Thursday, May 15, 2014
Metzora- Spiritual Affliction
Zot tihyeh torat hamtzora byom taharato vhuva el hakohein.
This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing, and he will be brought to the kohain. (Vayikra 14:2)
The first words I saw when I opened the Chumash this week was the phrase “Purification of a Leper.” In our world, leprosy, properly called Hansen’s Disease, is easily curable with medication. This was not always the case. In the past, leprosy was viewed as a punishment from God. Causing numbness, especially in the extremities, leprosy leads to the loss of body parts through repeated injury and secondary infection. It leaves a visible marring of the body, which cannot be hidden from the general public. It therefore carries with it a social stigma well beyond the medical issue.
It is likely that metzora is not the leprosy we know today. Lepra in Greek, the translation encompasses a large number of diseases, which may have included true leprosy, but more likely, was closer to other skin ailments which produce scaling. Nevertheless, in the Torah, leprosy, metzora, was certainly seen as a contagious ritual problem. It was a physical manifestation of an internal blemish. Lepers are sent out of the camp for fear of contagion, both physical and spiritual, but it is also viewed as curable. This is where the attitude of the Torah is special. Rather than shutting lepers away to be forever separated from the community, they are cared for and treated by the kohanim. Sacrifices are offered; teshuvah is made. If the leper can be cured, s/he will be welcomed back into the community without disgrace or dishonour.
The most famous incident of leprosy in the Torah is Miriam, who is struck with it after speaking against Moshe (B’midber 12:1-15), although God inflicts Moshe briefly with it at the burning bush as a show of His power. The word metzora, is assumed by the Midrash to stand for motzei shem ra, a punishment for slander or libel. Leprosy goes beyond a skin affliction. The leprosy of the Torah can also afflict fabric and houses. Rambam views this as a progression. They are warning signs. The affliction appears in the slanderer’s clothing or home. If s/he repents, all can be washed clean. However, if s/he continues to sin, the affliction becomes permanent. The cloth burned or the house demolished. If s/he continues, the leprosy moves into the person him/herself.
While leprosy in the Torah is a specific ailment, which has little effect upon us today, our mental, emotional and spiritual states have a strong effect upon on physical bodies. Stress and distress can first show in our outward appearance, our grooming. They affect our abilities to maintain organization in our homes and offices that goes beyond the messy desk. Eventually, they affect our physical health. Each piece is a warning sign for individuals and the community around them. We can turn a blind eye, or, we an act as the kohanim. We can care for and work with those who need us to aid their, or our own recovery.