FROM THE TORAH
In the preceding Sedra Shemini, the Eternal charges Moses and Aaron with rules to teach the Children of Israel how to distinguish between the sacred and the common, the pure and the impure, the “clean” and “unclean,” what is permitted and what is forbidden, the authorized and the spurious, in the central sanctuary and in the smaller sanctuaries that constitute life throughout the camp. In this week’s double Sedra of Tazria and Metsora these distinctions are continued, as they relate to the essential mysteries of the body and environment in health and disease.
PURITIES OF CHILDBIRTH
The Eternal charges Moses to impart to the Children of Israel that when a woman bears (Tazria) a male child, she shall be ritually impure for seven days, as the period of impurity for her indisposition. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. For thirty-three days she continues in blood purification: she may not touch any holy thing nor enter the Sanctuary until the completion of her purification days. If she bears a female child, then she shall be ritually impure for two weeks as during the period of her impurity, and for sixty-six days she continues in a state of blood purification.
At the completion of her purification days, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a dove or turtledove for a sin offering to the Priest at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The Priest shall offer it before the Eternal and seek atonement for her that she may be purified from the source of her blood. If her means do not suffice for a sheep, then she shall take two turtledoves or two doves, one for the burnt offering and one for the sin offering.
DETECTION OF PERSONAL TSARA’AT
The Eternal speaks to Moses and to Aaron as follows:
If a person should have in his skin a swelling or an eruption or a bright spot such that it becomes a tsara’at-like affection in his skin, he should be brought to Aaron the Priest or one of his sons the Priests to be examined. If the Priest observes that the hair of the affected spot has turned white and the affection appears to be deeper than his skin, it is the affliction of tsara’at, and the Priest who examines him shall declare him impure.
If, however, the bright spot is white while the aforementioned symptoms are not present, the Priest shall isolate the affection for seven days. If, after examining him on the seventh day, the priest observes no change, he shall isolate him for another seven days. If, upon examining him on the following seventh day, the affection has faded and not spread, the Priest shall declare him pure, it is a benign rash, he shall wash his clothes and be pure. But if, thereafter, the affection has spread on the skin, it should be shown again to the Priest. If the Priest confirms that the rash has spread, he shall declare him impure, as it is tsara’at.
If, notwithstanding the symptom of whitened hair in a white swelling of the skin, there is also some healthy flesh in the swelling, it is chronic tsara’at and the Priest shall declare him impure without isolating him, as he is known to be impure without isolation.
If the tsara’at should so erupt in his skin that it covers his entire body, the Priest shall declare the affected person pure, as he has turned all white. But at such time as healthy flesh appears in it, the Priest shall declare him impure, it is tsara’at. If the healthy flesh again turns white, he shall be examined by the Priest, who upon confirmation shall declare him pure.
If he should have an inflammation in his skin which subsequently heals, but there then appears in the place that was inflamed a white swelling or a white bright spot streaked with red, he shall show it to the Priest. If the Priest observes that it appears to be lower than the rest of the skin and that its hair has turned white, the Priest shall declare him impure. It is a tsara’at affliction that has broken out in the inflammation. But if the Priest does not observe the two symptoms and it is faded, the Priest shall isolate him for seven days. If it should spread in the skin, the Priest shall declare him impure; it is an affliction. If the bright spot does not spread, it is the scar of the inflammation, and the Priest shall declare him pure.
If there is a spot in his skin that was burned with fire, and the burned spot is bright, white streaked with red, or white, and the Priest sees that the hair in the bright spot turned white and it appears to be below the other skin, it is tsara’at broken out in the burn, and the Priest shall declare him impure. But if the Priest does not observe the two symptoms and it is faded, the Priest shall isolate him for seven days. The Priest shall examine him on the seventh day: if it has spread in the skin, the Priest shall declare him unclean. It is the affliction of tsara’at. But if the bright spot does not spread in the skin and is faded, it is swelling from the burn, and the Priest shall declare him pure, because it is the scar of the burn.
