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by Efraim Levine

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The kohen shall see and behold the affliction of tzaraas has been healed from the person with tzaraas. (Vayikra 14:20)

In this week’s parsha we learn about the purification process of the metzorah. After the kohen declares the metzora tahor he is required to prepare two birds. One bird is slaughtered. A piece of cedar, hyssop and wool are bound and dipped together with the living bird in the blood of the dead bird. The blood is sprinkled upon the metzorah and then the living bird is sent off to freedom in the field. At this point the metzora shaves all his hair and immerses in a mikvah. He is allowed to enter the camp but may not enter his tent. Seven days later he shaves, immerses in a mikvah, brings a set of karbanos and then returns fully to society.

Rav Shimon Shwaab in his sefer Me’ain Beis Hash’o’ei’vah takes note of the unusual words in the posuk. The posuk reads “and behold the affliction of tzaraas has been healed from the tzaruah.” Rav Shwaab asks if the tzaraas has been healed why does the Torah continue to refer to him as the tzaruah. In answer to this question Rav Shwaab notes the following: In many instances in Tanach and Chazal, tzaraas appears to be a severely dangerous and contagious disease. Many suggest that is what we know today as leprosy. However, it is also clear form other sources in Tanach and Chazal that tzaraas is purely a spiritual disease. It is a sign form Hashem that one had sinned. This Divine disease only existed when the Jewish people were on a great spiritual level like at the time when the Torah was given through the era of the Beis Hamikdash.

In answer to this contradiction Rav Swaab suggests that in truth there are two types of tzaraas, a physical one and a spiritual one. It is certainly possible to contract the physical tzaraas without the spiritual one. This is the form of the disease that we know today. It may also be possible to contract the spiritual disease without the physical one. However it appears that it was normal that the spiritual form of the disease accompanies the physical one. The posuk here is discussing an individual who contracted both forms of the disease. However, at this time the kohen declares that the spiritual form of the disease has been healed although the physical one remains. Therefore, because the physical disease is still present the posuk continues to call him a tzaruah because he still suffers from the physical form of the disease. The posuk is thus interpreted as follows: Behold the spiritual disease has left the individual who is still afflicted with the physical disease.

Using this idea let us elaborate on the purification process of the metzorah. In the prayer that we recite on behalf of the sick we ask Hashem to send a healing to the nefesh and a healing to the body. What is the meaning of this double request? The commentators explain that every physical sickness is a reflection of a spiritual deficiency. Ideally a sick person should go to a prophet or great Torah scholar and seek the spiritual deficiency that is the root cause of his physical ailment. After correcting this spiritual deficiency the physical illness or disease will automatically depart. One need not focus at all on the physical aspect of the sickness for this is completely dependent on the spiritual deficiency. Obviously, in our times we are not on the spiritual level to adopt such an attitude. Indeed the halachah is that we are obligated to seek the best doctors possible and focus on the physical illness. However, our prayers allude to the ideal attitude we must have. We request that Hashem send a healing to the soul and then to the body. We express our belief that if the spiritual ailment is cured automatically the physical body will be healed as well.

We may suggest that the metzorah teaches us exactly this concept. The individual discussed in the posuk is afflicted with two forms of the disease, the physical and the spiritual. The physical condition in of itself is dangerous. It requires quarantine and treatment so as not to infect others. However, the source of this sickness is the spiritual deficiencies, which are manifested in the spiritual form of the disease. In addition to his physical treatments this individual is excommunicated by the kohen as a means of awakening him to repent for his sins that are the true source of his physical suffering. The primary disease is the spiritual one. When this will be cured the physical leprosy will depart automatically.

After the kohen declares this individual tahor he must prepare two birds. Let us suggest that the first bird represents the spiritual sickness and the second represents the physical sickness. The first bird, which represents the spiritual sickness is slaughtered. This is symbolic of the fact that this individual has successfully eradicated his spiritual shortcomings. The living bird is symbolic of the physical sickness. The living bird is dipped it in the blood of the dead bird and then sent away. Symbolically this conveys that when the spiritual sickness departs, the physical sickness can depart on its own without any suffering at all. The Torah is emphasizing that ideally what one must focus on the spiritual sickness. The physical sickness will effortlessly fly away as a living bird, once the blood of spiritual sickness is eliminated.

The individual is now permitted to enter the camp but may not enter his tent. Once the spiritual sickness is eliminated, he no longer requires spiritual excommunication. However, as long as his physical sickness remains he must stay away from his tent so as not to spread his physical illness. After seven days he may cleanse himself, bring his karbanos and resume a normal life. The Torah here guarantees that after seven days of eliminating the spiritual sickness the physical sickness will depart. Chazal explain that seven days is symbolic of physical time. In this context the posuk conveys that after the being declared tahor by the kohen, the time of physical healing is guaranteed to commence. Soon after, he will return to normal life.


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Efraim Levine 5761/2001