Tazria / Metzora 5781


The difference between a Metzora and a Kohen[1]

אדם וגו’ והיה בעור-בשרו לנגע צרעת והובא אל-אהרן הכהן או אל-אחד מבניו הכהנים: ויצא הכהן אל-מחוץ למחנה וראה הכהן והנה נרפא נגע-הצרעת מן-הצרוע
When a person…develops a tzara’as affliction on their skin, he shall be brought to Aharon the Kohen, or to one of his sons, the Kohanim… The Kohen shall go outside the camp and he shall see, and behold! The afflicted person’s tzara’as affliction has healed![2]

This week’s double parsha mostly deals with the laws of tzara’as, most commonly translated as leprosy. While being a whitish skin condition, in reality it’s a totally unrelated spiritual malady[3] with physical symptoms. Chazal tell us[4] that someone who contracts tzara’as, known as a Metzora[5], usually committed a certain sin[6]. One example is that of loshon hara, evil speech. As a result of his sin, he is infected with a disturbing skin condition, and has to have his status established by a Kohen. If the Kohen determines he is spiritually pure, then he is. The opposite is also true.

We find an interesting inconsistency with this topic. At first, before this guy is diagnosed, the Torah says that the person with the skin affliction should be brought to the Kohen[7]. However, in the second parsha, dealing with his purification, it says that the Kohen shall go to him. Why is it that before he is diagnosed, he has to go to the Kohen, but to confirm he is healed the Kohen has to go to the Metzora?

After the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Hashem made cloaks from hides for Adam and his wife[8], referred to as כתונות עור. Interestingly, the Targum[9] translates this as לבושי דיקר, clothes of honour. Meaning, the hides, עור, were purified so much until they became the homonym אור, meaning light. They were given clothes of light. Even more fascinating, is we find the Targum also translates[10] the holy clothing of the Kohanim as לבושי דיקר. What can we learn from this phenomenon[11]?

Now, how should we look at this sinner who spoke loshon hara? Not only did he fail to purify his “cloaks of hides” into “clothes of light”, but he even damaged and afflicted his very own skin. He spoke loshon hara and developed tzara’as. As such, it’s only fitting that he should go to the Kohen, and not vice-versa. His visit should serve as a rebuke to himself. Look how far apart these two are. This person scorned his skin and contaminated himself, whereas Aharon elevated himself. He started off as a regular person who became so holy and sanctified until he earned the “clothes of honor” of the Kohanim. Even though after Aharon passed away the Metzora would be only traveling to one of his descendants, still, the Kohanim managed to retain their lofty level and not ruin it. Therefore, when this guy becomes afflicted, it makes sense for him to go to the Kohanim.

Eventually, his affliction will heal due to his repentance. The Torah says that ונרפא נגע הצרעת מן הצרוע, the tzara’as affliction will be healed from the Metzora. What is this latter part adding? After introspecting about his failures and committing to improve, he’s a different person. It’s coming to teach us that the Metzora himself is healed, not just his skin. Due to his repentance, our Sages tell us[12] that all of his sins are now considered merits. He is now greater than a righteous person who never sinned[13]. Now, all he needs is the Kohen to affirm his purification. This time however, the Kohen is to go to the Metzora. The Kohen, who is only a regular righteous person, needs to learn a lesson from this Metzora who repented. Now that he is healed, he is greater than the Kohen. This unbelievable sight should inspire the Kohen to even greater heights. His journey to perfection could inspire us all.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Chasam Sofer’s Toras Moshe I to Leviticus 13:2

[2] Leviticus loc. cit. and 14:3

[3] See Mishneh Torah Hilchos Tumas Tzara’as 16:10

[4] Arachin 16; Vayikra Rabbah 16:1

[5] מצורע, a contraction of מוציא שם רע, someone who causes a bad name (Arachin 15b)

[6] Besides loshon hara, the consensus is that murder and haughtiness cause tzara’as (ibid). Arachin 16a adds oaths in vain, illicit relations, theft and stinginess to the list, whereas Vayikra Rabbah loc. cit. cites lying, thinking about sins, running to do sins, and giving false testimony (citing Proverbs 6:17-19 as the source)

[7] Besides the above verse, it also says this in ibid 14:2. However, that second time is referring to when the person has already been declared a Metzora. They have to be brought to the Kohen to become purified. Interestingly, the Da’as Zekeinim ad loc. point out that since the Metzora has to be separated from society, there’s no one who can bring him. Therefore, the term והובא there is to be read והוא בא, and he’ll come (on his own)

[8] Genesis 3:21

[9] Ad. loc.

[10] See Targum Onkelos to Exodus 28:2

[11] The Chasam Sofer cites this insight into the Targum from Shenei Luchos HaBris Torah Sh’B’Kesav parshas Tazria – Metzora Torah Ohr § 3

[12] Yoma 86b, assuming he repented out of love

[13] במקום שבעלי תשובה עומדים אין צדיקים גמורים יכולים לעמוד (Berachos 34b). The Chasam Sofer seems to be saying the reason for this is because the ba’al teshuvah’s sins became merits, which the righteous person can never acquire. He’s not the only one who makes this connection. It’s also made by the Chida in his Kisei Dovid Derush LeShabbos Shuvah § 13 s.v. נמשך מזה and Devarim Achadim Derush LeShabbos HaGadol § 14 s.v. אך לטעם המפרשים, as well as the Dubna Maggid in his Kochav Ya’akov Haftaras VaEschanan to Isaiah 40:2