The Torah portions this week and next are devoted mostly to the spiritual disease of Tzara’as. Tzara’as is a physical blemish found on the body, clothing, or the walls of the house, that is diagnosed by a member of the Jewish priestly class, a Kohein. It is said to primarily be the result of violations of the laws of negative speech – Lashon Hara.
The laws regarding the diagnosis and treatment of this spiritual malady are many and complex, but once a person is fully diagnosed with Tzara’as he is called a Metzora and is required to reside outside the community until fully healed. While outside he would call “Tamei, Tamei – Impure, Impure.” to anyone he would see.
The Talmud (Shabbos 67a) describes an interesting practice related to his pronouncement: it says that when a person has a fruit tree that is sick and dropping its fruit, he should paint it red. This is not a superstition, but for the sake of drawing attention to the tree, so that others will pray it become healthy again. The tree, just like the Metzora, needs to be healed of its sickness, and the small prayers of the passersby will help lead to the tree’s speedy recovery. The Metzora, similarly, declares himself impure not only to warn people not to touch him and acquire a lesser degree of impurity, but also so they will pray for his recovery.
I once heard of a young man studying in a Yeshiva, a rabbinical seminary, who always found outstanding study partners. It is common for Yeshiva students to study Talmud much of the day with various partners – a system that has been shown to improve attentiveness, clarity, and reasoning skills, among other benefits. His friends wondered how this fairly average student managed to arrange for the best and brightest to study with him each semester. One year he was overheard saying on the phone, “Mommy, you can stop praying for me now. I got a great study partner once again. Thank you!” Mystery solved.
Judaism prescribes three times a day for formal prayer, but prayer is not limited to the walls of the synagogue, to particular times of day, or to the pages of the Siddur (prayer book). G-d is always present and ready to hear our prayers. Consider even the common salutations like “Be well!”, “Have a Good Day!”, and “Get Well Soon!” They can be more than mere pleasantries we exchange with our acquaintances. At their essence they are prayers, and they too are opportunities to sincerely implore the Al-mighty for the benefit of others. The small prayers we utter for ourselves, and the blessings we give to our family and friends (even our neighbor’s fruit tree), are effective and crucial to their wellbeing and our own spirituality. May we all find opportunities to pray for others, and may all of our prayers be answered for good! (Based on Be’er HaParsha of Rav Elimelech Biderman, citing Rav Yechezkel Levenstein ztl)