Head or Beard
If a man or a woman should have an affection on the head or in the beard, the Priest shall examine it. If it appears to be deeper than the rest of the skin and there is thin yellow hair in it, the Priest shall declare him impure; it is netek, tsara’at of the head or the beard. But if the netek affection does not appear to be deeper than the rest of the skin, yet there is no black hair in it, the Priest shall isolate the netek affection for seven days. If, upon examination on the seventh day, the Priest sees that the netek has not spread and does not have yellow hair in it and does not appear to be deeper than the rest of the skin, the subject shall shave himself but not the netek, and the Priest shall isolate the netek for another seven days. On the following seventh day, if the Priest sees that the netek has not spread in the skin and its appearance is not deeper than the rest of the skin, the Priest shall declare him pure. He shall wash his clothes and be pure. But if, after his purification, the netek spreads in the skin and the Priest sees it, the Priest need not look for yellow hair; he is impure. If he sees that the netek has remained unchanged and black hair has grown in it, the netek is healed, he is pure, and the Priest shall declare him pure.
If a man or woman has many bright spots throughout their skin, the Priest shall examine them. If he finds the whiteness to be dull, then a benign bohack has broken out in the skin and the subject is pure.
A man who loses the hair of his head is bald; he is pure. A man who loses the hair of his head from the corner of his face is bald of forehead; he is pure. But if there should be in either of those baldnesses a white affection streaked with red, a tsara’at-like eruption, and the Priest should see an affected swelling, white streaked with red, in his head baldness or in his forehead baldness, of the appearance of tsara’at in the skin, the man is afflicted with tsara’at, he is impure; the Priest shall declare him impure. The affliction is upon his head.
The clothes of one afflicted with tsara’at shall be rent, his head shall be bare, and his moustache shall be covered. “Impure! Impure!” shall be proclaimed. He shall be considered impure as long as the affliction is upon him. He shall dwell apart, outside of the camp.
TSARA’AT OF GARMENTS
If there is a tsara’at-like affection in a garment of wool or linen, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in a skin or anything made of skin, streaked with green or streaked with red, it should be shown to the Priest, who, upon seeing the affection, should isolate it for seven days. If, on the seventh day, the Priest sees that the affection has spread in the cloth or skin, it is a malignant tsara’at; it is impure. It shall be burned in fire.
If the Priest sees that the affection has not spread, he shall order that the affected cloth or skin be washed and isolate it for another seven days. If, after the item has been washed, the Priest sees that the affection has not changed color and has not spread, it is impure. It shall be burned in fire. It is altogether a pechetet. But if he sees that the affection has faded, he shall tear it out of the cloth or skin. Then, if the affection occurs again in the item, the affection is eruptive, and the item shall be burned in fire. On the other hand, if the affection has disappeared, the item shall be washed again and be pure.
PURIFICATION OF THE AFFLICTED
The Eternal imparts to Moses instruction for one afflicted with tsara’at (Metsora) at the time of his purification. In order for him to be brought to the Priest, the Priest must go outside of the camp to see that the tsara’at affliction that was in him has been healed. The Priest shall then order on behalf of the one to be purified two pure live birds, cedar wood, scarlet material, and hyssop.
He orders the slaughtering of one of the birds over fresh water in an earthen vessel. He then takes the living bird together with the cedar wood, scarlet material and hyssop, and dips them in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over fresh water. He sprinkles upon the subject seven times, to purify him, and releases the living bird over the open field. The subject washes his clothes and shaves off all of his hair. He bathes in water and is pure. Afterwards he returns to the camp but dwells outside of his tent for seven days. On the seventh day he must shave off all of his hair, including that of his head, his beard, and his eyebrows, wash his clothes, bathe in water, then he is pure.
On the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, one female lamb of a year without blemish, and three-tenths of a measure of fine flour, a meal offering mixed with oil, and one log of oil. The purifying Priest shall position them with the subject before the Eternal at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.
