Parshat Tazria (2011)

Parshat Tazria
Leviticus 12:1 – 13:59

Gossip: The Worse Kind of Contagion

As my computer sadly passed away this week, it’s been hard to put a study together. But I came across this entry in an old blog from a few years ago that I found interesting and wanted to share with you: “ (April 2007) – This week was such a tiring week. Finally I got to spend the last few hours of shabbos kicking a back and considering where my heart is at. I guess for the first time this parsha is taking on some deeper meaning for me, so I just have to share it, this is my shabbos ‘quickie.’”

And Hashem spoke to Moses, saying

‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying:

If a woman conceives

and gives birth to a boy…’”

|Vayedaber Hashem el-Moshe lemor:

| Daber el-benei Yisra’el lemor:

| Ishah ki tazria

| veyaldah zachar…

Leviticus 12:1

Our parsha is named after this word, tazria, meaning “she conceives.” It begins this way because it takes up issues of ritual purity. It discusses three main means of ritual impurity: 1) childbirth, 2) skin condition, and 3) clothing. Our parsha begins by immediately touching on the first category.

For all my friends of kabbalistic (mystical) interest, I find it interesting that this parsha follows a ChaGaT (Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet) breakdown; the three central modalities of energy and mindset, and the pillars of kabbalistic cosmology. Childbirth, is an act of chesed (kindness); skin condition (leprosy), is a display of Gevurah/Din (Judgment); and clothing, as a display of Tiferet (harmony, understood as Mercy).

The first form of impurity is something that comes about by a pure form of chesed (loving kindness), through giving birth to a life that is conceived out of love and intimacy. It is caused by no fault at all, it merely is a natural occurrence of life. The second is by leprosy, which we understand to cause a noticeable impurity, and our sages understand it as directly connected to slander in our biblical narrative. The third is an impurity by clothing, it symbolizes to me the impurity that comes from tolerating an external wrong that can pollute us (turning a blind eye; being the enabler).

This week I want to just touch on one single point. I feel that explaining the issues of family purity concerning childbirth and such is best explained by a woman, as I have always been very impressed by the religious women of my community that enlightened me on these topics. I feel that I cannot do justice to it. And for lack of time I will not touch on the topic of impure clothing. I would like to examine the issue of contamination by skin condition.

When we discuss the topic of leprosy within the Torah we must understand that we are talking about something that is grave on heart level. We are not discussing the condition caused by the germ mycobacterium leprae, we are talking about an illness that starts on a spiritual level. This condition of leprosy is understood by our sages to be a physical manifestation of a spiritual defect being made manifest in the physical body. It is a symptom of a spiritual fault displayed in the body, in the same way a psychosomatic symptom is a display of an abnormality in the psyche. Furthermore our sages understood this as being a condition that occurred in people of a high spiritual intuition, they are so attuned to their spiritual state that their fault manifests in their body.

Our example of this is shown in Parshat BeHa’alotecha (see Numbers chapter 12), Miriam slanders Moses personally by speaking ill of his choice of a wife, and goes on to challenge his authority and connection to the Divine. She stands before the Presence of Hashem at the Tent of Meeting with her brothers Moses and Aaron, and when it lifts she is covered in leprosy. It is also supported by the Oral Torah; Rav Yohannan says in the name of Rav Yosef Ben Zimra that anyone who engages in lashon hara (slander, gossip) will be inflicted with tzaraat, a skin disease (leprosy).

Here in Parshat Tazria I got stuck on the key words, noticing I had never really examined them before. In Leviticus 13:2 we read:

If a person will have on the skin of his flesh

a se’et, or a sapachat, or a baheret,

and it is [suspect of being] a tzaraat (leprosy) on the skin

he shall be brought to Aaron

the Kohen (high priest) or one of his sons,

the priests.”

| Adam ki-yihyeh ve’or-besar

| se’et o sapachat o vaheret

| vehayah ve’or-besaro lenega tsara’at

| vehuva el-Aharon

| hakohen o el-achad mibanav

| hakohanim

All three of these forms of blemishes are spoken about by name, as terms without description. We are told here that each one of them should be examined to see if they are truly a tzaraat. In these three descriptions I see hints to three different types of negative personalities we should try to look out for lest we also be guilty of slander and gossip, negativity and verbal doubt:

  • Se-et(white blotch)– this category, like the other two are white blemishes (Lev. 13:10 ; and Talmud, Negaim 1:1); many sages suggest that the word is derived from the root nasa, which means “raised.” (variants of this word are used in Gensis 4:7; and 49:3) Despite this linguistic connection being made our sages by and large tell us that this does not mean the skin is raises, (Sifra, Rashi, GR”A, Ralbag, etc,) it merely appears to be elevated because the scar or blotch is opaque in color. This is like a person who thinks they are superior, that they are above their fellow, but in actuality its just an illusion.
  • Sepachat (discoloration) –the skin is slightly less white than a se’et (Shavuot 6b, Sifra, Radak)in this category the skin is actually raised; however, it is because it is a scab (Ibn Ezra) or there is an irruption under the skin, the mark is merely a manifestation of something wrong under the mark that is less noticeable. This is like a person who is puffed up in their personality, but it is merely an irruption of a scar or defect that cannot be seen on the surface; the outside looks relatively good in comparison to what’s beneath the surface.
  • Baheret(spot) – in Lev. 13:38-39 we explicitly see baheret described as a “spot,” Rashi confirms this. Ibn Ezra describes it as a highly visible spot, seen from a great distance. This is also reiterated by the Septuagint, which renders it as telaugema; a shinny spot visible from a great distance. It appears to be a indentation in the skin, however in Lev. 13:4 we see that it is merely an allusion of a penetration of the skin; this is because the skin in more translucent than the surrounding skin. This is like a person who slanders, showing exaggerated and baseless “wounds” that justify their negativity; they like to make it look worse than it really is.

If you haven’t figured out by now tzaraatis an infliction this is supposed to reflect the severity of gossip and slander; gossip is contagious like a disease, that we should look out for and stay clear of. It’s an affliction that is caused in order that one empathize with the hurt and pain that they have caused, its purpose is to cause the same form of alienation and irritation that evil words cause for others.

The Torah tells us the course of action once one suspect they are suffering from any one of these three traits; they are to allow themselves to be examined by the priests, and separated themselves from the community in order to purify themselves. So too on a personal level when we find these types of negative traits we must examine our ways and delve into soul searching repentance. We must, because left uncorrected these traits will inevitably only make us unable to approach people as a whole and dignified person!

Shabbat Shalom!

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