Tazria-Metzora ~ Punishment and Healing

~ Accepting the view that tzara'at comes due to "motzi shem ra", or "lashon hara" speaking badly or falsely about others, is there a punishment in our reading? What is it?

~ What is Lashon Hara, and how does it thrive?

"Evil speech thrives on the remoteness of its consequences, on its veneer of innocence. Society as a whole enables it, and the ritual outlined in our parashah forces us to confront the ways in which we too, even in our silence, are complicit."

~ What is the procedure for a person to resume societal contact?

A person who has been afflicted by tzara’at is completely exiled. Once s/he is healed and his/her body and property have resumed their original appearance, the afflicted person comes back into the camp. A week before going home, they participate in a fascinating and somewhat unusual ritual of purification.

~ Look at the ritual that the person with tzara'at needs to go through to be purified. What is the most shocking to you? Which parts seems familiar? What are things that are different?

Similarities: The sprinkling of sacred water with a hyssop brush is part of the process for cleansing death impurity (red heifer). Two birds is a standard sacrifice. And even the taking of two animals, one of which will be sacrificed and one of which will be cast away, is reminiscent of the lottery on Yom Kippur. One goat is designated as a sacrifice “for God,” while the second is cast into the desert “to Azazel”.

Differences: neither of the birds is offered as one of the recognized categories of korbanot , e.g. a sin-offering or burnt offering. Sacrifices are paid for by the person or people who benefit from them, in this case the community pays for the sacrifice - the verse says "velakach lamitaher" he will take for the one who is being purified. In most of the Torah animals have to not suffer. The killing of the bird and dipping the other one in its blood is quite a departure from this norm.

הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר: אַל תִּפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר.

Hillel says: Do not separate yourself from the community.

Derech Chaim is a commentary on Pirkei Avot written by the Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel c.1512 - 1609)

...אמר אל תפרוש מן הצבור כי הצבור שהם הכלל הם עומדים כמו שהתבאר כי אל הצבור יש קיום יותר, ולפיכך הפורש מן הצבור פורש מן הדבר שיש לו קיום ביותר. ועוד כי הכלל הוא הכל, ויש בהם כח הכל, ולפיכך הפורש מן הצבור פורש מהכל והוא מבחוץ, ואם הוא מבחוץ להבל נחשב דבר זה שיצא מן הכלל. ....

וכן מי שפורש מן דרכי צבור הוא יוצא מן הכלל. ואמר כי הכלל הוא עיקר לא היחיד הפרטי שהיחיד הוא בעל שינוי ואלו הכללים עומדים כמו שהתבאר, כי כח הכללי עומד בלא שינוי.

Hillel says "Do not separate yourself from the community" because the community is the society/total, they endure, as was explained that the community has more existence, and therefore the one who separates from the community separates from something that has the most existence. Furthermore, society is everything, and they have the power of everything, and therefore one who separates from the community separates themselves from everything, and they are outside. If that one is outside s/he is considered as nothing because they left society. ...

Thus the one who separates from the ways of the community leave society. And Hillel says that society is the main thing and not the private individual, for the individual is dynamic/changing, and these societies endure, as has been explained, for societal power endures without change.

בעא מיניה רבי שמואל בר נדב מרבי חנינא ואמרי לה רבי שמואל בר נדב חתניה דרבי חנינא מרבי חנינא ואמרי לה מרבי יהושע בן לוי מה נשתנה מצורע שאמרה תורה (ויקרא יג, מו) בדד ישב מחוץ למחנה מושבו הוא הבדיל בין איש לאשתו בין איש לרעהו לפיכך אמרה תורה בדד ישב וגו' אמר רבי יהודה בן לוי מה נשתנה מצורע שאמרה תורה יביא {ויקרא יד } שתי ציפרים לטהרתו אמר הקב"ה הוא עושה מעשה פטיט לפיכך אמרה תורה יביא קרבן פטיט תנו רבנן

R. Samuel b. Elnadab asked of R. Hanina, or as others say. R. Samuel b. Nadab, the son-in-law of R. Hanina, asked of R. Hanina; or, according to still others, asked of R. Joshua b. Levi: Why is the metzora different that the Torah said: "He shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his dwelling be?" He separated a husband from his wife, a man from his neighbor, so said the Torah: ‘He shall dwell alone’.

