, once he’s required to sit alone, he or she begins to look inside and ask, maybe there’s a message for me here. Maybe there’s something I need to change.
The entire goal of tzaraas, says the Chafetz Chaim, is to bring a person to a place of HACHNAA, of being willing to humble ourselves, to realize that HKBH has placed me here to serve Him and to serve others.
If the metzorah learns that lesson early enough, then the tzaraas will recede because we are ready to re-engage with others.
However, if we DON’T learn the lesson, if we disregard the message that is being sent our way, the tzaraas starts to spread until eventually the message isn’t so subtle and it has overtaken our entire bodies.
Once that happens, says the Torah, “Tahor Hu”! The individual no longer needs to be separated from the community to understand the message being sent. It is loud and clear and being broadcast for all to see.
Tahor Hu is NOT positive. It doesn’t mean all is good. It means that the time for subtle messaging is over. The separation isn’t necessary because the overwhelming nature of the tzaraas at that moment will bring the individual to his or her knees. He or she will now automatically be humbled, and that humbling will be his or her kapara. And thus, TAHOR HU!
We find ourselves living at a time in history where the messaging could not be much louder. Two years of Badad Yeishev, of the isolation of COVID, a war in Ukraine displacing thousands of Jews and millions of Ukrainians, a terrifying string of terror attacks in Israel. It feels, at times, as though there isn’t simply some small, minor tzaraas being sent for us to hopefully notice and do something about. It is beginning to feel like the tzaraas is covering everything, as if HKBH is calling to us to NOTICE.
And, as always, these moments don’t call upon us to explain. We are not privy to WHY, but it does call upon us to respond, each in our own way:
- Our path towards a response could be through tefillah, as we are inspired today to see the beauty of a meaningful davening.
- It can be through tzedakah, as you will be receiving information over the next few days about a new joint initiative between our shul and the Orthodox Union to raise funds for Ukrainian refugees.
- And it can be through any kabala one takes to grow in our Avodas Hashem.
When we take these steps, we show that Hachna’a, that ability to look inside ourselves and see beyond ourselves in a time such as this. Yes, the events we see before us can be scary at times, but, just like tzara’as, these moments provide an opportunity to consider our place in the world. And when we do so, we show HKBH that we are listening to His messaging, and we are ready to respond.