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. Determination of infection is supervised by the Kohen. Purification is prescribed to follow recovery from infection and certain discharges for the recurring pattern, introduced in Sedra Shemini, of seven days followed by an eighth day of sacrificial atonement also under the supervision of the Kohen.
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 (cf. Leviticus 9:1; 14:9) 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 Kohen at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The Kohen 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 Kohen or one of his sons the Kohanim to be examined. If the Kohen 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 Kohen who examines him shall declare him impure.
If, however, the bright spot is white while the aforementioned symptoms are not present, the Kohen shall isolate the affection for seven days. If, after examining him on the seventh day, the Kohen 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 Kohen 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 Kohen. If the Kohen 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 Kohen 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 Kohen shall declare the affected person pure, as he has turned all white. But at such time as healthy flesh appears in it, the Kohen shall declare him impure, it is tsara’at. If the healthy flesh again turns white, he shall be examined by the Kohen, 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 Kohen. If the Kohen observes that it appears to be lower than the rest of the skin and that its hair has turned white, the Kohen shall declare him impure. It is a tsara’at affliction that has broken out in the inflammation. But if the Kohen does not observe the two symptoms and it is faded, the Kohen shall isolate him for seven days. If it should spread in the skin, the Kohen shall declare him impure; it is an affliction. If the bright spot does not spread, it is the scar of the inflammation, and the Kohen 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 Kohen 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 Kohen shall declare him impure. But if the Kohen does not observe the two symptoms and it is faded, the Kohen shall isolate him for seven days. The Kohen shall examine him on the seventh day: if it has spread in the skin, the Kohen 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 Kohen 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 Kohen shall examine it. If it appears to be deeper than the rest of the skin and there is thin yellow hair in it, the Kohen 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 Kohen shall isolate the netek affection for seven days. If, upon examination on the seventh day, the Kohen 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 Kohen shall isolate the netek for another seven days. On the following seventh day, if the Kohen sees that the netek has not spread in the skin and its appearance is not deeper than the rest of the skin, the Kohen 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 Kohen sees it, the Kohen 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 Kohen shall declare him pure.
If a man or woman has many bright spots throughout their skin, the Kohen 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 Kohen 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 Kohen 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 Kohen, who, upon seeing the affection, should isolate it for seven days. If, on the seventh day, the Kohen 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 Kohen 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 Kohen, the Kohen must go outside of the camp to see that the tsara’at affliction that was in him has been healed. The Kohen 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 (cf. Leviticus 9:1; 12:2-3) 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 Kohen 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 Kohen 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 Kohen; it is most holy. The Kohen shall put some of its blood upon the subject’s right ear lobe, right thumb, and right big toe. The Kohen 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 Kohen’s palm he shall put upon the head of the subject, and the Kohen shall seek atonement for him before the Eternal. Then the Kohen 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 Kohen at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting before the Eternal. The Kohen 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 Kohen 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 Kohen what he sees. The Kohen 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 Kohen 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 Kohen shall go out to the entrance of the house and close the house for seven days. Anyone 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 Kohen 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 Kohen 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 Kohen comes and sees that the affection has not spread in the house, the Kohen 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 Kohen 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 Kohen before the Eternal at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The Kohen shall make of one of them a sin offering and of the other a burnt offering. The Kohen 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 Kohen before the Eternal at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The Kohen shall make of one of them a sin offering and of the other a burnt offering. The Kohen 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.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Tazria-Metsora
II Kings 7:3-20
Prologue:: Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, besieged Samaria, the capital of Israel. As a result, there was a severe famine in Samaria. (II Kings 6:24) Israel was ruled by King Jehoram, the son of Ahab (ibid. 3:1). The famine grew so severe that “an ass’s head sold for eighty pieces of silver, and a fourth of a kab of dove’s dung, for five pieces of silver” (ibid. 6:25). But the prophet Elisha announced that on the morrow a se’ah of fine flour would sell for only a shekel in the gate of Samaria, as would also two se’ahs of barley (ibid. 7:1), that, effectively, the famine was over. But King Jehoram’s captain expressed skepticism of Elisha’s prophecy: This will happen on the day when the Eternal makes windows in heaven (perhaps alluding to the need for rain?)! Elisha replied: You shall see it with your own eyes, but (portentously) you shall not eat of it (ibid. 7:2).