Taking one of the male lambs as a guilt offering together with the log of oil, the Priest shall wave them as a wave offering before the Eternal. He shall slaughter the lamb in the holy place where he slaughters the sin offering and the burnt offering, because, like the sin offering, the guilt offering belongs to the Priest; it is most holy. The Priest shall put some of its blood upon the subject’s right ear lobe, right thumb, and right big toe. The Priest shall then pour some of the log of oil upon his own left palm, then he shall dip his right finger into it and sprinkle some of the oil seven times before the Eternal. He shall then apply some of the residue of oil from his palm upon the right ear lobe of the subject, upon his right thumb, and upon his right big toe, on top of the blood of the guilt offering. What is left of the oil that is in the Priest’s palm he shall put upon the head of the subject, and the Priest shall seek atonement for him before the Eternal. Then the Priest shall perform the sin offering and seek atonement for the subject from his impurity, and afterwards he shall slaughter the burnt offering and offer it and the meal offering upon the Altar, seeking atonement for the subject, who shall be pure.
PURIFICATION OF THE POOR AFFLICTED
If he is poor and his means do not suffice, then he shall take one male lamb for a guilt offering for waving to seek atonement for him, one-tenth of a measure of fine flour mixed with oil for a meal offering, and a log of oil, and two turtledoves or two doves, to the extent that he can afford, one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering. He shall bring them on the eighth day for his purification to the Priest at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting before the Eternal. The Priest shall take the male lamb as a guilt offering together with the log of oil and wave them as a wave offering before the Eternal. He shall slaughter the lamb for the guilt offering and apply its blood and the oil as prescribed previously for the purification of the afflicted. Then, depending on which he can afford, one of the turtledoves or doves will be the sin offering and the other will be the burnt offering, together with the meal offering, and the Priest will seek atonement for the one to be purified before the Eternal.
TSARA’AT OF HOUSES
The Eternal imparts to Moses and Aaron the following rules regarding home affections. When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving to you as a possession, and I place a tsara’at-like affection in one of your houses there, the homeowner shall tell the Priest what he sees. The Priest shall then order all of the possessions to be removed from the house before he inspects the affection, so that nothing in the house is then held impure. Afterwards, the Priest shall come to inspect the house. If he finds that the affection consists of green-streaked or red-streaked depressions in the walls of the house, deeper than the rest of the wall, the Priest shall go out to the entrance of the house and close the house for seven days. One who enters the house when it is thus closed shall be impure until the evening. One who sleeps or eats in the house must wash his clothes.
When the Priest returns on the seventh day, if he sees that the affection has spread in the walls of the house, he shall order the removal of the stones that contain the affection to an impure place outside of the city. The inside of the house shall be scraped all around, and the coating that is thus removed shall also be dumped in an impure place outside of the city. The discarded stones and coating shall be replaced.
If then the affection returns and erupts in the house, the Priest shall come and see it: it is a malignant tsara’at; the house is impure. All of the house shall be demolished and removed to an impure place outside of the camp.
If the Priest comes and sees that the affection has not spread in the house, the Priest shall declare the house pure because the affection has healed. He shall take two birds and cedar wood, scarlet material, and hyssop, for purification of the house. One of the birds he shall slaughter over fresh water in an earthen vessel. He shall take the cedar wood, the hyssop and the scarlet material, together with the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered and the fresh water and sprinkle it on the house seven times to purify the house. He shall then release the living bird outside of the city in open country. The Priest shall seek atonement for the house, and it shall be pure.
Such is the instruction for the affection of tsara’at and for the netek, for tsara’at of a garment and of a house, and for swellings, eruptions and bright spots, to distinguish between the impure and the pure.
