This week’s Torah portion remains one of the most mysterious and supernatural demonstrations of the laws of Judaism, which appears anywhere else in the holy books. We are not aware of the specific nature of the disease that is described. Leprosy is certainly not the correct translation or identification of this disease called Tzoraat in the Torah. The cause for the disease, however, is alluded to in Jewish tradition. It apparently stems from the violation of the prohibition against evil speech.
This can be deduced from the fact that one of the miracles that our teacher Moshe was bidden to perform to validate his mission in front of Pharaoh and the Jewish people was to insert his hand into his breast clothing and remove it. That hand turned white with the same disease described in our Parsha as Tzoraat. When he reinserted his hand and then removed it, it returned to its normal strength in color. We also find that Miriam when she was punished for speaking ill against Moshe was stricken with this disease.
In these instances, the Torah makes clear to us that evil speech – Moshe speaking against the Jewish people and saying that they will not believe him, and are unworthy of redemption, and Miriam speaking ill of her brother — criticizing his handling of his personal domestic life – suffered the punishment of this disease striking them. As such, it became evident in Jewish scholarship that there was a connection between this disease and between speaking ill of others. Nevertheless, this does not explain the nature of this disease, and why it was chosen as being the instrument of punishment and retribution for the sin of evil speech.
We find in the book of Kings and in the works of some of the prophets that this disease struck some of the leaders and kings of Israel during later times as well. The rabbis of the Talmud compared the appearance of Tzoraat on the skin of King Uziyahu of Judah as being comparable to an earthquake. Apparently, this disease, more than any other physical ailment, was meant to shake up the society and to instill within it proper respect for the word of God and the value system of the Torah.
Since we are unable to identify the disease, it is not part of our daily or even spiritual view of events. The only lesson left to derive from these descriptions of the disease, then, is that heaven is indeed conscious of our thoughts, actions, speech, and behavior. And that these have consequences both for the good and for the better. We also see from the Torah that the expert on this type of event was the Priest-Kohen, and not the medical doctor, or even the wise scholar of the time. The Kohen was thought to be the prime connection between the judgment of heaven and the behavior of humans. It was, therefore, the High Priest alone who could bring atonement for the Jewish people on the day of Yom Kippur. Spiritual disease comes from spiritual failing, and, therefore, requires the healing effect of spiritual greatness which was bestowed upon the family of Aaron and the Jewish priesthood.
Rabbi Berel Wein