Miriam Shut Out from the Camp (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)
Rabbi Mira Raz in her Dvar Torah to Parashot Tazrig Metzora chooses to write on the meaning of Tzraat in the Bible. In her special interpretation she separates pure talking from impure talking. Each of them creates a completely different world.
We do indeed read two parashot this coming Shabbat– Tazria and Metzora, but, I chose to write only on the meaning of the Tzaraat that is mentioned in the Torah.
One thing is clear, what is known as leprosy disease or Hansen disease, an illness that is caused by the Mycobacterium leprae bacteria, and can cause body and skin distortions, is not the Tzaraat that is mentioned in the Torah. This is a phenomenon that makes the skin all white, or have white patches, therefore it is often compared to snow. The Torah’s expression is ‘Tzaraat Affliction’ (nega hatzraat) and the meaning of the word affliction is the patch and the snow is a symbol of white.
This description of Tzaraat appears in the Torah twice.
In Exodus (4:6): “And the LORD said furthermore unto him: ‘Put now thy hand into thy bosom.’ And he put his hand into his bosom; and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, as white as snow“.
Numbers (12:10): “And when the cloud was removed from over the Tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow; and Aaron looked upon Miriam; and, behold, she was leprous”.
Do these two cases have something in common?
In Exodus (4:1-8) God gives Moses two signs to show the people of Israel so they will believe him that he speaks in the name of God. This is God’s reply/help to Moses who does not believe in the People of Israel who are slaves in Egypt: “And Moses answered and said: ‘But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice; for they will say: The LORD hath not appeared unto thee.’ And the LORD said unto him: ‘What is that in thy hand?’ And he said: ‘A rod.’ And He said: ‘Cast it on the ground.’ And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Put forth thy hand, and take it by the tail–and he put forth his hand, and laid hold of it, and it became a rod in his hand– that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee.’ And the LORD said furthermore unto him: ‘Put now thy hand into thy bosom.’ And he put his hand into his bosom; and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. And He said: ‘Put thy hand back into thy bosom.–And he put his hand back into his bosom; and when he took it out of his bosom, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh.– And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign”.
Rashi explains why the second sign that God gave Moses was Tzaraat: “They will not believe me.” It is for this reason that He struck him with tzaraat, just as Miriam was struck for speaking slanderously. Rashi sees Moses’ doubt in the faith of the People of Israel as slander similiar to Miriam who was punished with Tzaraat for speaking slanderously. This was because she expressed resentment to Moshe when for replacing his wife Zipora with a Kushit woman (Rashi explains a Kushit woman as a woman that everybody agrees is beautiful the same way that everybody agrees that the skin color of a Kushi is black) as it is written (Numbers 12 1, 10) “And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman… And when the cloud was removed from over the Tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow; and Aaron looked upon Miriam; and, behold, she was leprous.” …therefore Moses warned the people of Israel that Metzora is like Hamotzi Shem Ra (discrediting, slander) (Midrash Rabba 16:1).
And indeed when the priest diagnoses Nega Tzaraat (not leprosy, that needs medication), the man has to go out of the camp , sits there alone, does some soul searching, changes his energy, regrets and understands that he should change his life, and all this, changes the situation of his ‘disease’. After seven days the priest looks again at the skin. If there is no change, the man will continue to stay on his own outside the camp, if there is an essential change, and the priest whose job is to distinguish between pure and impure (not between healthy and ill) returns him to the camp. Slander is impurity and distances the man from the public. The change in this energy, “becoming healthy” from this disease, is purity and returns the man to the camp.
In Deuteronomy 24:8-9 is written: “Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you, as I commanded them, so ye shall observe to do. Remember what the LORD thy God did unto Miriam, by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt.”
Rabbi Yanai said: Even King Solomon said (Proverbs 21:23): “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.”
God created the world by talk. The tradition is that the world was created by 10 sayings: “And God said: Let there be light.’ And there was light… And God said: ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters… And God said: ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place… And God said: ‘Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind… And God said: ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven… And God said: ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let fowl fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven… And God said: ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature after its kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after its kind… And God said: ‘Let us make man in our image… and God said unto them: ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it… And the LORD God said: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.”
We, human beings, who were created in the image of God to understand and learn, were the only ones created with the wonderful capability of speech, sounds that create syllables that turn into meaningful sentences. We even think with words that have meaning and can be used to create new ideas and develop an understanding of all fields in life and science, so as to endow them to future generations.
Pure speech creates a wonderful world – the Garden of Eden that was given to man to work and keep so that it will not be damaged. Impure speech creates separation and breaks the delicate and wonderful web of the world.
I once wrote:
The power of God
Is the power of words
With which world is created
That there will be light!