Modern Tzara’at

Tzara’at is not a normal physical illness, but a result of a spiritual deficiency. Therefore, the punishment of the metzora is an educational punishment which includes social exclusion in order to make the metzora consider and regret his behavior.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol ,

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
INN: Daniel Malichi

There are several halachic reasons why it is not possible today to observe the laws of tzara’at (translated as “leprosy”) as they appear in this week’s parsha (Torah portion). Yet the parsha of Tazria-Metzora is still relevant today, because the essence of tzara’at is very applicable to our generation, perhaps even more so than to previous generations.

Tzara’at (translated as “leprosy”) is not a normal physical illness, but is a disease which results from a spiritual deficiency. This is why tzara’at is unique only to the Jewish people and is a disease whose diagnosis is the responsibility of the kohanim (priests).

The word “tzara’at” comes from the words jealousy and the inability to rejoice in the fortunes of those around us. Therefore, the metzora’s (“leper’s”) punishment, “sitting alone outside the camp,” is not to prevent physical infection, but is an educational punishment which includes social exclusion in order to make the metzora consider and regret his behavior.

The modern world and Western society glorify competitiveness and the unbridled pursuit of materialism, which fuels the instinct for jealousy of another. We are all surrounded by advertisements and media which try to convince us that in order to be happy we need to sit in the most expensive adjustable recliner, holding the most sophisticated mobile phone, while watching a movie on the largest plasma screen, located in the center of a luxurious living room in an exclusive neighborhood. And if one sees that his friend has attained this great “happiness” but he himself can not afford to live on such a level, he may feel jealous and frustrated, to the point of causing severe physical and mental illness and even death.

On the Shabbatot (Sabbaths) following Pesach (Passover) it is customary to read each week a chapter of Pirkei Avot – the tractate of Avot - in which the Sages instruct us in how to truly live a happy life. One of the teachings in Pirkei Avot is “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.” Happiness and wealth do not depend on our material standard of living, but on our spiritual standard of living. One whose marital, family, and social relationships are solid is both a happy person and a healthier person in body and soul.

Of course, a comfortable material life is a blessing. The sages also say in Pirkei Avot that “a nice house and nice vessels (furniture) expands one’s mind.” But if we pay attention to the words of Chazal (our sages), it seems that they deliberately used the word “nice” meaning there is no need for luxuries, just “nice” things. They also intentionally used the phrase “expands” because happiness does not depend on these nice things, which are only a bonus.

Today's children are born into a world where modern tzara’at already exists. They will only be able to absorb the definition of true happiness if we as their parents model for them modesty in our possessions and standard of living, and satisfaction and joy with what we have. It is difficult to go against the tide, but it is possible, and is our duty to our children, to the future of Israel, and to the world.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol is the head of the Barkai Rabbinical Center and the rabbi of the Shaarei Yonah Menachem Modiin community.