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Parsha Ponderings- Tazria-Metzora

WHATEVER,

BUT NEVER MIND

איש צרוע הוא טמא הוא טמא יטמאנו הכהן בראשו נגעו

He is a man of Tzaraas, he is impure, the priest shall certainly declare him impure, his affliction is on his head

A careful study of the Torah’s discussion on Tzoraas, a physical ailment reflective of spiritual iniquity, will reveal a telling pattern: Throughout the discussion, the Torah studiously avoids identifying the Tzoraas-defiled individual outright as such, instead focusing all of its attention on the status of the Tzoraas affliction itself while only mentioning the sufferer’s status as a byproduct of the affliction he bears. For example, the Torah begins by stating, “It is an affliction of Tzoraas, and the priest shall see it and declare him impure”, and continues by stating that “the priest shall sequester the affliction for seven days”. And so it continues throughout, constantly referring back to the affliction itself, while at most ambiguously identifying the individual involved as “he” or “him”, meaning the individual bearing the affliction in question.

Until, that is, the Torah arrives at Tzoraas of the scalp.

Suddenly, it’s “he is a man of Tzoraas, he is impure, the priest shall certainly declare him impure, his affliction is on his head”, etc..

The question is twofold: Why is the Torah careful to keep a distance between the person with Tzoraas and the Tzoraas itself, and why does it suddenly change course come Tzoraas of the scalp?

Perhaps one of the opening verses in Parshas Metzora will provide a clue. In discussing the recuperation process of the Tzoraas sufferer, the Torah describes how “the priest shall look, and behold!- the Tzoraas affliction has been healed from the Tzoraas-sufferer“.

To the casual observer, these last few words seem entirely superfluous; after all, from whom else can the Tzoraas be healed but from the Tzoraas sufferer?

To the discerning ear, however, the message is clear: The idea of being healed from Tzoraas is divesting oneself of the spiritual iniquity which caused it, so that it is no longer part of one’s identity. Hence, what is important is not merely the fact that the Tzoraas is healed, but the fact that it has been healed from the Tzoraas sufferer, forever divorced from the person he now is.

With this in mind, we begin to understand why the Torah is hesitant to identify the Tzoraas with the afflicted individual to begin with. Man’s greatest hope for repentance lies in his ability to avoid having sin become a part of who he is. Thus, even the Tzoraas sufferer, whose sins have advanced to the stage where they do threaten to become an inseparable part of his identity, is given to understand that sin has yet to become entirely synonymous with him as a person. The path to repentance is therefore relatively straightforward: Isolate that parasitic behavior which has latched itself onto your identity, starve it until it withers, and then shake it off and move on.

Simple.

At least until we get to the scalp.

So long as the brain thinks good, you see, the evil everything else engages in, is relatively easy to rectify. After all, we know we havedone wrong, we know we can do right, and all it boils down to is synchronizing that which we do with that which we know we ought to do.

The scalp-Tzoraas-sufferer, however, has a much larger problem: He thinks wrong. He doesn’t have Tzoraas; he is Tzoraas. Like the car with something awry under the hood, something has gone haywire under his scalp. He firmly believes he can’t be better, thus entrenching his shortcomings deep in his supposed D.N.A.. He confidently justifies evil, thereby solidifying its place in his very psyche.

How is he to recover? How can he possibly sever what has become him, from himself?

He can’t.

Which is why his path forward is that much harder. He must change his very identity, killing pieces of degenerative “me” tissue in the hopes of being able to regenerate new and healthy tissue to take its place.

Let’s not go there. While we may do wrong things, let’s not do wrong thinks. Let’s keep our minds healthy.

Let’s be good even if we do bad. Let’s retain our sense of right and wrong, let’s remember that we can be better, and most of all, let’s never, ever, take our bad behavior and say to ourselves, “this” is who I am.

Because if we do, “that” is who we’ll be.

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