This week we merit in a double portion of the week Parshiot Tazriah and Mezorah. Interestingly, most of these parshiot are involved with the laws of leprosy which are amongst the most complicated laws in the Torah. Besides the 14 chapters of the Mishna dealing with leprosy, there are thousands of other references to it throughout the Mishnah, Talmud, and oral law. In this essay I will not go into the details of this huge topic of Jewish law but rather focus on a general understanding of an insight that came to me while studying this week’s portion:
The Torah speaks of three areas where leprosy can strike -a person’s home, his clothes, or his body. The Torah teaches us that leprosy comes about as a result of speaking evil about others. ( Lashon Harah) Metzorah – An abbreviation for – Motzi Shem Rah- using slander.
This is clearly understood through the incident of Miriam speaking badly about her brother, Moshe. “Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moshe because of the Cushite woman whom he had married… But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous… So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again.” (Numbers 12:1-16) “Be careful against an infection of leprosy that you diligently observe and do according to all that the Levitical priests teach you; as I have commanded them, so you shall be careful to do. Remember what Hashem your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 24:8-9)
Although Miriam was like a mother to Moshe and was a righteous prophetess and only meant well, and Moshe wasn’t the type of person to be insulted as the Torah says that he was the most humble person on earth – “Now the man Moshe was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3) This did not take away from Moshe’s honor in any way. Nevertheless, she was punished by becoming a leper. The sin of the spies that spoke badly about the Land of Israel caused the entire generation to perish in the desert because of their evil report. The entire nation was held in solitary confinement and not allowed to enter the Land just as the leper is separated from the camp and must remain outside until healed.
The leprosy of the Torah was not an infectious disease. It only affected Jews living in the Land of Israel. It was a miraculous kind of disease and would work in an orderly fashion from an external attack until finally entering one’s body. It would start off by striking at a person’s home. If the person would not repent from his evil ways it would move on to his garments and finally to his body. An amazing lesson we can learn from this is that our ethical behavior has a direct affect on our physical well being. If the act of speaking evil had such a detrimental result there is no doubt that any serious violation of the Torah can incur severe consequences on our physical state as well. In other words, we are being taught by Hashem to be sensitive to all kinds of things that are happening around us. If things in our home are falling apart, or we are not feeling so well, G-D is hinting to us that maybe we have things to improve in our Torah observance. Maybe we are not acting the way we should be. If someone were to develop this sensitivity he will find that this was no doubt a tremendous gift from Hashem! Paying attention to the walls of our house, health, and mood are all ways of tapping in to the spiritual realms that rectify our lives.
Although the laws of leprosy don’t apply today with all of its aspects, since our temple lies in ruins, the mussar we receive from the laws connected still apply today. Therefore one needs to apply midat hazihirut (carefulness in the way one conducts his life). We have to pay close attention to the signs that Hashem sends us from above. Although we may see many people that speak Loshon Horah and appear to be healthy, this doesn’t mean they are – in reality the Zohar teaches us that there is a spiritual Leper which exists today as well. Those who have tainted their souls by speaking evil are separated from the righteous when their soul goes up at night to the upper worlds. In addition his prayers are not accepted until he repents. Although all sins cause spiritual and physical harm to a person, the sin of Loshon Horhah is singled out by the Torah because the mouth is the vessel of kingship. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” Proverbs 18:21. This is why the media has such a powerful grip over people and nations. Today it is not presidents that are true kings it is the media! It is the most powerful vessel because it has the greatest affect on a person’s surroundings as well as himself. If the media was using this vessel in a proper fashion and not abusing it by spreading lies and falsities (Loshon Harah) it would have a tremendous positive influence on the word and would even hasten the redemption
Let us all take upon ourselves to rectify our mouths and actions and be constantly focused on our behavior and we will find ourselves in a much better physical and spiritual state of existence.
Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith