Parshat Tazria-Metzorah

Parshat Tazria-Metzorah

In this cycle, through the Torah, we will be taking a mystical journey. Our guide will be Rabbi Larry Tabick’s book, The Aura of Torah, published in 2014 by the Jewish Publication Society and the University of Nebraska. Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted. Translations of the Talmud are the Steinsaltz, William Davidson Talmud, on Sefaria.


The double parshah of this week mainly concerns a type of impurity or uncleanness involving the skin and the surfaces of objects. Tzaraat, commonly translated as “leprosy,” is not the same as the medical disease identified as leprosy. Even by the time of the Talmud the particular skin condition was no longer recognizable. Tazria is mainly concerned with the diagnosis of the condition while Metzorah considers its priestly treatment. We are seeing a role of the priest as a healer. Metzorah is the term for a person suffering from Tzaraat.


Vayikra 14:2-4

This shall be the ritual for a הַמְּצֹרָ֔ע at the time that he is to be cleansed. When it is reported to the priest, the priest shall go outside the camp. If the priest sees that the sufferer has been healed of his נֶֽגַע־הַצָּרַ֖עַת, the priest shall order two live clean birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop to be brought for him who is to be cleansed.


What is the remedy he should use, that he may be healed? Let him, abandoning pride, regard himself as a worm and as hyssop.

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Ger, 19th century, Poland

[Regarding people who are afflicted with skin complaints, their return to ritual] cleanliness is [brought about] by cedarwood and hyssop. And Rashi explains [that this means] if they have prided themselves like the cedar, they should humble themselves like the hyssop.

[Rabbi Yitzhak Meir] said: “One may understand this in the opposite way as well. Those who humble themselves like the hyssop may pride themselves like the cedar. For sometimes [people] must seek atonement for humility. For example, if people come to you and ask you to do some kindness for them, and your reply is: ‘Who am I that I should do something good for you? Am I not lowly, without any honor at all among people.’ … when it comes to doing good for someone else, you are lowly in your own eyes! Humility like this requires atonement.”


Vayikra 15:31

You shall put the Israelites on guard against their uncleanness, lest they dies through their uncleanness by defiling My Tabernacle which is among them.


Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rymanov, 18th century, Poland

[You shall separate] is derived from the word neZeR (a diadem or tiara), which is to say when they repair themselves sufficiently, their sins become a diadem or tiara, for our sages said that repentance out of love turns premediated sins into merits.

“So that they do not die in their uncleanness” – “death” here refers to submission and humility, meaning that they should not remain in the midst of their transgression.

“By defiling My Tabernacle that is in their midst” – that is to say, through transgressions, damage and “staining” are caused to the soul, to that “portion of divinity from above.” Therefore, they should repent in this way so that the transgressions may be atoned for, and [the people] may be brought into the midst of holiness.

Amen. May this be God’s will.


For Thursday

We’ll look at an extended discussion of Tzaraat in the Tractate Arakhin.


Arakhin 15b

  • The Gemara returns to the topic of malicious speech.Rabbi Yoḥanan says in the name of Rabbi Yosei ben Zimra: Whatis the meaning of that which is written: “What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done for you, you deceitful tongue” (Psalms 120:3)? The Holy One, Blessed be He said to the tongue: All the other limbs of a person are upright, but you are lying horizontally. All the other limbs of a person are external, but you are internal. And moreover, I have surrounded you with two walls, one of bone, i.e., the teeth, and one of flesh, the lips. What shall be given to you and what more shall be done for you, to prevent you from speaking in a deceitful manner, tongue?

Furthermore, Rabbi Yoḥanan says in the name of Rabbi Yosei ben Zimra: Anyone who speaks malicious speech is considered as though he denied the fundamental belief in God. As it is stated: “Who have said: We will make our tongue mighty; our lips are with us: Who is lord over us” (Psalms 12:5).

And Rabbi Yosei ben Zimra says: Anyone who speaks malicious speech will be afflicted by leprous marks coming upon him, as it is stated: “Whoever defames his neighbor in secret, I will destroy him [atzmit]; whoever is haughty of eye and proud of heart, I will not suffer him” (Psalms 101:5). And it is written there: “And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity [letzmitut]; for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and settlers with Me” (Leviticus 25:23). And we translate this term letzmitut as laḥalutin, in perpetuity or confirmed.

