Admittedly, this week’s Torah portion is one that we might find difficult, containing as it does, commandments regarding the purification of someone afflicted with tzaraas (commonly translated as leprosy) which is virtually non-existent in the modern world. A surface reading leads some to suggest that there is little relevancy to the modern world in this portion. Not so, as we will see.
We learned last week that this condition — tzaraas — is not simply a physical illness but one that is associated with a spiritual cause, most notably it appears as a result of continued lashon hora (evil speech). The person with this condition is called a “metzora.”
The metzora was isolated outside the camp, away from the community, for a period of seven days, affording them an opportunity to ponder the seriousness of their sins and to repent. Stop and think a minute — imagine how you might feel if you were cast out of the city where you live because of a moral failure, and made to sit alone for 7 days and 7 nights, totally isolated from human contact with anyone in your family or circle of friends. Imagine the thoughts, the remorse, and the fears you might have of how the community would look at you after the 7 days were completed. This was not an easy experience — it wasn’t meant to be.
At the conclusion of the period of isolation, the priest would take the penitent through the rituals of purification. It is notable that the priest, bound by numerous commandments prohibiting contact with any form of impurity, in this case goes out to the isolated individual. (See Lev. 14: 10-20)
Not only does he approach the metzora but he himself is the one who anoints the alienated one on the ear, the thumb and the right toe. He physically touches the metzora a) to say that the metzora retains no impurity and b) to restore the person’s dignity and eliminate any residual stigma or shame.
Two weeks ago we read about the consecration of Aaron and his sons (Lev. 8: 23-24). In that ceremony, Moshe anointed the ear, the thumb and the right toe of those being dedicated to the high calling of serving as Priests in the Temple of the Holy One of Israel — the very same ritual as that used for the purification of a repentant sinner! The same rituals that were used to confer Divine authority on priests — and kings as well for that matter — are used to restore the metzora to the community of Israel.
What a powerful picture of Hashem’s lovingkindness and mercy!
The ‘outcast’ is not begrudgingly allowed back into the fold, but rather he is honored through the same rituals that dignify priests and kings. This ceremony conveys in bold display how Hashem looks upon those who repent. They are uplifted and honored before the community and restored to a place of full membership and status with the rest of Am Yisrael. He makes good on His promise to throw the sins of the repentant into the sea of His forgetfulness and to remember them no more. How great is the love of Hashem towards those who repent.
In the Torah, we are called a “nation of priests”. In the context of Metzora, this should mean to us that we have the honor and the privilege of embracing with open arms those who repent and turn to Hashem after a “fall”. There can be no place in our own attitudes for superiority, arrogance or self-righteousness, but rather a humility that rejoices at the mercy of Hashem on another’s life and is truly happy when someone is reconciled to God. This is the way of the Jew.
But how do we “know” if they have truly repented? Perhaps we don’t. However, it is incumbent upon us to give them the benefit of the doubt – and accept their confession of repentance, choosing to think the best of them, as we would want someone to do towards us. Maimonides taught that one only knows if he has truly repented when he is presented with the same opportunity to sin as before and successfully overcomes the temptation. That is for the person themselves to know – as for the rest of us, our response is to love, encourage and support.
In Tune with Torah this week = purging our minds of negative attitudes towards others; believing the best about them and walking in humility, knowing that there are none who have not sinned.