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by Jonathan Fineberg    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

A theme developed in both of this week's Torah portions is the subject of tzaraat.



A theme developed in both of this week's Torah portions is the subject of tzaraat. Often mistranslated as leprosy, tzaraat should rather be described more generally as an external manifestation on the body, clothes, or house of an individual in response to an internal blemish. Although the causes of tzaraat are many, it comes primarily from lashon hara, destructive communication.

Notice that the Torah presents a three-part process: the offense, the consequence, and the corrective action. In other words, the offense of lashon hara results in varying forms of tzaraat, and subsequently requires the afflicted individual to undergo a rehabilitative stage of isolation: "All the days the affliction is upon him he shall remain contaminated. . .his dwelling shall be outside the camp" (Leviticus 13:46).

Consider the relationship between the offense, the consequence, and the corrective action. This can be understood through the metaphor of the relationship of a seed to its resulting fruit. Latent in the seed is the potential for producing fruit; the ultimate shape, taste, and smell of the fruit already exist within the seed, requiring only time in order to be fully manifested in their complete form. The effect, represented by the fully developed fruit, can be understood as the materialization of the cause, represented by the seed.

This concept, that all occurrences in this world can be understood in a framework of cause and effect, is found in various pieces of Jewish philosophical literature, including Michtav Me'Eliyahu (by Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler) and Daas Torah (by Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz). One can look at this from a physical or metaphysical perspective. From the physical perspective, the effect is a reaction from the cause, similar to a chain reaction. However, from a metaphysical perspective, in which one evaluates cause and effect in accordance with their underlying purpose, the cause and the effect become one and the same, with the effect being the eventual materialization of the cause.

Reflecting back on the interrelationships between the offense, the consequence, and the corrective action regarding lashon hara, we see that these seemingly three parts are in fact one: The consequence (tzaraat) is the materialization of the offense (speaking lashon hara); the corrective action (isolation) is the negation of the offense (speaking lashon hara) and the cure for the consequence (tzaraat).

However, more importantly, these three parts in fact revolve around one axis pride. The primary cause of tzaraat is lashon hara, as mentioned above, and what lies at the root of lashon hara is pride. The Chofetz Chaim, the saintly Torah scholar and leader at the beginning of this century, finds support for this linkage of pride and lashon hara in Leviticus 13:45, which states that one suffering from the stigma of tzaraat must leave the camp with torn clothing, uncut hair, and his face covered. Since this person coldly derided others because of his pride, he is forced to suffer similar disgrace. Ultimately this process is designed to reshape his formerly pride-filled heart into one of humility.

What emerges is that at the moment that one is infected by a spiritual malady such as pride, he is at that instant afflicted by tzaraat. Through the sin of lashon hara the fruit of conceit the inner tzaraat is revealed. The treatment is isolation, and when complemented by other emotional stimuli such as torn clothing, uncut hair, and the prohibition to speak to others, the person afflicted with tzaraat is thereby encouraged to address the issue at hand his pride and to move himself to repentance.

The Torah, speaking via the laws of tzaraat which are meant to arouse awareness of the severity of lashon hara, aims to subtlety yet poignantly convey the message that pride and lashon hara are completely antithetical to the very essence of the Torah. If it would it be that one would carefully guard his tongue from lashon hara, then he would instead speak words of Torah, tell of G-d's wonders, and sing His praises. If it would be that one would negate his selfishness and act with humility, he would come to serve the Creator steadfastly and wholeheartedly.


Jonathan Fineberg, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

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