And Reish Lakish says: What is the meaning of that which is written: “If the serpent bites before it is charmed, then what advantage is there to the master of the tongue” (Ecclesiastes 10:11). What is the connection between the serpent and the master of the tongue? In the future, all the animals will gather and come to the serpent and will say to it: A lion tramples with its paws to kill its prey and eats; a wolf tears with its teeth to kill its prey and eats. But you, what benefit do you have when you bite, as you cannot eat every animal that you kill? The serpent will say to them: And what is the benefit to the master of the tongue that speaks malicious speech?

And Reish Lakish says: Anyone who speaks malicious speech increases his sins until the heavens, as it is stated: “They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walks through the earth” (Psalms 73:9). In other words, while his tongue walks on the earth, his sin reaches the heavens.

And Rav Ḥisda says that Mar Ukva says: With regard to anyone who speaks malicious speech, the Holy One, Blessed be He says about him: He and I cannot dwell together in the world. As it is stated in the verse: “Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, I will destroy him; whoever is haughty of eye and proud of heart, I will not suffer him” (Psalms 101:5). Do not read the phrase as: “I will not suffer him [oto],” but as: With him [ito] I cannot bear to dwell. God is saying that He cannot bear having this person in the world with Him. And there are those who teach this notion of God’s not being able to tolerate a certain type of person in reference to the arrogant, i.e., they apply it to the last part of the verse: Proud of heart.

Rabbi Ḥama, son of Rabbi Ḥanina says: What is the remedy for those who speak malicious speech? If he is a Torah scholar, let him study Torah, as it is stated: “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but its perverseness is a broken spirit” (Proverbs 15:4). And the word “tongue” means nothing other than malicious speech, as it is stated: “Their tongue is a sharpened arrow; it speaks deceit” (Jeremiah 9:7). And the word “tree” means nothing other than Torah, as it is stated: “It is a tree of life to them that lay hold of it” (Proverbs 3:18). And if he is an ignoramus, let him humble his mind, as it is stated: “Its perverseness is a broken spirit” (Proverbs 15:4). In other words, one who perverts his tongue with malicious speech should remedy his behavior by cultivating a broken and humble spirit.

The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: Anyone who speaks malicious speech increases his sins to the degree that they correspond to the three cardinal transgressions: Idol worship, and forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed. This can be derived from a verbal analogy based on the word “great.” It is written here: “May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that speaks great things” (Psalms 12:4). And it is written with regard to idol worship: “And Moses returned to the Lord, and said: Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold” (Exodus 32:31).

In the West, Eretz Yisrael, they say: Third speech, i.e., malicious speech about a third party, kills three people. It kills the one who speaks malicious speech, and the one who accepts the malicious speech when he hears it, and the one about whom the malicious speech is said.

Arakhin 16a

  • Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani saysthat Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Leprous marks come and afflict a person for seven sinful matters: For malicious speech, for bloodshed, for an oath taken in vain, for forbidden sexual relations, for arrogance, for theft, and for stinginess.

The Gemara explains the source for the claim that each of these seven sins is punishable with leprosy. For malicious speech one is punished, as it is written: “Whoever defames his neighbor in secret, I will destroy him; whoever is haughty of eye and proud of heart, I will not suffer him” (Psalms 101:5). The Gemara explained above (15b) that this is referring to leprosy.


Arakhin 16b

Rabbi Shmuel bar Nadav asked Rabbi Ḥanina, and some say that it was Rabbi Shmuel bar Nadav, the son-in-law of Rabbi Ḥanina, who asked of Rabbi Ḥanina, and some say that he asked it of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: What is different and notable about a leper, that the Torah states: “He shall dwell alone; outside of the camp shall be his dwelling” (Leviticus 13:46)? He replied: By speaking malicious speech he separated between husband and wife and between one person and another; therefore he is punished with leprosy, and the Torah says: “He shall dwell alone; outside of the camp shall be his dwelling.”

Rabbi Yehuda ben Levi says: What is different and notable about a leper that the Torah states that he is to bring two birds for his purification (Leviticus 14:4)? The Holy One, Blessed be He says: He acted by speaking malicious speech with an act of chatter; therefore the Torah says that he is to bring an offering of birds, who chirp and chatter all the time.