In Israel this week, we read two Torah portions, Tazria and Metzora, in which we learn about the metzora – a person who contracts a specific type of skin disease, and why this happens. In previous years we have discussed the connection between tzaraas and loshon hora (Evil speech).
As these two parshiot are read together this year, let us focus on the healing of the metzora and look in Parshas Metzora, to learn the purification procedure for the ‘leper’ whose symptoms have vanished. He must bring three different offerings: a chatas (sin offering), an olah (burnt offering), and an asham (guilt offering).
The kohen shall take some of the blood of the asham, and the kohen shall apply it to the cartilage of the right ear of the one coming to be purified, and on his right thumb and his right big toe. From the leftover oil which is in his hand, the kohen shall apply it to the cartilage of the right ear of the one coming to be purified, and on his right thumb and his right big toe, on top of the blood of the asham. (Vayikra 14:14,17)
This law, of the application of blood and oil to the ear, thumb, and big toe of the owner of the offering, appears in only one other place: the investiture of the kohanim in Parshas Tetzaveh. What does it mean?
The essential difference between the kohanim (priests) and the rest of klal Yisrael was, as we have seen, that the focus of the kohanim was more inward. As such, the service performed to make them into functioning kohanim needed to reflect that reality.
In physical terms, the hands and feet are furthest from the center of the body; they receive blood only after all the other parts of the body. In symbolic terms, they are also the most distant spiritually from the aims of the person, the most external in our context and the least imbued with the private nature that the kohen must personify. The extremities are, after all, the most visible to the outside world.
The ear is the most easily affected by bad influences from outside. Also, notice that the ear is the only part of the body which does not move freely of itself. At a mystical level, each part of the body has the ability to move due to the life force behind it – the part of the soul responsible for it. The ear, which cannot move independently of the head, is perhaps devoid of this life force.
By contrast, the “metzora’ has to live outside the wall of the encampment or city, indicating that he has lost his precious private nature and become an external, superficial person. In fact, the lashon hara he spoke indicates that he cannot keep what he hears to himself, but repeats it carelessly, regardless of whether or not it is appropriate. In some way he has left his inwardly seeking Jewish personality behind, and so he has to live away from other Jews, outside the town.
Once he repents, he must go through a procedure like that of the kohen at his inauguration ceremony. He must be reminded that to avoid ‘loshon hora’, his ears must be sanctified. This will indelibly indicate to him that he must turn from his externally focused life and rebuild his inner spiritual focus again, for after all, the Torah declares that Israel is to be a ‘nation of priests.’
The root problem of the ‘metzora’ was that he was too ready to pass on to others what he had heard while the Kohen is the ultimate ‘private person’ in the community. What he knows about others, he keeps to himself and takes the matter up only with Hashem in the inner court.
In Tune with Torah this week = gaining a new appreciation for the gift of hearing and committing ourselves to renewed vigilance over what we listen to and what we speak.