Parshat Metzora

Parshat Metzora opens with a presentation of the healing and cleansing procedures for the enigmatic plague of leprosy (zara’at). The opening sentences at first sight seem straight forward. “This will be the law of the Metzora (leper) on the day of his purification, and he shall be brought to the Cohen, and the Cohen will come out of the camp. The Cohen shall look and behold – the tzara’at has been healed from the zarua,” and then the Torah continues to the various cleansing and sacrificial procedures.

More careful study of the text, raises several questions, and here are just some of them:-

– Why does the Torah open in the future tense “this will be the law” not the usual this is the law?

– The person is brought to the Cohen but then why does the Cohen need to go out to him?

– Why does the Torah say “the tzara’at (leprosy) has been healed from the zarua (leper),” rather than the leprosy has been healed from the person, as in the last Parsha?

As discussed last week, the opinion of most of our sages is that zara’at is more of a spiritual disease rather than a medical condition and in the main is a punishment for telling tales and as such the person is put in quarantine. Rav B H Epstein explains that here is the only time the term Metzora is used rather than “nega tzara’at” and in the Talmud Resh Lakish says that this is clearly the joining of the words “motzei shem ra” talking badly of someone. The concept of setting someone apart from the community is to give them time, in solitary, to contemplate changing their ways and this can take time. No one knows how long this will take, so that is why it is in the future tense.

The understanding of “he shall be brought to the Cohen” is explained by R Epstein not as he is physically brought to Cohen but he sends a message and lets it be known to the Cohen that wants to turn over a new leaf, and then the Cohen goes out of the town to help him. Others explain that he comes out of solitary and comes near to the town so as to make the Cohen’s task easier.

Now we can understand the phrase “and the zara’at has been healed form the zarua,” the healing process has come about through the person themselves. He has thought about the way he used to spread slanderous talk and has come his own realization while sitting there chewing his own thoughts, surmising that he must change his ways. The Cohen is not the healer, the person got himself into this mess, has had time to contemplate and wishes to turn over a new leaf. This is in many ways a self-centered healing process.

Interestingly the Chassidic approach is to note that text opens “this will be the law of the Metzora” in Hebrew “ze torat hametzora,” the word “torat” hinting that in his confinement he sat and learned Torah and that was what helped him to change his mindset.

Talking of infectious diseases, measles which has been effectively controlled, has now become more widespread because for various reasons many object to vaccination. In uncanny timing with this week’s Parsha, a crisis was declared this week in New York, when the Mayor declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn, in an effort to contain the spread of highly infectious measles in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. He said that unvaccinated individuals would be required to receive the measles vaccine, or be subjected to a fine of up to $1000, as the city escalated its campaign to stem the outbreak. Apparently, the main concern is that the vaccine contains monkey, rat and pig DNA and cow blood serum which create an halachic challenge.

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