Among the numerous details of tzaraat (for an explanation of this disease please see the summary on page one) discussed in this week's Torah portion, we find one in particular which seems to run completely counter to human logic.
Among the numerous details of tzaraat (for an explanation of this disease please see the summary on page one) discussed in this week's Torah portion, we find one in particular which seems to run completely counter to human logic. The Torah tells us (Leviticus 13:13) that if a person is covered completely, from head to toe, with the white splotches indicative of tzaraat, he remains tahor (pure) and is not said to be inflicted with that dreaded illness. Any lesser infection limited merely to one area of the body renders him completely tameh (impure), and the laws of tzaraat become applicable. How can it be that someone having a small dose of an infection is considered completely inflicted while one with the largest outbreak possible remains totally healthy?
We know that the main purpose of Hashem's causing someone to contract tzaraat is as a warning to him that he isn't being sufficiently scrupulous in his observance of one of several mitzvot, including the injunctions against speaking lashon harah (evil speech or slander) and carrying one's self with arrogance. The person, therefore, contracts a horrible disease which results in his removal from the camp for an extended period of complete isolation, the perfect opportunity for him to examine his path in life and to reassess his deeds. Such treatment and isolation is necessary, particularly in uncovering "minor" errors in judgment, the mistakes which would otherwise remain unnoticed. Therefore, for a minor case of tzaraat, isolation is required to induce significant introspection. However, if the case of tzaraat is so serious that it covers him from head to toe, thereby publicizing his evil ways both to himself and to anybody who looks at him, such an extended period of isolation is not necessary to evoke repentance.
Today, when we do not merit having such clear signs from Hashem, we must examine our deeds on our own, constructing our own litmus test to determine what is good and what is bad, based on the guidelines provided by the Torah. While the correct path is often as clear to us as is the tzaraat which covers one from head to toe, more often decisions must be made by carefully evaluating and eliminating all biases and prejudices -- the small splotches of tzaraat. Such a multitude of vested interests often conceals the truth, hiding it from view until it is too late.
Michael Alterman, who hails from Atlanta, is currently a sophomore at Yeshiva University in New York.
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