The process of a metzora’s purification, which the Torah outlines in the opening section of Parashat Metzora, concludes with the offering of special sacrifices in the Beit Ha-mikdash. The Torah requires the metzora to bring all the materials needed for these sacrifices and to stand “before the Lord, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” (14:11) – meaning, in the courtyard of the Mishkan, or, later, of the Beit Ha-mikdash.
The Gemara in Masekhet Pesachim (85b) notes the inherent problem with this requirement – that the metzora appear in the azara, the courtyard of the Temple. The metzora is considered tamei (ritually impure) until after the sacrifices are offered, and thus he is forbidden from entering the Temple courtyard until that point. How, then, can the Torah demand that the metzora bring the animals and materials into the azara, when he is still tamei?
The Gemara answers that one of the gates leading to the azara – sha’ar Nikenor – was erected with the intention that the width of the gate should not be included as part of the halakhic azara. The area underneath the other gates leading to the azara were all endowed with the status of sanctity conferred upon the azara itself, but the area of sha’ar Nikenor was excluded from this status, specifically to enable the metzora to fulfill his obligations. The Gemara teaches that the metzora would stand in the area of the gate, and, when the time came for the kohen to place sacrificial blood on the metzora’s finger, toe and earlobe – as the Torah requires as part of the purification ceremony (14:14) – the metzora would bring those parts of the body into the courtyard for this purpose.
Tosafot, in Masekhet Yevamot (7b), raise the question of why it was necessary to exclude sha’ar Nikenor from the sanctity of the azara for this purpose. After all, if the area of the gate was endowed with sanctity, the metzora could simply stand just outside the gate and then bring his finger, toe and earlobe into the area of the gate for the blood to be placed. What was gained by excluding the area of this gate from the sanctity of the azara so that the metzora could stand there?
Tosafot cite the Rivan (Rabbenu Yehuda ben Natan, a disciple and son-in-law of Rashi) as finding the answer in the term “lifnei Hashem” (“before the Lord”) in the verse cited above. The Torah requires that the metzora appear not merely in the azara, but “lifnei Hashem.” The Rivan suggested that although the area of the gates was endowed with the status of the azara, a person standing in those areas was not considered to be standing “before the Lord.” To stand “before the Lord,” the Rivan maintained, one needed to be inside the courtyard, and not in the gateway – even though the gateway also had the halakhic status of sanctity conferred upon the azara itself. Therefore, in order for the metzora to fulfill his requirement to stand “before the Lord,” one of the gates needed to be excluded from the halakhic area of the courtyard.
Tosafot dismiss this theory, arguing that one cannot distinguish between the azara’s halakhic status of sanctity and being present “lifnei Hashem.” Any area that has the formal halakhic status of the azara, Tosafot claim, is, by definition, considered “before the Lord.”
Tosafot proceed to cite a different answer in the name of Rabbeinu Tam, who explained, very simply, that this measure was taken for the benefit of metzora’im who would be able to stand under the gate and be protected from the elements. If they were forced to stand outside the gate, they would be exposed to the hot sun or rain. The decision was therefore made to exclude the area of sha’ar Nikenor from the formal sanctity of the azara, so that the metzora’im could be sheltered while their purification sacrifices were being offered.
Rabbeinu Tam’s comments perhaps remind us of the need to encourage and help those who seek “purification,” who wish to improve, to do what we can to make the process easier and more comfortable. Tradition teaches that those stricken with tzara’at were generally those who habitually committed grievous sins, for which they were punished and needed to undergo a difficult and uncomfortable process of purification. Nevertheless, at least according to Rabbeinu Tam, special measures were taken to minimize the discomfort. This perhaps teaches us that although there is never any easy way to “purify” oneself, to change and repent, we are to assist those who seek to undergo this process, offering whatever help and encouragement we can so that it will not be any more difficult that it needs to be.