The Eternal charges Moses and Aaron to impart to the Children of Israel the following rules:
Any man with a discharge from his flesh is impure. Whether his discharge is running or is stopped up, any bedding on which he lies and any object on which he sits shall be impure. Anyone who touches the man or who touches his bedding or sits upon the object shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and shall be impure until the evening. If the man with a discharge spits upon one who is pure, the latter shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and shall be impure until the evening. If the man with a discharge mounts a saddle, the saddle shall be impure. Whoever touches something that was under the man with a discharge shall be impure until the evening, and whoever carries it shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be impure until the evening. If the man with a discharge touches someone without first rinsing his hands in water, the person whom he touched shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be impure until the evening. Any earthen vessel touched by the man with a discharge shall be broken; any wooden implement shall be rinsed with water.
When the man with a discharge becomes clear of his discharge, after seven days of clearness he shall wash his clothes and bathe his flesh in fresh water and shall be pure. On the eighth day he shall provide two turtledoves or two doves to the Priest before the Eternal at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The Priest shall make of one of them a sin offering and of the other a burnt offering. The Priest shall seek atonement for him from his discharge before the Eternal.
A man who discharges semen shall bathe all of his body in water and be impure until the evening. Cloth or leather upon which semen falls shall be washed in water and be impure until the evening. When a man emits semen into a woman, they shall bathe in water and be impure until the evening.
A woman who has a discharge of blood from her body shall be in her impurity for seven days. Whoever touches her shall be impure until the evening, and whatever she lies upon or sits upon shall be impure. Whoever touches her bedding and whoever touches anything that she has sat upon shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be impure until the evening. Anyone in contact with the bedding or with the object when she sits upon it, shall be impure until the evening. If a man should lie with her, her impurity shall be upon him: he shall be impure for seven days, and any bedding upon which he lies shall be impure.
If a woman has an untimely discharge of blood for many days or a timely discharge of blood that exceeds the usual period of her impurity, she shall be impure, as in the usual period of her impurity, for as many days as the discharge of blood lasts. Any bedding upon which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be as the bedding during her usual period of impurity, and any object upon which she sits shall be impure as during her usual period of impurity. Whoever touches them shall be impure: he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be impure until the evening.
When she is clear of her discharge, she shall count seven days and then be purified. On the eighth day she shall provide two turtledoves or two doves to the Priest before the Eternal at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The Priest shall make of one of them a sin offering and of the other a burnt offering. The Priest shall seek atonement for her from her discharge of impurity before the Eternal.
Separate the Children of Israel from their impurity that they not die from polluting My Tabernacle that is in their midst. Such is the instruction concerning him who has a discharge and him who has an emission of semen by which he becomes impure, concerning her who is infirm in her impurity, and concerning anyone, male or female, who has a discharge and a man who lies with an impure woman.
MAFTIR FOR SHABBAT ROSH CHODESH
The Eternal orders Moses to command the Children of Israel
to present to Him His offering of food,
fire offerings of a pleasing aroma,
each at its appointed time:
On the Sabbath day, along with the regular burnt offering and its libation, a burnt offering of two year-old lambs without blemish, two-tenths of a measure of fine flour mixed with oil as a meal offering, and its libation.
On your New Moons, a burnt offering of two bulls of the herd, one ram, and seven year-old lambs, without blemish. For the meal offering, three-tenths of a measure of fine flour mixed with oil for each bull, two-tenths of a measure of fine flour mixed with oil for the ram, and a tenth of a measure of fine flour mixed with oil for each lamb. Their libations shall be of wine, a half-hin for each bull, a third of a hin for the ram, and a quarter of a hin for each lamb. In addition there shall be a sin offering of a goat and its libation along with the regular offering.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh
Vindication of the Charedim
Thus says the Eternal:
Heaven is My throne,
the earth a stool for My feet;
what house, then, can you build for Me,
what place for Me to rest?
I brought all of these things into being
but choose to regard
the afflicted of body and spirit,
who trembles (chared) at My word.
What of him who brings the required sacrifices?
He slaughters an ox? He slaughters a man.
He sacrifices a lamb? He breaks the neck of a dog.
He brings a meal offering? He offers the blood of a pig.
He seeks remembrance through incense? He blesses idols.
