Tazria-Metzora: Can Distance be a Remedy?
This week’s parsha details the affliction of tzar’at and what would happen to a person who gets tzar’at.
Tzar’at was a disease turned a person’s skin and even one’s clothes and house a deadly white, and would not go away until the person separated themselves from the community and lived outside the camp for at least a week, only re-entering after being cleared from the disease by a כהן.
The commentaries teach us that tzar’at was a punishment for the sin of lashon hara, literally “evil tongue” or speaking disparagingly about other people. For the crime of gossiping about fellow members of the community, the penalty is isolation.
The rabbis teach that the central mindset of a person engaging in lashon hara is a sense of superiority over others. This can also, paradoxically, come from emotions of feeling inferior to others and insecure, and trying to overcompensate by bringing others down. In either case, the punishment is separating oneself from the community.
Why would this be the case? What is the person supposed to learn?
Lashon hara, whether from ego or insecurity, comes from a lack of balance with one’s community. Someone who sees herself as truly part of a community would not disparage those around her.
Just as absence can make the heart grow fonder, as the saying goes, forced separation makes one realize the importance of community and the wrongness of lashon hara. The distance itself, antithetical to our values of Jewish community, is the only remedy for this situation.
We’re living in unique times to say the least, when we are physically separating ourselves from our community members and even loved ones. Those among us who are ill are even more isolated, in quarantine or in the hospital.
And yet, similarly to tzar’at, distancing ourselves because of this disease is both antithetical to our values of community and at the time the only remedy.
In fact, in this case distancing ourselves is the most important מצווה we can perform for each other both locally and globally to end this disease. People are coming together by staying apart, yet still managing to make sure kids are getting educated and the neediest among us are being served.
The ספורנו asks why we don’t have tzar’at these days, and answers that we are simply not on the high spiritual level that people were on in Biblical times. If we got tzar’at every time we said lashon hara, we would be chronically afflicted.
In a strange way, perhaps the fact that COVID-19 is striking the world at this time, when we have the tools to be more virtually connected than ever and the medical science to already be working on treatments and vaccines, proves that we are uniquely equipped to work together to prevail over this disease and bring our communities and the world to a better future.
Until then, stay safe and healthy, and have a Shabbat Shalom!
Questions for the שבת table:
- The cause of tzar’at in the parsha is lashon hara. Have you ever talked badly about someone because someone else was doing it? Why is that often an encouragement for us to engage in the same negative behavior?
- Why do you think that the punishment for talking badly about others in the תורה such a yucky and uncomfortable disease?