Parshas Tazria - Metzorah
Volume 4 Issue 30
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Tzora'as, the main discussion of the portions of Tazria and Metzorah is an
affliction that discolors human skin, clothing, hair, beards and even
homes. The laws of tzora'as are detailed, complex and intricate. There are
Talmudic tractates that deal with the proper procedure for purification and
a litany of laws that must be followed flawlessly. The ramifications of
tzora'as have more than physiological implications, they have a great
theological impact as well.
The discoloration of skin does not necessarily reflect a chemical
impropriety or a nutritional deficiency. It is a heavenly sign of a
spiritual flaw, primarily related to a deficient speech pattern. It is a
disease that afflicts a gossip. The one in question must go to the kohen
(priest) who instructs him in the proper procedure to rid himself of both
the blemish and the improper behavior that caused its appearance.
The Torah tells us that the fate of the stricken man is totally dependent
upon the will of the kohen. The kohen is shown the negah (blemish) and has
the power to declare it tamei (impure) or tahor (pure). In fact, even if
all signs point to the declaration of impurity, if the kohen, for any
reason deems the person tahor or refuses to declare him tamei, the man
remains tahor. He is not tamei until openly and clearly labeled as such by
Yet the verse seems a bit redundant. "And the kohen shall look at the
negah affliction on the skin and behold it has changed to white and appears
deeper than the skin of the flesh - it is a tzora'as and the kohen shall
look at him and declare him tamei" (Leviticus 13:3). Why must the kohen
look twice? The Torah should tell us that the kohen shall look at the
negah, and if the affliction is white and appears deeper than the flesh of
the skin, then the kohen shall declare him impure. What purpose is served
by looking again?
Rabbi Abraham Twerski tells the story of a young man who came to the chief
Rabbi of Vilna, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky with a request. As this young
man's father was applying for a Rabbinical position in a town that the sage
was familiar with, he asked the rabbi for a letter of approbation on his
Rabbi Grodzinsky felt that the candidate was not worthy of the position,
but instead of flatly refusing, he just said that he would rather not mix
into the Rabbinical affairs of another city and was sure that the council
of that city would make a fair and wise decision.
Rabbi Grodzinsky did not realize the tirade that would be forthcoming. The
young man began to spew insults and aspersions at him. The sage, however,
accepted them in silence. After a few minutes of hearing the abusive
language, Rabbi Grodzinsky excused himself and left the room.
Students who witnessed the barrage were shocked at the young man's brazen
audacity. They were even more surprised that the Rav did not silence the
young man at the start of the barrage.
Rabbi Grodzinsky turned to them. "You cannot view that onslaught on its
own. You must look at the bigger picture. This young man was defending
the honor of his father, and in that vein I had to overlook his lapse."
The kohen who is instructed to deal with the stricken individual should not
only look at the negah. He must look again. He must look at the man.
Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of D'vinsk explains that even if the negah has
all the attributes that should lead to a declaration of tumah, there are
other factors that must be weighed. If the man is a groom, about to wed,
impurity must not be declared. It will ruin the upcoming festivities. If
there are other mitigating circumstances, then a declaration of contagion
must be postponed.
Perhaps the Torah is telling us more. It is easy to look at a flaw and
declare it as such. But one must look at the whole person. He must ask
himself "how is my declaration going to affect the future of this person."
He must consider the circumstances that caused the negah. He must look
again - once at the negah - and once at the man.
There are those who interpret the adage in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the
Fathers), "judge all (of the) people in a good way," as do not look at a
partial person: rather, judge all of the person -- even a flaw may have a
motivation or rationale behind it. The kohen may look at the negah, but
before he pronounces tamei he must look again. He must look beyond the
blemish. He must look at the man.
Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
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