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Parshat Tzri’a – Reflecting on Speech and Thoughts

Leviticus 12:1 – 13:59 16 april – 22 april

A Portion of the Torah Portion of this Week:

וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר יְהֹוָ֔ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה וְאֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֖ן לֵאמֹֽר׃

אָדָ֗ם כִּֽי־יִהְיֶ֤ה בְעוֹר־בְּשָׂרוֹ֙ שְׂאֵ֤ת אֽוֹ־סַפַּ֙חַת֙ א֣וֹ בַהֶ֔רֶת וְהָיָ֥ה בְעוֹר־בְּשָׂר֖וֹ לְנֶ֣גַע צָרָ֑עַת וְהוּבָא֙ אֶל־אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֔ן א֛וֹ אֶל־אַחַ֥ד מִבָּנָ֖יו הַכֹּהֲנִֽים׃

Hashem spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying:

In addition to contracting ritual defilement through birth,10 death,11 or certain discharges from the reproductive organ,12 the possibility will exist, from now on, for a person or his or her possessions to become ritually defiled by a condition termed tzara’at, the symptoms of which are specific types of lesions or discolorations, as follows. This condition specificially affects individuals of otherwise sterling character and moral excellence who have committed the sin of gossip, slander, or haughtiness.If tzara’at appears on their bodies, it will appear on their heads if they are guilty of haughtiness and elsewhere if they are guilty of gossip or slander. It is an entirely spiritual, miraculous condition, unrelated to any natural disease and with no physiological cause.

When a person has on the skin of the body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration, and it develops into a scaly affection on the skin of the body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons, the priests. (Leviticus 13:1-2)


Tzara’at is not – as some think – leprosy. It is a designation that makes a person’s skin have white spots. And a person gets it because G-d decreed it on that person. As the text above shows, a person can get it because he is haughty or because he speaks ill or gossips about another person.

Both Moses and his sister Miriam were beaten with Tzara’at.

Moses got it at the burning bush. He had said to G-d “But behold, they – the people – will not believe me.” G-d had said put your hand in your bosum and when he pulled it out it was white. Then he put his hand back into his bosum and when he pulled it out, it was healed.[1] Moses should not have talked about the people this way. Hashem wants to hear positive things about His beloved people, not negative things. Just as a king does not want to hear negative things about his son. Servants or the common people who speak that way he will surely punish.

In Numbers 12, we read that Miriam’s skin turned white because she and Aaron had not spoken properly about Moses and his wife.

The question comes up what had been said? At first it seems that it is said that Miriam and Aaron were not humble enough, and that they thought Moses could sing a tone lower. After all, had Hashem not also spoken to them? You could link that to a form of haughtiness.

However, there is also an explanation that says Miriam’s words were meant positively. She saw that Moses and his wife were no longer coming together, and how good it would be if another child was born from such a spiritual giant.[2]

Miriam was a prophetess herself and she should have understood that the level of Moses – as the greatest prophet – was so great that he should always be ready to receive words from Hashem. That there was no way to be there for his wife at that time.

We could say that Miriam had an unfelt sense of what it meant to stand before Hashem on such a high level of Moses. The punishment then is mainly meant to make her aware that she should have thought better before speaking anything, even if it was well-intentioned.

What can we learn from this?

First, that we should not speak evil and should not be haughty.

Secondly, we can learn that when we say wrong things or when we feel haughty it is because of a wrong interpretation of reality, because of a lack of awareness or G-d.

When we delve into Torah, into the 7 Laws of Noah, we will refine ourselves spiritually. Then we will know better and better what we can and cannot say. We will better and better able to judge whether our thoughts are really in line with how reality is.

Nowadays, Tzara’at does not occur. All humans have reached a level where we would all exhibit these phenomena. Hashem is merciful and no longer gives the symptoms.

But precisely because of the lack of Tzara’at, we must realise that we need to develop in the above areas. To train ourselves to make our thoughts and words conform to His will.

Today, you don’t have to show your “tzara’at” to the priest. However, it is wise to discuss the above points with a personal rabbi. Is my language what it should be, how do I develop a better sense in what I can and cannot say, how do I develop a better sense of reality from G-d’s perspective instead of my own misshapen picture of reality. How do I learn to be humble, knowing and understanding that there are people who know more than me because they are already at a different spiritual level.

In short reflecting on your own words, thoughts, views with help from others, makes us grow spiritually. That we may all grow to the next level.

By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources and footnotes:

Kehot Chumash – Parshah Tazria

[1] Rashi on Exodus 4:6:1

Ibn Ezra on Exodus 4:6:1: Rabbi Joshua, however, says this was a hint about Israel first being free and then plagued by God through Egyptian slavery, and that God would eventually heal them and they would be free again.

In this sense, the sign of the hand was linked to the people and not to Moses.

[2] Remember the Story of Miriam Every Day

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