Their misdeeds shall I return upon them,
for I called and no one answered,
I spoke and they heeded not;
they choose to do that which is evil in My sight.
Hear, O tremblers (charedim), the word of the Eternal:
Your brothers who disparage you
because of your devotion to Me
“Let the Eternal appear
so that we can witness your rapture (simcha)!”—
your brothers shall be confounded.
Hear the sound of discomfiture
from the city, from the Temple:
It is the sound of the Eternal
to His enemies!
Zion shall deliver her child
even before she labors—
who has seen anything like it?
A land brought forth in one day!
A nation born at once!
Shall I who bring forth
Shall I who deliver
Zion has not travailed
before she delivers her children.
“Simchu et Yerushalayim…”
Yes, enjoy your rapture, O Jerusalem,
and delight in her, all who love her!
Experience joy with her,
all who mourn over her,
that you may suck to satisfaction
from her comforting breast,
that you may drink deeply
of her glorious abundance.
“The Wealth of Nations”
The Eternal promises to extend to her
prosperity (shalom) and the wealth (kavod) of nations
like a river overflowing.
You shall be carried on their side
and dandled on their knees.
As a man whom his mother comforts,
thus shall I console you;
in Jerusalem shall you find comfort.
When you see this,
your heart will rejoice,
your bones shall blossom;
His servants shall recognize the hand of the Eternal,
His adversaries shall know His indignation.
For the Eternal is coming with fire and sword,
His chariots like a storm,
executing judgment of all flesh,
multiplying the slain.
Those who sanctify and purify themselves,
one by one into the garden,
to eat swine and filth and mouse,
shall find their end together.
Their idolatrous thoughts and deeds
bring Me to gather all nations and tongues
to behold My grave presence,
and those of them who escape to other nations—
to Tarshish, Pul, Lud,
drawers of the bow,
Tuval and Yavan,
where they have not known My fame—
shall make it known to those nations.
Return of the Exiles
Then all of your exiled brothers
shall be brought back from those nations
as an offering to the Eternal;
they shall be brought on
horses, chariots, wagons, mules, dromedaries,
to My holy mountain of Jerusalem,
as the Children of Israel bring their offerings
in pure vessels to the House of the Eternal.
And I shall take also some of them
for Priests and Levites.
For as long as the new heavens and the new earth
that I make
shall stand before Me
shall your offspring and your name endure,
and it shall be
that on every New Moon and every Sabbath
all flesh shall come to worship before Me,
declares the Eternal.
They shall go out and behold the transgressors’ corpses,
their worms not dead, their fire not abated,
a horror for all flesh.
It shall be
that on every New Moon and every Sabbath
all flesh shall come to worship before Me,
declares the Eternal.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Leviticus Rabbah 15:4
Trust and Lovingkindness
Israel heard the laws of tsara’at, with trepidation. Moses reassured them: Do not fear; these appertain to the other nations, but you are destined to eat, drink and be happy, as was said, “Many are the pains of the wicked, but the one who trusts in the Eternal—lovingkindness will surround him!” (Psalms 32:10)…Rabbi Yudan teaches in the name of Rabbi Samuel: It is permitted to carry the lid of a barrel and its pieces on Shabbat, but if they have been thrown into the trash, it is forbidden to carry them. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Tanchum of Bozrah in the name of Rabbi Jeremiah: Even the wicked, if he repents, the Holy One, blessed be He, accepts him, as was said, “The one who trusts in the Eternal—lovingkindness will surround him!” (Ibid.)
Leviticus Rabbah 15:5
The Sins of the Parents…
Before the laws of tsara’at, in our Sedra we find, “When a woman bears a male child…” (12:2), then the laws of tsara’at begin: “If a person should have in his skin a swelling…” (13:2). What does woman’s bearing a child have to do with tsara’at? Rabbi Tanchum son of Rabbi Chanilai taught: We may learn from the allegory of a she-ass who was injured and was then cauterized: her son came out with a flame mark. Who caused the foetus to come out with a flame mark? The fact that the mother was cauterized! Likewise, who caused the human foetus to be afflicted with tsara’at? His mother, because she did not attend to the days of her impurity!
