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LLL or Lower Level Leprosy – Parshat Tazria

The World Health Organization has recently declared that diabetes has now reached epidemic levels. Many people have raised their eyebrows at this. Diabetes after all, as serious as it is, is a blood vessel/metabolic disease, not contagious, not carried by a bug and not treatable by antibiotics. Yet is so widespread they decided it needed a new classification. It is now an epidemic.

The biblical leprosy, introduced in Parshat Tazria, was quite similar.1 It was not an illness in the classical sense of the word. It was a kind of spiritual illness. This explains why the priest was called in to diagnose it rather than a doctor. There are 2 levels of the disease, both of which make the person Tamei or impure – quarantined and absolute.

 If you saw a skin patch, you showed it to the priest who would then make a determination if the patch was leprotic(is there such  word?)  or not. In some circumstances, he wasn’t 100% sure and ordered a 7-day quarantine. At the end of this period, depending on how the patch looked, he could renew the quarantine, declare it leprosy or declare it a non-leprotic patch. What I found fascinating was that even if he declared the patch non-leprotic, the person was still considered impure. Why should he be impure? It was already determined that the patch was non-leprotic so what would be the cause of the impurity? Rashi says that because he needed to be quarantined, he is already at a certain level of tum’ah. Again, why is there tum’ah, impurity, at all if the patch is non-leprotic???

We must remember that the biblical type of leprosy is in fact a spiritual ailment. This is why only the priest can pronounce its status. What is the spiritual ailment slated to do? The absolute leprosy is a sign that we have spoken ill of another – Lashon Hara.2 The Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh explains that this lower level, the quarantined, leprosy shows us that we have committed a  lower level of Lashon Hara.3 It is not quite as serious a transgression so the punishment, the leprosy is not as serious an ailment. But it is still an ailment. There is still quarantine. There is still Tum’ah.

In speaking ill of another we may believe we are doing no harm. It is just words. Think of how you may feel if these same words were said or written about you. Are they harmless? Or do they cause some pain, anguish or discomfort?

The Jewish  golden rule is that which is hateful unto you, do not do unto others. This is an elevated form of respect for others and as we have noted in an earlier article,4 others are deserving of that respect.  If we do not show that respect then we get a reminder. There are sanctions for improper behavior. The more serious the impropriety, the more serious the sanction.

We shouldn’t refrain from speaking ill of others because of a fear of sanctions but rather because it is the proper way to act. All people have a purpose, a higher purpose.5 By respecting them, we also respect ourselves.

 

Notes

  1. The details mentioned here are discussed throughout chapter 13 of Vayikra.
  2. Tosefta Negaim 6:6.
  3. Vayikra 13:6
  4. http://bit.ly/bereishit
  5. A common theme in the logotherapy of Viktor Frankl.
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