Shabbat Parashat Tazria Metzora| 5763
Beneath the Surface of LeprosyHarav Yosef Carmel
We will deal this week with the haftara of Parashat Metzora. It starts with a description of four lepers sitting hopelessly outside the gates of a besieged Shomron.
Who were the lepers, and why were they outside the gates? R. Yochanan tells us that they were Geichazi and his sons (Sota 47a). Elisha had sanctified the Divine Name by healing Na’aman, Chief of Staff of Aram, and refusing to receive payment for it. Geichazi had pursued Na’aman to receive money for himself in Elisha’s name. For this chilul Hashem, Elisha had cursed him that he and his offspring would get tzara’at.
What type of condition is tzara’at (usually translated as leprosy)? Is it always a spiritual affliction, stemming from lashon hara, as in the case of Moshe (Shemot 4:6) and Miriam (Bamidbar 12:9), or another sin, as by Uziah (Divrei Hayamim II 26)? If tzara’at is spiritual, it is understandable that we always require a kohen to deal with the leper and that the Torah refers to its laws as a “Torah” (Vayikra 14:44,47). Also, the removal from the encampment would not be to prevent contagion but would serve as part of the spiritual “healing process.” The process should only apply to the holy nation. Similarly, the Ramban explains that the miracle of leprosy of the house exists only in Eretz Yisrael, where the Divine Presence dwells (ibid. 13:47).
It could be, then, that tzara’at, and that which the medical world knows as leprosy are two disparate conditions which share only a name. It is also possible that tzara’at is leprosy,and that it is a contagious, medical condition, but that it can also be a symptom of a spiritual deficiency, with implications in regard to tumah and taharah (purity).
According to the first approach, Geichazi and his sons might have had a physical, contagious leprosy and been sent out of the city to protect its population. According to the second approach, that the tzara’at was spiritual, they may have been distanced for halachic reasons. If, as is plausible, Shomron was a walled city from the days of Yehoshua, they would have distanced “lepers” because of the city’s sanctity. It is also possible that the people of Shomron, in order to equate their city with Yerushalayim, removed lepers, although they were not required to do so.
These days, researchers are interested in the sources of disease, including psychosomatic causes. As believers who have studied the implications of tzara’at, we can add on to the list of causes, the spiritual factor.
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