Rabbi Avin taught: It may be compared to an herb garden with a fountain in it. As long as the fountain flows, it produces lichens. Likewise, whoever goes near his wife when she is impure makes children with the skin affections of tsara’at! On this Rabbi Avin cited: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge!” (Jeremiah 31:28) and the children may cite concerning their parents: “Our parents sinned and are no more, but we bear their iniquities!” (Lamentations 5:7)
Leviticus Rabbah 15:8,9
The Ultimate Purifier
A person can recognize all afflictions except for his own. Rabbi Meir adds: Also except for his relatives’.
So who examined the afflicted areas of Miriam (cf. Numbers 12:1-15)? If you say Moses, he was not a Priest! If you say Aaron, he was a relative! Said the Holy One, blessed be He: I am the Priest; I isolate her, and I purify her! That is what is meant by the words, “And the people did not continue on their journey until Miriam was readmitted.” (Numbers 12:15) How could that be, when: “At the command of the Eternal, the Children of Israel would journey; and at the command of the Eternal, they would encamp?” (Numbers 9:18) The people was bound to the divine presence, and the divine presence waited for her.
Said Rabbi Levi in the name of Rabbi Chama son of Rabbi Chaninah: Moses was quite distressed over this commandment. Does it befit the honor of Aaron my brother, he thought, to examine skin affections for tsara’at? The Holy One, blessed be He, responded: Don’t you think that he is well compensated from the twenty-four different gifts to which the Priests are entitled (e.g. first fruits: cf. Deuteronomy 26:1-10)? This is expressed in a proverb: If you enjoy the palm’s heart, expect to be struck by its stick!
In this world the Priest examines for spots of tsara’at, but in the world to come, says the Holy One, blessed be He: I shall purify you! This is what is written: “Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be pure…” (Ezekiel 36:25).
Talmud Arachin 15b
Slander Infects the World
Resh Lakish taught: How can we understand the verse, “This shall be the teaching regarding the metsora” (14:2)? This shall be the teaching regarding the motzi shem ra (“one who brings out an evil name/report”)!…Whoever speaks leshon hara (“slander/gossip”) piles transgressions up to Heaven, as was said, “Those who wickedly utter oppressive words, who speak as if none were on high, they place their mouth against Heaven, the words of their tongue proceed over the earth” (Psalms 73:8-9).
Rav Chisda taught that Mar Ukba said: Of whoever speaks leshon hara the Holy One, blessed be He, says that he and I cannot coexist in the world, as was said, “Whoever slanders his fellow in secret…him can I not endure” (Psalms 101:5)—read the word for “him” (vocalized oto) as it is actually written (ito), “’with him’ can I not endure”: there is not enough room in this world for both I (the Holy One, blessed be He) and the slanderer!
Talmud Arachin 16a
Causes of Tsara’at
Rabbi Samuel bar Nachmani taught that Rabbi Yochanan said: Negaim (generic term for “plagues,” repeatedly associated with tsara’at in our double Sedra) occur for seven offences:
(1) Leshon Hara
“Whoever slanders his fellow in secret—him shall I smite…” (Psalms 101:5), and the verbal root which we translate here as “smite” [tsadey-mem-tav] is rendered in Aramaic by Targum Onkelos (Leviticus 25:30) with the same root [chet-lamed-tet] that is applied in Hebrew by the Talmud (Megillah 8b) to the metzora! Therefore we may understand that one who slanders another in secret—the classic example of leshon hara—shall be smitten by God with tsara’at.
“David said…’Let there fall upon the head of Joab [for his murder of Abner] and all of his father’s house that there not be lacking…a metsora…’” (II Samuel 3:29).
