TAZRIA (Leviticus, 12:1-13:58)/HACHODESH (Exodus, 12:1-20) — “A Taste of His Own Medicine”


This Shabbos will be a very busy one in the synagogues of the world.  As is done every regular Saturday, we will read the weekly Torah Portion.   Then we will continue preparing ourselves for Passover by opening a second Torah scroll and reading the Torah Portion that announces the advent of the Month of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish year.  (See “Nissan Maximum” and “Double Dating”.)

“A Taste of His Own Medicine”

Of the manymisunderstood portions of the Torah, this is way up there in the distortion department.

This week’s reading deals primarily with the diagnosis and treatment of “Tzora’as,” leprosy in its various forms.  When a person finds a suspicious growth on his skin, he is required to submit to an examination by a Kohain/Priest.  Depending upon the results of this priestly analysis, the patient is cleared, isolated until further examination, or quarantined as a leper.

Many have praised the wisdom of the ancient Hebrews in realizing the importance of isolating patients with communicable diseases.  The leper was segregated from the Camp of Israel, dressed in a way that clearly identified him as contagious, and would announce “Unclean!  Unclean!” to anyone who approached.  (Leviticus, 13:45) How insightful of the Israelites in the desert to realize that they could prevent an epidemic by keeping people with infectious diseases away from the general population.

Except for one problem.  It makes no sense!

A great rabbi was once told about the virtues of a particular doctor.  “He’s very devout,” the rabbi was told.  “He gets up at dawn and prays at sunrise every day.  He studies Talmud every day and maintains the strictest level of Kashrus in his home.”

“That’s all very nice,” said the rabbi.  “But tell me, is he a good doctor?”

Why would a person who suspects he has leprosy call a Kohain instead of a doctor?  Also, who ever heard of a garment developing a leprous growth, or even a house, as described in next week’s Torah Portion?

Obviously, if we want to understand the leprosy described in the Torah, we need to look beyond the medical books.  “Tzora’as” is actually a spiritual disease, not a physical one.  It is a message from Heaven that we need to improve ourselves.  That is why we call the Kohain.  A doctor can tell us about nutrition and hygiene, but a Kohain’s job is to teach us how to get closer to G-d.

So why the quarantine?  If Tzora’as is a spiritual malady, a tap on the shoulder from G-d, why does that have to do with anyone else?  If G-d is sending a message to a “sinner,” why would that affect anyone else?

The Talmud tells us that the disease of Tzora’as is a punishment for Loshon Hora, gossip.  When Miriam spoke against her brother Moses, she was struck with “leprosy.”  When Moses accused the Children of Israel of not having sufficient faith in G-d, G-d punished him by making his hand leprous.  Tzora’as is a message from G-d that we are sinning with gossip.

And what a powerful message it is!  When we gossip, when we shoot verbal arrows at our fellow humans, we are, in effect, putting them into isolation.  When we spread rumors about people, we sometimes cause the subject of our chatter to be spurned and ostracized.  Once I tell you what a terrible person so-and-so is, you will avoid him and treat him like a pariah.

What better lesson from G-d, what clearer consequence could there be for the gossiper, than to find out personally what it feels like to be on the outside looking in?  The Torah tells the gossiper, “Now YOU will sit outside of the Camp of Israel.  People will avoid YOU!  Next time you will think twice before you open your mouth to speak against another person.”


Words Can Kill!

Israel is currently involved in a struggle that threatens her very survival.  And the weapons used against her are not of a military variety; the real weapons are much more insidious.  The Palestinians are waging a war of words – and they are winning.

When CNN reports the legitimate return of fire at terrorists trying to murder innocent people as a “renewed breakout of hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians,” they tell the world that the two sides in this conflict are of equal guilt.  Even worse, many in the media portray Israel as trampling on the “legitimate rights” of the individuals who are out to destroy Israel.  And the more the world reads, hears, and sees misreporting of the events in Israel, the more public opinion turns against us – and the harder it becomes to maintain U.S. support for Israel.