R. Joshua b. Levi said: Why is the metzora different that the Torah said: 'Two living
clean birds [he should bring] so that he may become pure again? The Holy One, blessed be He, said: He did the work of a babbler, therefore let him offer a babbler as a sacrifice.'

Carelessness with our words brings separation.

Published by Salomon Buber, in 1885, based on material gathered from several manuscripts – this collection of aggadic midrashim is believed to be the oldest midrashic compilation of its kind.

(ב) וידבר על העצים וגו' (שם שם יג), וכי אפשר לו לאדם לדבר על העצים, אלא אמר שלמה מפני מה מצורע נטהר על הגבוה שבעצים, ובנמוך שבנמוכים, בעץ ארז [ושני תולעת], ואזוב (ויקרא יד ד), אלא על ידי שהגביה עצמו כארז לקה בצרעת, כיון שהשפיל עצמו כאזוב, לכך נתרפא על ידי אזוב.

(2) AND HE SPOKE WITH/CONCERNING THE TREES, <FROM THE CEDAR THAT IS IN LEBANON EVEN TO THE HYSSOP WHICH GROWS OUT OF THE WALL> (I Kings 5:13) . Is it possible that a person would speak with the trees? Solomon merely said: For what reason is a leper cleansed? Because of ('al) the tallest among the trees (the cedar) and through the lowest of the low (the hyssop). Through (according to Lev. 14:4) CEDAR WOOD, [CRIMSON STUFF,] AND HYSSOP. It is simply because he had exalted himself like the cedar, that he was stricken with leprosy. As soon as he humbled himself like the hyssop, he was therefore cured through hyssop.

The assumption is that lashon hara is only possible when we see ourselves as better than others, and therefore able to pass judgment and tell lies. The process is a humbling one, making people remember that we have no idea what others go through and therefore should not pass judgment and say lies against them.

Composed in Talmudic Israel/Babylon (500 CE).

(ז) וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וְלָקַח לַמִּטַּהֵר וגו' (ויקרא יד, ד), אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוּדָה בַּר סִימוֹן אִלֵּין צִפָּרַיָּא קוֹלָנִין, אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יָבוֹא הַקּוֹל וִיכַפֵּר עַל הַקּוֹל. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן לֵוִי אָמַר צִפּוֹר דְּרוֹר שֶׁאוֹכֶלֶת מִפִּתּוֹ וְשׁוֹתָה מֵימָיו, וַהֲלוֹא דְּבָרִים קַל וָחֹמֶר וּמָה אִם צִפֳּרִים שֶׁאוֹכְלוֹת מִפִּתּוֹ וְשׁוֹתִין מֵימָיו מְכַפְּרִין עָלָיו, כֹּהֵן שֶׁנֶּהֱנָה מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל בְּעֶשְׂרִים וְאַרְבַּע מַתְּנוֹת כְּהֻנָּה עַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה, בְּמַתְלָא אָמְרֵי דְּאָכֵיל בַּהֲדֵי קוֹרָא יִלְקֶה בַּהֲדֵי קִילָא.

And the kohen orders, and brings to the one being purified etc. - Rabi Yehuda bar Simon those are birds that chat, the Holy One of Blessing the voice will come and atone for what was done with the voice. Rabi Shime'on ben Levi said: a bird freely eats from God's bread and drinks God's water, aren't the things to be thought from the light case to the heavy one?! Just as the bird that freely eats from God's bread and drinks God's water atones for him, the kohen, who receives 24 different gifts from Israel, all the more so!

Composed in (c.400 - c.1200 CE). Encyclopedic work listing the various Midrashim

(מא) מ״ד) ולקח למטהר שתי צפרים (ויקרא י״ד ד׳) כשם שהוציא דברים של רוח מתוך פיו כך מכפר עליו בצפרים שהן טסין על פני רוח שהן מודיעות לשמים דברים שאמר, כי עוף השמים יוליך את הקול (קהלת י').