(3) False Oath
When the prophet Elisha cured the Aramean general Naaman of tsara’at, he accepted no reward. But his servant Gehazi visits Naaman and, on his own, collects money and clothing from him. Elisha asks Gehazi, “Where did you just come from?” and Gehazi lies, “Your servant went nowhere.” Elisha says to him, “But didn’t my heart go to witness where you went and what you took; the tsara’at of Naaman shall attach to you and to your offspring for ever, and he went out from before him a metsora white as snow!” (II Kings 5:25-27)
(4) Sexual Offence
“When Abram comes to Egypt, the Egyptians see how beautiful his wife [Sarai] is..the woman is then taken to the house of Pharaoh.” Abram had anticipated this problem and asked Sarai to say that she is his sister, because he feared that if the Egyptians knew that she is his wife, they would kill him. “Abram fared well because of her…, and the Eternal struck Pharaoh and his house with great negaim (see above) over the affair of Sarai, wife of Abram.” (Genesis 12:14-17)
King Uzziah developed a strong military machine, “but in his strength be became arrogant to the point of corruption, attempting to coopt the function of the Priests in burning incense upon the Temple Altar.” When Azariah and his fellow Priests confronted Uzziah, “tsara’at broke out upon his forehead before the Priests in the House of the Eternal over the Altar of incense.” Seeing this sign of defilement, the Priests thrust Uzziah out of the Temple. (II Chronicles 26:16-20)
“When I place the nega [plural negaim,” see above] of tsara’at upon a house…, the one who owns the house shall report it to the Priest, and the Priest shall order that the house be emptied of its contents….” (Leviticus 14:34-36) In explanation an early sage taught: He gathered wealth and possessions that were not his, so the Priest will come and disperse them!
“When I place the nega [plural negaim,” see above] of tsara’at upon a house…that you own, the one who owns the house shall report it to the Priest…” (Leviticus 14:34-35). Since the verse already speaks to the owner of the house (“that you own”), why does it repeat, “the one who owns the house?” According to a teacher from the School of Ishmael, the repetition of ownership reflects the possessiveness of the owner, who regarded all that was in his house as his exclusive and absolute possession. Therefore, the owner kept all of his possessions concealed and refused to let others use them, claiming he did not have whatever they requested, so “the Priest shall order that the house be emptied of its contents…” (Leviticus 14:36): The Holy One, blessed be He, thereby exposes him when the Priest orders his house emptied (cf. Talmud Yoma 11b).
Mishnah Avot 4:4
Secret Transgressions Exposed
Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka teaches: Whoever profanes the Name of Heaven in secret is punished for it in public.
Talmud Kiddushin 31a, 40a
Talmud Chagigah 16a
Rabbi Isaac said: Whoever commits a transgression in secret—it is as if he pushes away the feet of the Shechina (Divine Presence), as was said, “Thus says the Eternal: Heaven is My throne, the earth a stool for My feet…” (Isaiah 66:1).
Rashi: For one who transgresses in secret assumes that the Omnipresent is not present where he is hiding and therefore He is not aware of what he is doing. By thus narrowing (in his own mind) His parameters, it is as though he is pushing the divine feet aside.
But it was taught in a baraitha (an older, more authoritative teaching, contemporaneous with the Mishnah) that Rabbi Ilai the Elder said: If one finds that his evil impulse is in danger of overpowering him, let him travel to a place where he is not known, clothe himself in black, and do what his heart desires; only let him not profane the Name of Heaven in public!
The Gemara resolves: Rabbi Isaac has not contradicted the authority of the baraitha, as his teaching applies to one who can overcome his evil impulse, while the teaching of Rabbi Ilai the Elder in the baraitha applies to one who is unable to overcome his evil impulse. Tosafot: It would be better that one fulfill his evil desire in secret than in public! But:
It was taught in a baraitha: Whoever fails to protect the honor of his Maker—it would have been better for him not to have entered the world! What is the baraitha teaching about? Rav Joseph’s answer is that it refers to one who commits a transgression in secret. The same resolution as above is applied by the Gemara here: The baraitha applies to one who can overcome his evil impulse, while the teaching of Rabbi Ilai the Elder applies to one who is unable to overcome his evil impulse.
