What Was Tzaras?
What exactly was Tzaras? The bottom line explanation is that it is not leprosy. Many people tend to translate it as such, however, the commentators provide many proofs that Tzaras cannot be the gruesome and highly contagious disease called leprosy.
1- We remove everything form the house before the Kohen proclaims the Tzaras Tamey. If it were contagious, how could we do this, certainly everything in the house should be destroyed?! Also, Chazal tell us that many people got Tzaras on their homes so that they would find and keep the treasures hidden in their walls.
2- If a Chosson or Kallah seem to be showing signs of Tzaras, we do not look at it during Sheva Berachos. Additionally, during the three Regalim, we do not check on Negaim.
3- If one’s entire body is filled with Tzaras, he is Tahor!
4- We put the person with Tzaras into confinement, however, leprosy requires much fresh air to recover from.
So what is it? Tzaras is a spiritual malady brought on by a number of sins and most dominantly by Lashon Hara (See Arachin 16a).
Silence and Speech
וצוה הכהן ולקח למטהר שתי ציפורים (יד:ד).
“The Kohen shall command to take two birds for the person receiving his atonement” (14:4).
As part of the purification process of the metzorah, the leper, he must bring two birds. Rashi tells us that the reason is based on the fact that leprosy comes as a punishment for speaking lashon hara, slanderous speech. This is an act of “chatter,” thus, he must bring chatter-filled birds, as his atonement. The question is: Wouldn’t one bird suffice to convey this message, why does the Torah require that two birds be brought for the purification process?
Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried (author of the Kitzur Shulchun Aruch, 1804-1886) finds a beautiful and relevant message in the requirement of two birds and explains the following. The Gemara in Chullin (89a) states that man’s job when dealing with people is to make sure to keep his negative speech silent! However, when it comes to Torah learning, on the contrary, he is encouraged to speak up! With this prerequisite we are now prepared to understand the lesson of the birds!
We are taught that the purpose of bringing korbanos, sacrifices, was to awaken in the donor’s heart the recognition that the process being done to the animal should have really been performed on him. From the slaughtering until the burning, one would observe the process while contemplating how if not for Hashem’s mercy which granted him the chance for repentance and allowed this animal to be his replacement, this should have been him!
This being the case, when the metzorah brings one chirping bird for atonement and watches it get slaughtered, he will be left with the impression that all talk should be totally avoided! After all, this must be the reason for slaughtering the chatterbox creature. However, this is not the proper perspective. There are many times when speech is appropriate and even a mitzvah, like in the learning of Torah and in performing chessed, kindness, for others! In fact, the Gemara teaches us that the best atonement for one who spoke lashon hara (evil slander) is precisely to use his mouth for Torah learning! He thus brings a second bird to set this straight. Let us explain further.
Life and Death
Mishlei (18:21) states, “life and death depend on the mouth!” These two options (life and death) are exactly congruent with the two types of speech and the two birds. One bird is slaughtered reminiscent of the fact that misused speech causes harm and death. The second bird which he brought is sent away to fly free to live out the rest of its life pleasantly. This signifies that good speech brings life. The metzorah is thus shown very powerfully that he must carefully train himself to use his gift of speech properly.
Open and Closed
The Chafetz Chaim expresses this same principle revolving around the me’il, tunic, of the Kohen Gadol. The hem contained ornate pomegranate and bells. The golden bells represent positive Torah speech, connoting that one’s words should be loud and heard! However, if one wishes to express words which are negative, then follow the example of the pomegranate, a closed silent ball! The verse commanding the making of this vestment concludes, “and the wearer shall be heard when he enters the holy domain.” The Chafetz Chaim reads this verse in a homiletical manner to teach us that one who exercises proper speech will merit that Hashem will accept his prayers and Torah learning in heaven!
This is the lesson of the two birds, to know when to be silent and when to speak up!
Peace and Respect
The Torah tells us that one who suffered from tzaras had to go through an atonement process when the tzaras began to get smaller. The beginning verse in our Parsha states that when the Metzora thought that he was ready to be reexamined by the Kohen (14:2) “…the Metzora should go out to the Kohen.” The next verse seems to contradict this by saying, “The Kohen should go out to see him (the Metzora). What is going on here, should the leper go to the Kohen, or should the Kohen come to him?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l says that from here we learn an important lesson in life. Both the leper and the Kohen should focus on their part in what they have a responsibility to do! They should both go out to greet each other! Rav Moshe states that this is an important lesson in many situations in life.
Rabbi Chaim Volozin explains in Avos (1:12) what it means to be a follower of Aharon HaKohen and to ‘love peace and pursue peace’. What do the Mishna and the verse (Tehillim 34:15) mean by “love peace and run after it”? He says that we should try our best to do our part in seeking solutions and ways to work with others. What happens when we feel that the other party is not doing their part? The verse and Mishna tell us, “pursue peace anyway!” That is what is meant by the stressing of “run after peace!” Continue to uphold and stay true to your moral and ethical character commitments! This is a hard task and certainly expresses greatness on the part of Aharon and anyone who emulates him!
Indeed, Chazal (Taanis 4a) tell us that when Yiftach accidently swore to give his daughter as a sacrifice to Hashem, he had a simple solution to remedy his mistake. He should have had his vow annulled by the Jewish leader Pinchas. But alas this never happened. Yiftach said, “Pinchus should come to me, after all, I am the Chief Judge of the Jewish Nation.” Pinchus refused to go stating, “Yiftach should come to me, after all, I am the Chief Prophet of the Jewish Nation.” And between the two of them Yiftach’s daughter was lost. Chazal say that both of them were badly punished for although each felt that they intended their front for the sake of heaven, nevertheless, their personal ego prevented them from doing what was right. Yiftach died a painful death in which his body dislodged one limb at a time and Pinchus lost his prophetic abilities.
The significance of these two punishments is understood in light of the nature of their sin. The Jewish Nation is seen as one body, where each person is part of the special nation and serves his or her unique function just as the body is made up of diverse limbs and functions. Yiftach was not properly in line with this perspective and he saw himself as an individual who was separate and better than others. Hashem therefore punished him correspondingly by separating limbs from his physical body. Pinchas was the illustrious grandson of Aharon HaKohen and was expected to embody the traits of his grandfather. When he showed himself to be lacking in that department, he lost the privilege of divine prophesy. Being close to Hashem is a privilege that is awarded to those that are willing to open their hearts and respect others. When Pinchus closed his heart to another Jew and did not act with proactive alacrity in order to help someone in need, he lost his connection to Hashem. We can assume that both Yiftach and Pinchus recognized their mistake and repented for it, and their lesson carries on and teaches us the importance of doing our part. May we all merit to emulate Aharon’s love and pursuit of peace.