And the kohen orders, and brings to the one being purified etc. - just as this one brought out words through the air of his mouth, so he is atoned with birds that fly through the air, since the birds fly through the air they announce to Heaven the things he said, because 'the fowl of the heaven make the voice go' (Ecclesiastes10:20)

(מב) מ״ה) ועץ ארז, למה? שנמשלה תורה לעץ שנאמר עץ חיים היא (משלי ג׳ י״ח) וכן מרפא לשון עץ חיים (שם ט״ו ד׳). ושני תולעת למה? בשביל ששינה דבריו וחזר בו מתכפר בשני תולעת, בזכות יעקב, אל תיראי תולעת יעקב (ישעיה מ״א י״ד). ואזוב למה? על שם תחטאני באזוב ואטהר (תהלים נ״א ס׳).

And why a cedar wood? The Torah is compared to a tree, as it is written 'she is a tree of life' (Proverbs 3:18) and 'a healing tongue is a tree of life' (Proverbs 15:4). And the crimson stuff/worm, why? Because he changed his words and renounced them, so that is atoned by the crimson stuff [sheni tola'at/worm], due to the merit of Yaakov, 'Fear not, O worm Jacob' (Isa. 41:14). And hyssop, why? Because 'Purge me with hyssop till I am pure' (Ps. 51:9)

במערבא אמרי לשון תליתאי קטיל תליתאי הורג למספרו ולמקבלו ולאומרו א"ר חמא ברבי חנינא מאי דכתיב (משלי יח, כא) מות וחיים ביד לשון וכי יש יד ללשון לומר לך מה יד ממיתה אף לשון ממיתה אי מה יד אינה ממיתה אלא בסמוך לה אף לשון אינה ממיתה אלא בסמוך לה ת"ל חץ שחוט לשונם אי מה חץ עד ארבעים וחמשים אמה אף לשון עד ארבעים וחמשים אמה תלמוד לומר שתו בשמים פיהם ולשונם תהלך בארץ וכי מאחר דכתיב שתו בשמים פיהם חץ שחוט לשונם למה לי הא קמשמע לן דקטיל כחץ וכי מאחר דכתיב חץ שחוט לשונם מות וחיים ביד לשון למה לי לכדרבא דאמר רבא בעי חיים בלישניה דבעי מיתה בלישניה

In the West [Palestine] they say: The talk about third [persons] kills three persons: him who tells [the slander], him who accepts it, and him about whom it is told. R. Hama b. Hanina said: What is the meaning of: 'Death and life are in the hand of the tongue, and they that indulge it shall eat the its fruit.' (Proverbs 18:21) Has the tongue ‘a hand’? It tells you that just as the hand can kill, so can the tongue. One might say that just as the hand can kill only one near it, thus also the tongue can kill only one near it, therefore the text states: ‘Their tongue is a sharpened arrow’. Then one might assume that just as an arrow kills only within forty or fifty cubits, thus also the tongue kills only up to forty or fifty cubits, therefore the text states: ‘They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walks through the earth’. But since it is written already: ‘They set their mouth against the heavens’, why was it necessary to state also: ‘Their tongue is a sharpened arrow’? — This is what we are informed: That [the tongue] kills as an arrow. But once it is written: ‘Their tongue is a sharpened arrow’, why was it necessary to state: Death and life are in the hand of the tongue’? — It is in accord with Rava; for Rava said: He who wants to live [can find life] through the tongue; he who wants to die [can find death] through the tongue.

The two birds are to be seen as us, the participants of the speaking: the public brings the sacrifice, someone died - the one who was spoken of - and someone escaped: the one that got tzara'at and now has done teshuvah.

Dena Weiss, Mechon Hadar:

"The ritual forces the one who watches it to vicariously experience the cruelty of their words. One bird, the person who speaks evil, chirps and lives at the expense of the person who dies on account of those words. One who speaks lashon hara is effectively experiencing what the live bird experiences, wallowing in the pain of another being and then flying away. This other bird did not deserve to be killed, it did not die for good reason, and were it not for the divine intervention of the tzara’at , it would have flown away with impunity.


It is especially the case with lashon hara that the perpetrator needs to come face to face with their actions, because part of what makes lashon hara so easy to engage in is that it takes place behind the back of its victims. When I speak ill of someone else, I don’t see the effect that my carelessness or maliciousness has on them. I don’t see their face fall, I don’t see the panic that flashes in their eyes, and I certainly don’t see the effect that my words can have months or years down the line."