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Numbers 5:2 – Pray for White People an Red Trees

10 Sivan 5783 – 30 May 2023

צַ֚ו אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וִֽישַׁלְּחוּ֙ מִן־הַמַּֽחֲנֶ֔ה כָּל־צָר֖וּעַ

Command the children of Israel to banish from the camp all those afflicted with tzara’ath

Tzara’ath was a white “rash” that could get on your house, on your clothes or on the person himself. It is not leprosy which is a medical condition, but it is the result of a mental condition.

For example, it can arise because people speak poorly. Think, for example, of Miriam who got this affliction because – although well-meaning – she spoke bad about Moses.

It can also be a result of idolatry as in worshipping the golden calf.[1]

People who got Tzara’ath had to stay outside the camp. Speaking bad about another person can cause people to shun that person. He is put outside the community, so to speak. So for someone with Tzara’ath to be put outside the community is an appropriate punishment.

The same applies to idolatry. Idolatry can be active by worshipping an idol, but also by speaking bad of G-d. (May no one do so). This can easily spread within a community as a pathological stain. Removal from G-d – that which the person himself has already done – and from the community is thus also an appropriate punishment in this case.

What people should do when they got Tzara’ath was shout that they had when they encountered other people. But since it was not a physical infectious disease, why should they shout? After all, another person cannot be infected by this disease.

A little side note.

Last weekend was Shavu’ot. A custom is to beautifully decorate the synagogue, or your home, with greenery, Receiving the Torah brings back Gan Eden and the greenery can make that association.

But there is another reason. Shavuot is also the day of judgement on fruit. As we can read in: Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 1:2

At four junctures, the world is judged: on Passover for grain, on Shavuot for fruits, on Rosh Hashanah all pass before him like sheep of the flock, as it is written, “He form their hearts as one, he understands all of their deeds.” (Psalms 33). On Sukkot, the world is judged for water.

The greenery, the fruit is carried into the synagogue or house to pray for it, because that is what you do when something or someone is judged. Pray for a mild judgement.

By extension, the Talmud points out that the bark of trees that are diseased should be dyed red. When people walk by and see the sick tree, they are motivated to pray for the tree’s healing.[2]

Which brings us back to the people with Tzara’at, they do not turn red but white. But the function is the same. As soon as we hear the people calling out – because they can’t come into the synagogue, or your house, or near you – and we see their white color, it should motivate us to pray for them. Pray that they may come to repentance, either from their idolatry or from their evil speaking. Pray that they use their tongues only for truth and for praising G-d.

Noahides regularly have to deal with people who have different values and standards. Who are less than truthful, or who speak bad of G-d. In our current society, Tzara’at no longer exists, and these people are in our vicinity. At our work, on our street, in our family, etc.

Engaging in discussion is often futile. All we can do is pray for them. Pray that they may see the example we live for them, that they may come to repentance. That if there may be even a small flame of truth, of faith in their hearts, G-d will kindle it into a great flame.

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] Midrash Tanchuma, Metzora 4:1
[2] Growing Like a Tree

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