Tazria: Holy Healing

Doctor Of the Soul

Torah portion Tazria covers the laws of ritual purity and impurity, including those relating to “tzaraat,” often mistranslated as leprosy. Tzaraat was the physical manifestation of a spiritual malady and caused patches of discoloration to appear on a person’s skin. Upon the appearance of this unusual kind of rash, the sufferer visited the Kohen (priest), who analyzed the afflicted area to make a diagnosis. If the person is found to indeed have tzaraat, the Kohen guided him through a process of purification that included quarantine, sacrificial offering, and possibly additional measures such as shaving, tearing his garments and calling out “Unclean! Unclean!” to keep others away from him.

But what exactly was the spiritual malady that caused tzaraat? Our sages teach that three character flaws could lead a person to develop this unpleasant condition. The first is lashon hara, lit. “evil speech” – gossiping about others. Speaking about people behind their back, even if what you say is true, is a serious sin (and one that even the most righteous among us find difficult to completely avoid.) The other sins that caused tzaraat were arrogance and greed.  

Today we no longer have a Holy Temple in Jerusalem and God doesn’t inflict tzaraat as a rebuke of our behavior because there are no “active-duty” Kohanim to help us heal. When we have a skin condition we see a doctor. But of course there were doctors in the days of the Temple as well, so why did people go to the Kohen to heal this physical malady rather than their local medical professional? The Kli Yakar explains that Aaron the High Priest and his fellow Kohanim were exemplars of the character traits an individual with tzaraat needed to develop. 

Aaron was the “Man of Peace” who personified kindness and brought conflicting parties to reconciliation; this is the opposite of lashon hara, which divides people. An example of Aaron’s exceptional humility – the opposite of arrogance – occurs when he and his brother Moses say to God, “… of what significance are we?” (Ex. 16:8) And regarding the sin of greed, Aaron was from the tribe of Levi, which unlike the other tribes of Israel did not own their own land and instead lived off of the generosity of others. 

A surgeon is uniquely qualified to remove illnesses of the body, but only someone of exceptional holiness, such as Aaron and his fellow Kohanim, are qualified to excise an illness of the soul 

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