Haftarah: Four men afflicted with tsara’at were sitting at the entrance gate of the city. Dying from famine, they calculated that they would be no worse off if they went over to the enemy, the Aramean camp. The Arameans would either save their lives or kill them, but if they remained where they were, they would surely die from starvation with the rest of the city.
So, the four afflicted men approached the Aramean camp, but they found it deserted. For the Eternal (facilitating the prophecy of Elisha) had terrified the Aramean camp with the noise of chariots, horses and a great army: the Arameans thought that the king of Israel had engaged the kings of the Hittites and the Egyptians to attack them. In fear they abandoned their camp, leaving behind their tents, their asses, and everything in the camp as it was, fleeing, as they thought, for their lives. The first reaction of the four afflicted men was to help themselves to the Aramean stores, to appropriate the abandoned gold, silver and clothing.
But then they thought better of their actions, out of both conscience and fear, and went to inform their king that the Aramean camp stood open and deserted. (Its available resources would ameliorate the famine that Israel was suffering!) Yet when the king was told their story, he disregarded the assurance of Elisha’s prophecy (cf. II Kings 7:1), and concluded instead that the Arameans were trying to trap them: As there was famine in Samaria, the Arameans would expect the Israelites to rush out in order to benefit from the food and wealth that remained in the Aramean camp. At that point, the king surmised, the Arameans planned to capture the Israelites and gain entry to Samaria.
Less dispirited was one of the king’s servants. He convinced the king to risk the five horses that were left alive in the city and to send them on an expedition with two chariots to see the Aramean camp for themselves. What they saw, on their way to the Jordan, was an abundance of garments and vessels which the Arameans had left hastily in their wake. The messengers returned and told the king.
As a result, the people of Israel did go out of Samaria, and they safely captured the spoil of the Aramean camp. The new abundance of grain caused a se’ah of fine flour to sell for only a shekel and two se’ahs of barley, for the same. The king put the captain who had doubted the prophecy of Elisha (cf. II Kings 7:2) in charge of the city gate. There, assigned to maintain order, the captain was himself trampled to death by the people. This fulfilled the prophecy of the man of God that the king’s captain would see the new abundance of grain but would not eat of it (cf. ibid.).
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Leviticus Rabbah 15:4
Have no fear!
“Judgments are issued against scorners,
and flogging is for the back of fools.”
The laws of tsara’at are promulgated against transgressors…
It is common in the world that one riding upon a donkey may strike it for its disobedience and also even when it is not disobedient. But with respect to the laws of tsara’at, the judgments and the punishments are executed against transgressors alone.
This may be likened to one who visits the king in his palace and is terrified when she sees various instruments of torture. “Have no fear,” says the king; “those are used against my slaves, but you have come to eat and drink and be happy!” Thus, when Israel heard the laws of tsara’at, they were frightened. Moses reassured them, “Have no fear; these laws appertain to the other nations, but you are destined to eat, drink and be happy, as was said, ‘If a person should have in his skin…’ (Leviticus 13:2), not ‘If a person among you should have….’”
“Many are the pains of the wicked,
but the one who trusts in the Eternal—
lovingkindness will surround him!”
Rabbi and Rabbi Ishmael son of Rabbi Yosi were studying the Megillah of Lamentations on the Eve of Tisha B’av which was also Erev Shabbat. They had to stop in honor of the Sabbath and decided to resume their study the following Sabbath afternoon where they had left off, at the verse, “Our very breath, the anointed of the Eternal, was captured in their pits, under whose shadow we determined to live among the nations” (Lamentations 4:20). On his way home Rabbi suffered a minor injury and ascribed to himself the verse, “Many are the pains of the wicked” (Psalms 32:10).
