Parashat Tazria-Metzora 5769/ April 25, 2009
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
Institute for Jewish
Parashat Tazria is concerned primarily with the indications of ritual cleanness and uncleanness of various types of skin affections, and Parashat Metzora is mostly devoted to the sacrifices that those who have been affected with leprosy must bring after they are cleansed. Despite this extensive concern with leprosy, these readings do not explain even obliquely the reason for the uncleanness of leprosy or why this disease strikes human beings.
In Tractate Ketubbot (77b)
Rabbi Johanan says:
“Why are there no lepers in
The List of Sins
The literature of the Sages contains four lists of sins
that cause leprous affection, all of them compiled by the amoraim
Other sins that cause leprosy are deduced in the various lists from indirect linguistic derashot: idolatry, illicit sexual relations, cursing G-d, stealing, inciting strife among brothers, and perversion of justice by a judge.
The Moral Teaching
From what we have presented above we see that it is no easy task to understand how these four lists came into being.  Nevertheless, the Midrashic search for sins which bring on leprosy prompts us to ask whether the Torah is not telling us something, or at least intimating something about the reason for this serious disease and the impurity associated with it. The answer seems to lie in two verses in Parashat Ki-Tetze (Deut. 24:8-9):
In cases of a skin
affection be most careful to do exactly as the levitical
priests instruct you. Take care to do as
I have commanded them. Remember what the
Lord your G‑d did to Miriam on the journey after you left
Normally, one would turn to a dermatologist when affected with signs of disease. Therefore the Torah tells us that one should also turn to the priest and follow his instructions. But why? Because you should remember what happed to Miriam and what the Lord said to Moses about the reason for her leprosy: “If her father spat in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of camp for seven days, and then let her be readmitted” (Num. 12:14). These verses make it clear that leprosy comes from G‑d and is as if the Creator had spit in the face of the person who became so afflicted. Therefore the leper must be shut out, separated from the public and from the sacred precinct. Thus it becomes clear that although "cures are in the hands of the Healer", meaning doctors,  the priest must nevertheless make sure that as long as the leprosy persists the person affected is still called impure and is to be quarantined away from the community.
The Nature of the Sins
From the plain sense of Scriptures, we may see that in all
these cases where "the Lord spits in someone's face,” and leprosy is
explicitly mentioned as the punishment, the common element is that they have
sinned by showing disrespect for the authority or office which the Lord
delegated to his chosen ones. In the
case of Miriam, she challenged the unique degree of prophecy given to
Moses; Uzziah challenged the exclusive rights
of Aaron’s descendants to the priestly service; Gehazi
contradicted his mentor, the prophet Elisha, who had refused to accept any
remuneration or gift from Naaman (II Kings
5:15-16). In so doing,
Gehazi showed disrespect for the status of a prophet in
Showing disrespect for the authority of the Lord’s emissaries and refusing to obey them in their mission is an affront to the sovereignty of the Lord himself. Just as a father might spit in the face of a son or daughter who rejects his authority and thus ostracize them or remove them from his home, so too anyone who refuses to accept the authority of the supreme Father, the Holy One, blessed be He, ought to be removed from the House of Israel, from the holy community, and prohibited from eating of the sacrifices in the Sanctuary, which is compared to eating from the table of the Father in Heaven.
The Bible also contains two stories about lepers who showed
respect for the authority of the Lord’s prophet:
of the Aramean army, who had leprosy, took lightly
the instructions given him by the prophet Elisha, but later, when he finally
listened to the prophet, he was immediately cured (II Kings 5:1-14).
Having been taught a lesson, he therefore
proclaimed that “there is a prophet in
 Midrash Tadshe, also known as Baraitha de-Rabbi Phinehas ben Yair, printed in Otzar ha-Midrashim, pp. 475-485. The subject at hand appears on page 482. Note that the biblical Hebrew term nega (rendered here as affection or plague) and the piel form of the verb n-g-‘ denote a plague by G-d.
 Since in clearing the house one discovers the stolen goods that are in it.
 Since in clearing the house one may discover a house-ware item that someone wished to borrow from the owner, which the latter had claimed that he did not possess. See Leviticus Rabbah 17.2, p. 373.
 They raise many questions, such as two sins being deduced from a single scriptural passage, as occurs in the cases of affection of a house, Uzziah’s leprosy, and the story of Gehazi, and a single sin in various lists being deduced from different passages, namely the sins of behaving crudely, killing, swearing in vain, stealing. The Babylonian Talmud, Arakhin, deduces tale-bearing from the linguistic allusion in Psalms 101:5, yet Miriam’s leprosy, which is explicitly said to have come because of a sin, does not appear in the list there, perhaps out of a desire to protect the honor of the prophetess.
 Bava Kama 85a.
 See above.
 According to a homily of the Sages (Sotah 47a) the four lepers were Gehazi and his sons. This story would then be setting right an earlier shortcoming: Gehazi, who had formerly insulted the prophet and his prophecy, now contributed to the prophet’s high esteem.