Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Metzora - 5774

My friends,

This week's Parasha continues the instructions from last week, regarding individuals who are not permitted to enter the Temple while they are impure, and what causes their impurity. The Parasha begins with one who is a 'metzorah' - one who suffers from 'Tzara-at', translated as leprosy. It describes the ritual of purifying this individual and reintegrating him/her into the community. The doctor in this case is the Kohen, who diagnoses the illness, and if it is Tzara-at, the individual is placed in solitary confinement outside the camp for a week. If the Tzara-at continues, the Kohen can add another week of isolation. Before the Metzorah returns to the community, there is a ritual involving mixing some cedar wood, crimson stuff, hyssop, and the blood from a bird, all mixed in water which the Kohen sprinkles on the Metzorah before he is declared 'Tahor' (pure) again.

Our sages had difficulties explaining what this illness is all about. Because if it was indeed leprosy, it would not have cleared in a week or two - and why should the Kohen be exposed to such a contagious disease? The Talmud and the Midrashim interpret the Tzara-at as some skin disease that was a physical punishment for one who committed the sin of 'Hota-at Shem Rah' (slander) or 'Lashon harah' (gossip).

Recently, I heard a program on the radio describing a disease called Synesthesia, which was new to me. People suffering from this disease have a blending of the senses in that one modality simultaneously produces sensation in a different modality. Synesthetes hear colors, feel sounds and taste shapes.

The person that was being interviewed explained how he can taste words. Some words are pleasant and taste good, while others cause a sense of disgust. Our sages explain that slandering, and even just gossiping, have an effect on our health, both spiritually as well as physically. Thank G-d not too many people suffer from this disease. But just imagine what would happen if, when one tells or hears something bad about someone, that he/she would be affected physically by feeling like vomiting. We would all be very careful about the words that come out of our mouths or those that reach our ears.

In psalm 34 we read:

"Who is the person who desires life?
Who loves long years to see goodness?
Keep your tongue from telling evil
your lips from speaking lies
shun evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it."

May the words you say and those you hear be always of kindness and goodness.

Shabbat Shalom,