Tosafot: Rabbenu Chananel has a problem with the implication of Rabbi Ilai the Elder’s teaching, that one is permitted thereby (even in secret) to commit a transgression! He believes that Rabbi Ilai could not have meant that. He understands his meaning as follows: The shock caused by travel to a distant place, the uncomfortable lodging arrangements required, and the donning of black garments, together will deter his evil impulse and thereby prevent him from committing the intended transgression!
Leviticus Rabbah 16:2,6
The Elixir of Life
“The Eternal imparts to Moses instruction
for one afflicted with tsara’at (Metsora)…”
“Who is one to enjoy life,
loving days, to see good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking guile.
Avoid the bad
and do good;
seek peace and pursue it!”
There was a merchant who went from town to town in the vicinity of Sepphoris, announcing as he went: Who wants to buy the elixir of life? People would flock to him. Rabbi Yannai was sitting, teaching Torah, when he heard the merchant deliver his offer. He called to him: Come up here and sell it to me! The merchant called back: Neither you nor anyone like you would need it! But Rabbi Yannai persisted, and finally the merchant went up to him and took out for him the Book of Psalms, showing him the verse, “Who is one to enjoy life, loving days, to see good?” and then showing him what is written after it: “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile. Avoid the bad and do good; seek peace and pursue it!” Said Rabbi Yannai: Solomon also makes such a statement, saying “Whoever guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from troubles!” (Proverbs 21:23)
Now Rabbi Yannai reflects: All of my life I have read the same verses in Psalms, but I didn’t understand what they meant until this merchant came and made it known. Who wants to buy the elixir of life? “Keep your tongue from evil…!”
And it is for that reason that Moses cautions Israel by saying to them, “This shall be your instruction [your “torah,” your antidote] for the metsora…,” for to him metsora is an abbreviation for motzi shem ra, “one who uses his tongue for evil.” That makes him metsora [afflicted with tsara’at], and this is the instruction [“torah”] that the Eternal imparted to Moses as the elixir of life.
Five times is “torah” associated with metsora:
“This is the torah [“instruction”] of the affliction of tsara’at…” (13:59)
“This shall be the torah of the metsora…” (14:2)
“This is the torah for one who has the affliction of tsara’at…” (14:32)
“This is the torah for every affliction of tsara’at…” (14:54)
“This is the torah of tsara’at.” (14:57)
To teach you:
That whoever uses his tongue for evil
transgresses the Five Books of the Torah!
Tanna d’Vey Eliahu Rabbah 26:2
Sanctify God’s Name Among the Nations
“You shall love the Eternal your God…”
This is fulfilled when you make
the Name of Heaven
beloved to your fellow creations:
You should take care in your business dealings with your fellow men while you openly study Biblical and Rabbinic books. Then, seeing all of this, people will say, “Fortunate is he who has studied Torah, see how fair are his deeds, how fine are his ways! Let us undertake to learn Torah ourselves and to teach it to our children.” Thereby is the Name of Heaven sanctified by him.
Whereas one who does not take care in his business dealings while he openly studies the sacred books will earn a bad reputation for the study of Torah and will discourage others from learning and teaching it. For this the Torah was not given, but only to sanctify His great Name, as was said, “You are My servant, O Israel, through whom I shall be glorified” (Isaiah 49:3).
From this teaching they said: One should stay far from any type of stealing from either an Israelite or from a Gentile, from anyone whom you encounter in the marketplace. For one who steals from a Gentile will in the end come to steal from an Israelite, and one who swears falsely to a Gentile will come to swear falsely to an Israelite. One who denies the truth to a Gentile will in the end deny the truth to an Israelite, and one who sheds the blood of a Gentile will come to shed the blood of an Israelite. The Torah was given not for this but to sanctify His great Name:
“Among the nations
whom I gather…
I shall establish a sign
by sending some of those
who escape the fire and the sword
to places where they have not known My fame,
and they shall make it known to those nations!”