Rabbi Ishmael son of Rabbi Yosi said to Rabbi: Even if we were not planning to study that verse (cf. ibid.), you could have ascribed it to yourself, but now how much the more so! (Margoliot: “This happened to you because of our sins,” as the righteous suffer for the sin of the generation, for thus is written, “Our very breath, the anointed of the Eternal, is captured because of the pits (the sins) of his generation”!)
Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Tanchum of Bozrah in the name of Rabbi Jeremiah parsed the verse:
“Many are the pains,
but the wicked one who trusts in the Eternal—
lovingkindness will surround him!”
Even the wicked, if he repents—the Holy One, blessed be He, will accept him!
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…” (Leviticus 12:2), then the laws of tsara’at begin: “If a person should have in his skin a swelling…” (Leviticus 13:2). Why does woman’s bearing a child lead into the laws of tsara’at?
Rabbi Tanchum son of Rabbi Chanilai taught: We may learn the answer 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 when she did not attend to the days of her impurity!
Rabbi Avin taught a similar lesson but implicitly with respect to both parents: 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
“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 Kohen
or one of his sons the Kohanim to be examined…”
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 when she was punished with tsara’at (cf. Numbers 12:1-15)? If you say Moses, he was not a Kohen! If you say Aaron, he was a relative! Said the Holy One, blessed be He: I am the Kohen; 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 Kohanim 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 Kohen 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” (Leviticus 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 he became arrogant to the point of corruption, attempting to coopt the function of the Kohanim in burning incense upon the Temple Altar.” When Azariah and his fellow Kohanim confronted Uzziah, “tsara’at broke out upon his forehead before the Kohanim in the House of the Eternal over the Altar of incense.” Seeing this sign of defilement, the Kohanim 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 Kohen, and the Kohen 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 Kohen shall 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 Kohen…” (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 that he did not have whatever they requested, so “the Kohen 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.
Leviticus Rabbah 16:2,6
The Elixir of Life
“The Eternal imparts to Moses Torah (instruction)for the metsora (one afflicted with tsara’at)…”
“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 Torah (your instruction, your formula, your medicine, your elixir, your prophylactic)against becoming metsora…,” for to him metsora is an abbreviation for motzi shem ra, “one who uses his tongue for evil.” That makes him metsora (slander afflicts him with tsara’at), and this is the Torah as immunization that the Eternal imparted to Moses, the elixir of life.
Five times is “Torah” associated with metsora:
“This is the Torah of the affliction of tsara’at…” (Leviticus 13:59)
“This shall be the Torah of the metsora…” (Leviticus 14:2)
“This is the Torah for one who has the affliction of tsara’at…” (Leviticus 14:32)
“This is the Torah for every affliction of tsara’at…” (Leviticus 14:54)
“This is the Torah of tsara’at.” (Leviticus 14:57)
Five times “Torah” teaches us:
Whoever uses his tongue for evil
transgresses the entire five books of the Torah!
Talmud Sanhedrin 90a-90b
Measure for Measure
“The new abundance of grain caused a se’ah of fine flour to sell for only a shekel
and two se’ahs of barley, for the same, as Elisha had foreseen (cf. II Kings 7:1).
The king put the captain who had doubted Elisha’s prophecy (cf. II Kings 7:2)
in charge of the city gate.
There, assigned to maintain order,
as the people would rush to obtain provisions,
the captain was himself trampled to death by the rush of people.
This event fulfilled Elisha’s response to the captain:
‘You shall see it with your own eyes,
but you shall not eat of it (cf. ibid.).’”
