The affliction of Tzara’at manifests itself in a number of different ways, one of which is referred to by the Torah as “Tzara’at noshenet,” or “old tzara’at.” (Vayikra 13:11). The skin becomes infected in the same manner as it does with standard Tzara’at, but in this case, a scab has begun forming within the infected area. The Torah declares such an infection as Tzara’at that had infected the skin earlier, and has since begun to slightly heal, thus accounting for the scab.
Based on a dvar torah written by R’ David Silverberg, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l teaches an important lesson from this manifestation of Tzara’at. Upon seeing the growth of new, restorative skin, the individual is led to believe that the infection does not constitute true Tzara’at. After all, the affected area has already begun healing. The Torah, however, tells us otherwise. For any amount of time as the infection has not completely healed, it cannot be dismissed; the individual is a metzora. Tzara’at noshenet symbolizes a situation in which we find “bright spots” or mitigating factors within our faults. We sometimes take a look at our actions and parts of our personalities and find negative qualities, but we are tempted to excuse these deficiencies as soon as we can identify some alleviating factor, justification, or even a positive byproduct of these shortcomings. The Torah teaches us that an infection remains an infection even when accompanied by some healthy skin. Faults are still faults, even if we can find some good associated therewith. The task, therefore, is to spend time working on ourselves, mining the root causes of any negative qualities that persist, and act in a way that is always purely intentioned and properly carried out.
Another interesting lesson learned from the laws of Tzara’at is found in Gemara Shabbos. Perek 13:45 in Tazria says:
וְהַצָּרוּעַ אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ הַנֶּגַע בְּגָדָיו יִהְיוּ פְרֻמִים וְרֹאשׁוֹ יִהְיֶה פָרוּעַ וְעַל-שָׂפָם יַעְטֶה וְטָמֵא טָמֵא יִקְרָא
Gemara Shabbos 67a says:
וטמא טמא יקרא – צריך להודיע צערו לרבים ורבים יבקשו עליו רחמים
From the usage of “yikra”, the Gemara learns that when a person is afflicted with Tzara’at, the nation is to be made aware, and the people must subsequently pray for the afflicted individual.
Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus references a concept in Gemara Brachos 12b (learned out from a passuk in Shmuel I):
כל שאפשר לו לבקש רחמים על חבירו ואינו מבקש – נקרא חוטא
Anyone who is able to ask for mercy for his friend, and does not ask, is called a ‘sinner’.
Being labeled a choteh/sinner is a rather serious thing. The importance of praying for a friend in need is underscored by the harsh outcome of not doing so. How interesting that specifically from the sin of lashon hara, which has the terrible potential to tear relationships and communities apart, chas v’shalom, we learn the requirement to pray for another; specifically an individual who committed the damaging act. We might think this is the last person who is deserving of collective prayer and concern, but in fact, it is just the opposite.
Given the enormity of the need to pray for the metzora, perhaps there is more than just one purpose for the collective prayer for this individual. The obvious reason to pray for the metzora so that he/she will be cured. Additionally, we pray not only for the “infection” of the skin to be physically cured, but also that the root cause of the lashon hara – jealousy, anger, insecurity, voyeurism, boredom, etc. – be cured as well. The cause of (and pervasiveness of) lashon hara, is obviously not isolated to this individual; everyone in the community is susceptible to fall victim to such pitfalls, and so the more we care about one another, the less likely we all are to speak ill of each other.
Furthermore, while the metzora must be taken outside the camp due to his/her transgression, ultimately our goal is not to exile a person indefinitely. There is a concept that every person in Klal Yisrael serves a special purpose, which only that individual capable of fulfilling. Despite the terrible sin of lashon hara that was committed, we pray for the person to be cured and rejoin the community, so that the community may once again be complete and benefit from all the positive qualities and value this person has to offer.
One final thought, going back to the beginning of the parsha which speaks about circumcising a baby boy on the eighth day from birth (Vayikra 12:3). I was tasked this week with trying to explain the merits of having a ritual circumcision to a Jewish co-worker of mine who is expecting his first child in a few months. Hopefully I was successful, but it reminded me of a story once read about Rav Chaim Berlin. Rav Chaim would often read Shir HaShirim on Chol HaMoed Pesach, and when he came to the 15th passuk in the first chapter, year after year, he would burst into tears. The verse reads:
He was once asked why that passuk caused such an intense response. In short, he said that when he was the rav in Moscow he was approached by a Jew to perform a circumcision for his son. This Jew had made a living selling Christian items, had zero affiliation with other Jews in Moscow, and could be killed if it was ever discovered that he was Jewish. Rav Chaim went to the home, which was filled with Christian relics and had no semblance of anything Jewish. A few days later, Rav Chaim asked that the father come see him to tell him how the child was doing. Rav Chaim asked the father why he was moser nefesh to perform a Bris Milah. The father broke down and said although he was no longer a practicing Jew, and that it seemed unlikely that his newborn son would ever be exposed to much Judaism, he at least had a chance to be connected to Judaism, because he grew up in a Jewish home. The father didn’t want to deprive his son of the opportunity to be a proper member of the community should the son decide to do so someday in the future.
Rav Chaim said that from this he understood the seemingly redundant wording in Shir HaShirim and how that connects to doves. Chazal explain the repetition of, “You are fair,” by saying that the first one refers to before we sin, and the second one refers to after we sin. What is the fairness/beauty after the sin? The answer is found in the next words, “Your eyes are as doves.” A dove, unlike other birds, will never fly so far away from her nest that she can’t navigate her way back. A Jew has this quality, that even when he sins and “flies” far from the Source (no matter how big/small the sin or how near/far he wanders), hopefully he is never too far to find his his way home, and hopefully when he does find his way back, (perhaps similar to the metzora who we are to pray for and whose return to the community we eagerly await) he is greeted with open arms.