Leprosy, a bit of a sore issue?

This whole section seems so yucky and earthy to our modern ‎sensitivities that we almost think it has to be consigned to the ‎‎‘olden days’. How do we even begin to connect with a section ‎which talks about discharges and emissions, how these make ‎you unclean? What about the uncleanness itself as a concept? ‎Is this merely ritual, sin orientated or spiritual too? What can we ‎learn from all this that challenges the modern mind and ‎perceptions? The key to understanding where this passage on ‎Metzora (skin affliction) is coming from is to comprehend the ‎fundamental ‘geography’ of what is happening here. Whatever ‎these skin afflictions may be (and it is clear that they are not ‎leprosy in the strict biological and medical definition), the result ‎was being put outside the camp in isolation. You were unclean.‎

Being outside the camp meant that it was not possible for you to ‎act in a communal way; community life became impossible. This ‎was a disaster: most if not all of Jewish life involves some sort of ‎community, even on a family level. But it was actually far worse ‎than that. If you were outside the camp, there was no way you could ‎draw close to G-d; He was after all in the centre of the camp. He ‎was the very heart of everything and you suddenly were ‎banished from His presence, security and protection. To drive ‎the point home, there was a physical distance between you and ‎G-d. This tells you something about the nature of Tzara’at. This ‎is clearly not just a slight skin infection or even a disease in the ‎medical sense. This was brought on by something spiritual. In ‎fact, Lev 14:13 gives us the clue; a sin offering has to be ‎brought upon being cleansed. The root cause is sin and sin ‎drives you away from His, the Lord’s, presence. Another clue is ‎in the cleansing process afterwards; it was the priest who ‎declared you clean, not a doctor. Forgiveness took a central role ‎in being cleansed.‎

What was the sin? The Torah gives us clues again. In 2 Kings 5, ‎Num 12:10, 2 Sam 3:29 and Deut 28:27,35 we can see, through ‎the actual examples given, that these afflictions are a direct ‎result of disobedience: lashon hara, or gossip, a loose tongue, ‎slander by word of mouth, or verbally undermining the authority ‎of leaders whom G-d has raised up. Miriam did this with Moshe ‎when she received her outbreak. It is otherwise known as giving ‎an ‘evil report’, and is exactly what Ya’akov is talking about in his ‎letter in the Messianic Writings. The same tongue used to bless ‎and curse which sets fire to anyone and anything it touches; ‎destruction by word of mouth. The ritual to make clean again ‎makes it clear what sins are at the core of this. Firstly cedar ‎wood is used because as Rashi states it is wide and tall and ‎symbolises haughtiness and pride of man. Secondly hyssop is ‎used with crimson thread, using the dye of a lowly plant, ‎because the hyssop bush is a low bush which exists in scrubby ‎conditions, showing us humility. Taken together it equals a visual ‎narrative that spells out ‘Humility, the antidote for pride’. Pride ‎causes a loose tongue.‎

This sin would drive you outside the camp. Here you would be ‎unable to worship and be a part of the community of G-d. In ‎case we think this is draconian, we should all pause to consider ‎that it is precisely through the actions of loose tongues, gossip ‎spread abroad, lies and even truths told to cause harm, that ‎damage is caused in any community. It disrupts the unity, ‎causes division and strife, internal feuding and splits. Most if not ‎all communities that are destroyed are brought low by this sin. ‎Communities are rarely destroyed from without (that causes ‎people to pull together), most usually from within. Food for ‎thought.‎

Parashat Tazria-Metzora