Friday, April 20, 2007

Tzaraas: Spot the Problem

Rabi Chaim Levene

The Mitzvah: where a man sees tzaraas, a spot of leprosy on his skin, he is pronounced spiritually impure by the kohen and has to take leave of the Jewish camp to under go cleansing and spiritual rectification (Leviticus 13-14). Similar rules of impurity apply where tzaraas is found on clothing or on his house.

The appearance of tzaraas, leprosy was a major cause for concern.

It was a spiritual malaise - one that was unnaturally revealed through physical symptoms.
At any time, the soul, like the body, is either in a healthy or in a sickstate. An infected body necessitates a doctor's consultation where as thesickness of the soul requires the specialist consultation of the righteous Sages. They act in the capacity of spiritual physicians, to heal and cureany malady which inflicts the soul (Rambam, Introduction to Avos).

In Biblical times, where the Children of Israel lived on an elevated existence, G-dliness dwelled in their midst such that it penetrated everylevel of their lives – their bodies, their clothes and their homes. Thus,in the circumstances where the isolated sinner had fallen short of the exacting standards of his peers, either him, his clothing or his home was inflicted with tzaraas – a illness which was a kindness insofar as italerted him to his spiritual failings and prompted him into repentance (Ramban, Vayikra 14:47).

The ideal state is the co-existence and harmony between "body" and "soul"with one reflecting the other. The Shem MiShmuel explains how, in the sameway that the final departure of the "soul" leads to a radical transformation of the "body", similarly, defilement to the Jew's original state of "holiness" was mirrored in the "body". This was apparent in the appearance of tzaraas.

The main iniquity that is the cause for tzaraas, of course, is the crime of lashon hara , gossip or slander (Arachin 15-16).

The tragedy of lashon hara is revisiting of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. This creature, as the incarnation of evil, spoke the original slander against G-d which led to the forbidden eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Of course, the Primeval Sin was responsible for the entry of impurity into the world. And of the breakdown in the relationship between "body" and "soul" in the disobedience of G-d, which would ultimately lead to their complete separation in death.
So when a Jew utters lashon hara, he is emulating the disaster wrought bythe Serpent; a path that leads to spiritual contamination, isolation from G-d and distance from holiness.

Appropriately, the person with tzaraas is examined and pronounced impure by a Kohen, the priest whose service in the Temple is conducted in the utmost of purity. He becomes one of the 4 categories of people who areconsidered spiritually dead (Nedarim 64b), a corpse being the epitome of defilement and spiritual contamination. An outcast of society, he has to leave the sanctity of the Jewish camp wherein the Divine Presence rested as his leprous spot attests to his "inner" sinful behavior that is manifest "outwardly".

Where spiritually compromised, the spots of tzaraas appear on his body,clothes or homes. Now that the inner holiness of the Jewish soul has been sullied, he is no longer afforded the spiritual protection in all 3 environments where his affinity to G-dliness is revealed in the tefillintied to his body, in the tzitzis attached to his garment, or with the mezuzah on the door posts of his homes (Menachos 43b).

Only with the treatment of the sin, to spiritually cleanse his soul in full repentance, would the tzaraas disappear. Today, we are not fortunate to merit this spiritual malady to highlight our misdeeds.

But we still strive to make sure that G-dliness and holiness enter and penetrate every level of our lives – our bodies, our clothes and in ourhomes.