Judaism: Therapeutic Malaise
The significance of the Tzoraat phenomenon.
Published: Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:22 AM
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor...
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The ailment called Tzaraat has been translated as the Leprosy we know of today that is known as Hansen's disease. Yet the Tzaraat of the Bible was in fact not a physical disease at all. Rather it was a physical manifestation of a spiritual malaise.
"Hashem said to Moshe and Aaron, "When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a bright spot on his skin that may become an infectious skin disease, he must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest. ..When the priest examines him, he shall pronounce him Tameh (ceremonially unclean)." (Leviticus 13:1)
It was not the physician that made the determination of the “disease” but rather the priest. Furthermore it was declaration that actually brought about that state of Tumah or ritual impurity.
Our sages point to the fact that the word, Metzorah, the leprous one, is linked to the words Motzi Ra (brings out evil). As a result many of our sages connected the malady to the sin of Motzi Shem Ra (He who speaks slander of another). G-d has given mankind the power of speech. It is that power that separates mankind from all other creation. It is the same power that G-d used to create the world. Our abuse of it, on the other hand, can do the opposite and destroy worlds. The inner corruption of a soul that separates one from his holy essence and most importantly from his people, results in the spiritual eruption of the Tzaraat.
The Tzaraat phenomenon existed, though, in a time when G-d, in an act of mercy, allowed the physical reality to mirror and reveal impediments in the inner workings of our soul. The Kuzari writes that this phenomenon existed only when the people of Israel were living their lives on a higher spiritual realm. They were living in a time when G-d's hand was clearly more visible in their day to day existence. The Seforno describes it as being an act of loving-kindness and mercy for the people. It was Hashem's way of allowing physical reality to mirror and actually reveal the impediments in the inner workings of one’s soul.This enabled the individual or the people to begin the work of repentance
The "metzora" is made to live alone outside the camp (Leviticus 13:46). This enforced solitude symbolizes on the one hand the metzora's decisions to separate from his people and his holy essence, while at the same time prodding him towards that teshuva or repentance. Separating from one’s community and from each other was akin to actually separating from G-d’s very Presence. The “disease “prompted the individual to reconnect with his peers and his people.
In our days that type of demonstrative and clearly seen act of Divine mercy is not as apparent. Yet perhaps if we explore under the surface of our day to day lives, we will find that the messages are as clear and as powerful as they ever were. They will be found in the subtext of every major headline and in the small coincidences in our lives.
Haman was right in pointing to the Achilles heel of the Jewish people when he declared: "There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom“(Esther 3:8). When the people become disconnected from each other, the enemies of the world conspire against them. This occurred during the days of Amalek, the days of Haman and during the destruction of the Temple.
The danger continues to this very day. In our days the people of Israel are coming out of exile and yet at the same time they are finding themselves ejected out of the "camp" of the western world. Israel is again becoming the pariah of the "free thinking" world and Jew hatred has been camouflaged as Israel hatred.
The tractate of Sanhedrin tells us "Galut is atonement for everything," (Sanhedrin 37b). It is in the solitude of this nation’s exile that it will re-find the connection to its G-d, its people, its Torah. As most of the world turns away from Israel, there will be some that will venture forward alongside it. Yet as lonely and as painful as this being set apart may be it is clearly a therapeutic healing part of Divine destiny.
In the words of Balaam who wanted to curse the people of Israel and ended up blessing them;
"How shall I curse whom G-d hath not cursed? And how shall I execrate, whom HaShem hath not execrated? For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations." (Numbers 23:8-9)
LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved