SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, 22 April 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Torah in Parashat Tazria presents the various laws relevant to the metzora – a person who is determined to have been stricken with a tzara’at infection on his body – including the requirement to announce his status of impurity (“ve-tamei tamei yikra” – 13:45).  The Gemara in Masekhet Mo’ed Katan (5a) explains that this requirement is intended not only to ensure that people avoid physical contact with the metzora so as not to become impure, but also so that people would pray for him.  The metzora is to inform people of his misfortune in order to arouse their sympathy and move them to beseech God to cure him of his condition.

            Tzara’at is famously understood as a punishment visited upon a person for the sin of lashon ha-ra – excessively gossiping and disseminating negative information about people.  Lashon ha-ra is commonly the product of arrogance and condescension, the feeling that one is superior to others, which leads him to speak negatively about people in order to establish this sense of superiority.  Sharing information about other people’s mistakes, faults and failings is a way we seek to cover for our own shortcomings and feel more comfortable about ourselves.  The requirement imposed upon the metzora to ask others to pray on his behalf may perhaps be understood in this light.  Asking people to pray for him demonstrates to the metzora the value and worth of all prayers, regardless of who offers it.  The metzora is shown that God welcomes, cherishes and takes into consideration the prayers recited by any individual.  The Torah requires him to announce his condition to all people because all people’s prayers are valuable – and this is precisely the lesson that the metzora, the gossiper, needs to learn.  God cherishes every person’s prayers because, quite simply, He cherishes every person.  He lovingly welcomes our prayers despite our faults and our wrongdoing, keenly aware of our innate imperfections and the frailty of the human condition.  By recognizing just how much the Almighty values every person’s prayer, the metzora learns that he, too, can and must value and cherish every person, that he must look beyond other people’s mistakes, weaknesses and failings and see the greatness and virtue of each and every individual, so he will go around and speak of their praise, rather than continuing to spread unflattering information about them.