And the person with Tzaraas in whom there is the affliction – his garments
shall be torn, the hair of his head shall be unshorn, and he shall cloak
himself up to his lips; he is to call out, ”Contaminated, contaminated!” All
the days the affliction is upon him he shall remain contaminated. He shall
dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Vayikra 13:45-46)
Tzarass is woefully misunderstood. It is seen as an archaic matter, a form
of leprosy that for some reason is no longer applicable or relevant. The
truth is that Tzarass, according to the sainted Chofetz Chaim was a blessing
in disguise. How so?
I went through half a dozen clunker cars until I learned two important words
that have served me in good stead. Actually it was not until I bought a more
expensive vehicle and realized that I was not comfortable making payments
for a car that no longer functioned that I bothered to take the user’s
manual out of the glove compartment of the car and discover this two word
phrase that has granted longer and healthier life to every one of my
automobiles ever since. By the way, those two words are, “Oil change!”
Now, though, the newer cars have something the older ones did not and that
is the proverbial, “Amber light!” Once the amber light goes on, or the
“check engine” sign on the dashboard it’s time to ask. Without that earlier
warning system we are at a real disadvantage. Tzarass was a sort of earlier
warning system, an amber-light to alert us that spiritual deficiencies were
starting wreak havoc on our system. We operate now at a distinct
disadvantage without Tzarass!
There’s an old country folksy phrase that goes like this, “You can hide the
fire, but what are you gonna do with all the smoke?!” Tzarass is like smoke
bellowing out form the engine of our being, a scent of danger to remind us
repair our ways. Although, Tzarass, technically, is no longer active the
concept of Tzarass is still very much alive!
Guilt also got a bad rap for similar reasons but it’s also good in a way
that needs explanation. Guilt is to the soul what pain is to the body.
Although nobody likes to experience pain it can be extremely beneficial. A
person without the ability to feel pain would certainly be likely to be
missing digits and whole limbs. While making a salad they might realize a
little too late that the red in in the bowl is not from tomatoes, pardon me!
Both guilt and pain if properly responded to, serve to guide us away from
Another signal that helps us figure out what might be wrong is in the arena
of raising children. In a class I have been giving for a while called, “The
Ten Commandments of Parenting”. The first of the “big ten” is “I am HASHEM
your G-d Who took you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of
bondage!” The first commandment of parenting is that parents too stand
before their children, whether aware or not, and say with their actions,
“This is who we are and this is what we do!” It’s no wonder that in the
first paragraph is written, “And these words that I command you today you
shall place upon your heart and you should teach them to your children.”
First they must be on your heart and then to be taught because children read
the heart. They have a sincerity meter that’s extremely sensitive! In the
second paragraph of “Shema” it says, “And you should teach your children to
speak in them (Torah)” and then it continues to tell us how to teach this
lesson, “with your sitting in your house, and your- going on your way and
the way you go to bed and the way you rise up”. Children are following their
primary role models, their parent!
A young lady was asked by a Rabbi at a general lecture, “What is your
parents’ greatest source of pleasure?” A broad smile came across her face
and she replied, Me!” The Rabbi continued his line of questioning, “What’s
your parents’ greatest source of pain?” Now with in a more somber tone she
responded, “My sister!” Why are kids both the greatest source of pleasure
and the greatest source of pain? I believe we all realize intuitively that
they are “us- (mother and father) playing out our real selves on the big
screen of life.
Many things are a form of Tzarass, in that they can lead us to make critical
adjustment before it’s too late. All of life is a self-portrait and the
canvass on which we operate grabs our undivided attention, all too often
only when we witness vivid pictures of good news and bad news.