Much like the leper of this week’s Torah reading, Israel is being ostracized due to harmful words being uttered against her.


Bring Peace to the Middle East

The Torah teaches us that the leper contracts this spiritual disease as a result of sinning with his tongue and making the subject of his gossip into a “virtual leper.” G-d repays the sinner “midah k’negged midah – measure for measure.”

But the concept of “measure for measure” works with reward as well as punishment.  When we do a Mitzvah, G-d rewards us in kind.  Perhaps it’s time for us to fight our own war of words.  Every time we feel like saying something negative about someone, let’s stop a moment and think…do I really want to speak against my fellow Jew and cause others to look at him with disdain?  Would I want someone to do it to me?  How do I feel when the media do it to the State of Israel?

Perhaps if we can learn to use restraint in our words about other people, G-d will reward us by protecting our People from the bitter and vile war of words against us.

It may not bring Peace to our Homeland, but it will certainly bring peace to our homes.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.



Some years the two Torah Portions of Tazria and Metzora are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths.  For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:

Links to Tazria:

“A Taste of His Own Medicine” (2011)

… Many have praised the wisdom of the ancient Hebrews in realizing the importance of isolating patients with communicable diseases.  The leper was segregated from the Camp of Israel, dressed in a way that clearly identified him as contagious, and would announce“Unclean!  Unclean!” to anyone who approached. (Leviticus, 13:45) How insightful of the Israelites in the desert to realize that they could prevent an epidemic by keeping people with infectious diseases away from the general population.

Except for one problem.  It makes no sense!…

Read more


“Dueling Brisses” (2010)

What do you do when you have conflicting responsibilities?

A Mohel once asked Rabbi Moshe Feinstein whether he should perform a Bris on Saturday if the people attending the Bris are desecrating the Sabbath (turning on lights, etc.) in his presence…

Read more


“Blood Libel 2005” (2005)

I really didn’t want to write this article.

Often, the best way to react to negative PR is to ignore it.  When you respond to ugly accusations, you sometimes exacerbate the problem by giving a forum to a topic that does not deserve one.  I hoped that the story would die down and go away.  Therefore, I chose to remain silent.

Ironically, this terrible tragedy has been great for business…

Read more


“Timing” (2003)

… I approached Rabbi F’s son with a “business proposition.”  I asked him to lend me his father’s knives, to be used “in memory” of his father. … he lovingly took his father’s two Bris knives out of their cases.  Imagine the nostalgia he must have felt!  He was happy that his father’s knives were going to be used once again, and I was honored to be the vehicle through whom they were to be used… After the sterilization cycle was finished, I opened the autoclave, and took a look.  To my horror, I discovered…

Now what was I going to do?  My friend had lent me his father’s knives in good faith, and I had ruined them! …

Read more


“No ‘Short Cuts’ to the Bris” (2002)

There is an interesting dispute between two great rabbis in the Talmud…Rabbi Eliezer is of the opinion that one may do whatever needs to be done in order to facilitate a Shabbos Bris… if Rabbi Eliezer were living today, he would permit a Mohel to get into his car on a Saturday morning and drive to the Bris…

[PLEASE NOTE: RABBI ELIEZER’S OPINION IS NOT ACCEPTED.  Any Mohel who would drive to a Saturday Bris is considered a Sabbath violator, and should be disqualified from performing Brisses ANY DAY of the week.]…

Read more


Link to Metzora:

“A Pox on NONE of Your Houses” (2011)

… This spiritual disease can only happen in the Land of Canaan/Israel.  It never happened in the desert.  The Land of Israel is very sensitive to sin.  When people engage in activities to which the Land is “allergic,” the Land “breaks out” with an “infection.”

So there’s a simple solution.  Stay out of Israel!  Who needs these threats to our financial well-being?  Forget the house in Israel; buy a condo in Miami!  It’s safer.  No wall stains, no Kohain visits, no quarantines!  Why would anyone want to subject themselves to this threat?…

Read more


This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published on April 1, 2011 at 10:35 am  Leave a Comment  

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