(II Kings 7:17-20)
The captain who had doubted the prophecy of the man of God that the famine would be relieved suddenly by an abundance of food lived to see the prophecy’s fulfillment but died in the result. Does this show how God makes the punishment fit the crime (literally, “measure for measure”)? Perhaps, instead, this was simply the fulfillment of Elisha’s curse, for Rav Judah said that Rav taught: The curse of a sage, for whatever reason or non-reason, comes to pass! But not here, because the verse reads, “The people trampled him in the gate so that he died” (II Kings 7:20): It could have read, “The people trampled him so that he died,” but the inclusion of “in the gate” refers to Elisha’s full prophecy, that the price of food would drop “in the gate of Samaria” (II Kings 7:1), thus indicating that the captain’s punishment was linked directly to his offense, to his denying the prophecy of the man of God! So this is an example of how God makes the punishment fit the crime (literally, “measure for measure”).
Talmud Sanhedrin 107b
The Mixed Career of Gehazi
“Four men afflicted with tsara’at
were sitting at the entrance gate of the city…”
(II Kings 7:3)
What were the four men afflicted with tsara’at doing there?
“One afflicted with tsara’at…shall dwell apart, outside of the camp.”
Mishnah Kelim 1:7: Cities surrounded by a wall are held separate from the rest of the Land of Israel in that they are considered as “the camp” (cf. Leviticus 13:46) for purposes of removing those afflicted with tsara’at. (Rav Ovadia of Bartinoro, 15th cent. Italy: When Joshua conquered the Land, he sanctified cities that were then surrounded by a wall to be like the Camp of Israel for that purpose.)
Rabbi Yochanan taught that the four men afflicted with tsara’at
were Gehazi and his three sons.
How did this occur?
The prophet Elisha enabled the cure from tsara’at of Naaman, commander of the Aramean army (cf. II Kings 5:1ff.). Grateful to the man of God, Naaman offered to reward him, but Elisha would take no gift: “As surely as lives the Eternal, before Whom I stand, I shall accept nothing” (II Kings 5:16), and although he continued to offer, he continued to refuse. But after Naaman departed, Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, on his own caught up with Naaman and falsely represented to him that Elisha had sent him regarding two of his associates who needed gold and clothing. Naaman was unknowing but generous in responding to Gehazi’s deception, providing him with more than he requested. Gehazi carefully hid what he had extracted from Naaman, but prophetic vision enabled Elisha to perceive what Gehazi had done.
Numbers Rabbah 7:5: Elisha sanctified the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He, by not wanting to take anything from Naaman, but Gehazi, who ran after the unsuspecting Aramean and swore falsely that his master had sent him to request money, profaned the very Name of Heaven that Elisha had sanctified!
When Gehazi returned, Elisha saw that tsara’at had broken out upon his head. O wicked one, Elisha responded, “may the tsara’at of Naaman adhere to you and to your offspring forever,” and Gehazi emerged a metsora, as white as snow (II Kings 5:27)!
“Elisha went to Damascus…”
(II Kings 8:7)
For what purpose?
Said Rabbi Yochanan: He went there to convince Gehazi to repent, but he would not repent. Gehazi offered as his reason for not repenting: Thus have I learned from you, that one who sins and causes others to sin, can never repent.
What then was his sin in causing others to sin?
Some say that he suspended a magnetic stone over Jeroboam’s calf idols (cf. I Kings 12:28ff.) between heaven and earth, and some say that he engraved the Divine Name in its mouth, causing the cow to declare, “I am the Eternal your God” and “You shall have no other gods besides Me” (cf. Exodus 20:2-3, first two of the Ten Commandments).
Others note that after Gehazi departed from Elisha (cf. II Kings 5:27), the population of Elisha’s disciples grew so numerous that they had to construct new quarters at the Jordan (cf. II Kings 6:1-4). This suggests that before Gehazi departed, while he was still with Elisha, he was driving disciples away from Elisha!
Our Rabbis taught:
Always let your left hand push them away while your right hand draws them near, not like Elisha, who drove Gehazi away with both hands!
Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said that for three things—the evil impulse, a child, and a woman—let your left hand push them away while your right hand draws them close.
Copyright © 2021 Eric H. Hoffman