Tazria – Metzora 5777


Man is set apart from the animals by his faculty of speech. Onkelos (to Bereishis 2:7) translates the “Breath of Life” that Hashem breathed into Adam’s nostrils as the “spirit of speech”. When this faculty is abused, it is a distortion of the very essence of man. This distortion manifests itself in צרעת , “spiritual leprosy.” This ailment of the soul afflicts the body that transports it.
Hashem prepared an avenue for one afflicted with this illness, with which he can be cured. An integral part of the healing ceremony includes bringing two birds to the Beis Hamikdash. One was slaughtered as a Korban and the other was set free. Obviously, every aspect of the ceremony functioned not only as a means to effect the healing of the צרעת , but also as a pedagogic lesson to cure the source of the illness.
Whereas it is important to focus on the actual Aveira for which one is repenting, there is a second issue that should be considered, and that is the lost opportunity. The Vilna Gaon calls these two components “Din” and “Cheshbon” (judgment and accounting). The din is the Aveira itself, but there is also the missed opportunity to do Mitzvos that one could have taken advantage of, instead of doing the Aveira.
The Zohar (Tazria 46b) declares that one who neglects to speak Divrei Torah, Tefilla, or Tochacha when appropriate will also be smitten with צרעת . Perhaps the two birds brought by the Metzora represent the two ways in which the person was derelict in his role as a human. Either he spoke Lashon Hara when he could have said Divrei Torah, or he neglected to speak and remained silent. The living bird reminds him to speak Divrei Torah, that he was saved from death for a purpose, just as he was created for a purpose. The slaughtered bird remains as a tacit reminder of his failed potential.
As with all Korbanos, one who brings the Korban must internalize its lessons, reflecting them on himself. The Gemara (Nedarim 64b) says that a Metzora is essentially considered dead. After Miriam spoke Lashon Hara about Moshe, she was stricken with צרעת . Aharon begged Moshe to daven for her so that she not be regarded a Meis (dead person). Death in this sense is the failure to live on the optimum level that the individual is capable of living. Hence, the appellation of such a person is “living, but dead.”
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 16) relates that a traveling salesman claimed to possess the elixir of life. A crowd gathered around him, wishing to purchase the elusive “potion”. Instead, he took out a Tehillim (34:13) and read the verse, “Who is the man who desires life? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking guile.”
As the Metzora participates in the ceremony, he must contemplate the cause and effect of his situation. Each aspect of the ceremony teaches and aids him in redirecting his future life. First, he must acknowledge that his behavior was deserving of “death”; hence, the first bird is slaughtered. Vicariously, through the death of the bird, he, too, should feel the sensation of being “living, but dead.” The second bird is set free. Having suffered the צרעת and being considered dead, he now has a new lease on life.


Tazria and Metzora focus on the details of צרעת , “spiritual leprosy”. It is manifested by the presence of נגעים , blemishes on the skin. There is an interesting paradox in the Parsha of נגעים . One of the sections is the Parsha of נגעי בתים , צרעת found on houses. Rashi introduces this by commenting that finding this צרעת
is really a blessing in disguise. The Torah does not write, “If you will find צרעת ,” rather, it says, “When you will find צרעת .” The Torah is informing the Jewish people of a good thing that will happen to them, as the other nations had previously hidden treasures in the walls. Hashem had orchestrated this in advance. Now, with צרעת and its laws, He will enrich the Jewish people when they enter Eretz Yisrael and conquer the occupying nations.
It would seem that the צרעת afflicting houses was not bad; it was a positive reward for the Jewish people. However, Chazal indicate that this צרעת may not be as glorious as it appears. The Gemara (Arachin 16a) writes that צרעת on houses is a punishment for the character trait of stinginess. We also find the Torah delineating the correct word to use as “כנגע” , “like a צרעת wound I have found on my house.”
Rashi writes that even if the finder is knowledgeable in the laws of צרעת and knows that his affliction is real צרעת , he should only proclaim that he has seen something like צרעת on his house. The Torah does not want one to announce a bad event outright. These two examples clearly point toward an understanding that this Parsha is not merely a reward.
How do we understand these contradictory ideas?
On a simple level, we can suggest that both ideas are true. Yes, one is rewarded with great riches when he finds hidden treasure in his walls. But he had to destroy his house to arrive at this outcome. Hashem has many ways of providing for His people. Some work very hard and barely have what they need. Others seem to have abundance, without working for it. The one who has צרעת on his home will find riches, but he has to work hard for it. It does not come easily, and it has an aspect of punishment accompanying it.
We can add that this is a very fitting punishment for being stingy. As previously explained, Hashem provides for people in many ways. An oft repeated concept found among the Baalei Mussar is the idea that the greater one’s trust in Hashem, the more Hashem in turn provides, without the person having to work so hard. One who has the Middah of being stingy is clearly lacking in his trust of Hashem. Withholding Tzedaka, not lending money, or committing other acts of stinginess are all rooted in a lack of trust and belief that all of one’s needs will be provided for. If one truly believes that Hashem will give him what he needs, he will not be stingy.
It remains to be explained why the idea of צרעת
on houses was specifically picked to atone for the עבירה of being stingy. Perhaps we can explain with a similar idea that is presented by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. He explains why one should say “כנגע” , “I have seen something like צרעת on my house.” The Gemara says that righteous people are very scrupulous with their money. This is not to be confused with a Middah of being stingy. It is quite the opposite. A righteous person realizes that his money comes from Hashem. It enables him to provide for his family and to do Mitzvos like Tzedaka and Chesed. One who is aware of this will be very careful with his money. He will make sure that none of it goes to waste.
This is the same lesson being taught in the Parsha of נגעי בתים . The above Gemara writes that this is a punishment for being stingy. Perhaps Hashem is teaching us the correct way to be scrupulous with our money. Being stingy is the wrong way to be scrupulous. The correct way is to realize that everything comes from Hashem and should be used properly. Some is for our family, and some is for doing Mitzvos. But none of it should be wasted.
With this mindset, we can recognize that even a reward like treasures buried in the wall has a negative aspect. Some of this fellow’s resources had to be “wasted” on breaking the wall to find his treasure, and presumably to later fix the wall. How unfortunate that he didn’t merit to use that money for Tzedaka or another Mitzvah. Therefore, with the correct perspective, he realizes that this hidden treasure is only “כנגע” , appearing like צרעת , meaning that it is not purely good. And with this, Hashem teaches the true way of being scrupulous with our resources.