Tazria 5779 – Or the Spiritual Disease Indicators

By: Susan Moger

Tazria is about the laws for ritual purity regarding childbirth, leprosy, and garments.   I read the parshah looking for something of interest to me.  Those of you hoping to hear about leprosy of the skin, will be disappointed. The most interesting thing to me is that Tazria and next week’s Parsha, Metzora, are the least studied and have the least written on them, obviously due to these topics.   When I prepare for a dvar I like to find what the great Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel has said about it, but I couldn’t find any references by him so I decided to reference the great Jewish comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

I will focus on the third section about Tzara-at, disease of garments.  Tzaraat of garments  discoloration, only occur on natural color garments that are white.  The reason is perhaps a dyed garment that became discolored was due to a flaw in the dye processing, or uneven color, if not dyed, so since it is not clear how the discoloration happened, it is not considered tzaraat.. from Toras Kohanim.

Tzaraat is mistaken as leprosy but is some form of a mysterious, infectious skin disease, that may no longer exist, possibly some form of melanoma. It is unclear just how this would affect a garment. The text says if you suspect tzara-at on your garment, show it to the Kohen, who then quarantines it for a week, and if the problem still exists it is tzaraat.

Tazria mentions Tzaraat or discoloration on your garment, whether wool, linen or leather as a spiritual disease.  We would discard clothes that discolor and couldn’t look good any longer.  Of course today if your garment is soiled, we have chemical spot removers, washing machines and dry cleaners. No one would go the Kohen, the high priest or rabbi if their clothes became discolored, unless it is Cohen, the dry cleaner. I love the Seinfeld line about the old Tide commercial. The commercial says “Tide gets blood out of your shirt”.  Jerry commented on this, “maybe if you have blood on your shirt, laundry isn’t your biggest problem”. More about that later.

I suppose in these ancient times, people perhaps only had one or two garments and had to figure out how to make the clothes look better and remain functional. We don’t think of a spot on clothes as a spiritual disease, but this parshah mentions that it indicates being ritually impure. The spots or discoloration on the clothing are a sign of sins.  Nachmonides said Tzaraat is not a physical malady but a spiritual ailment of the body and also caused by several transgressions mostly gossip.

A midrash says the Tzaraat occurs 3 ways. First to the home, if not remedied then to the garments and if not remedied then to the skin. With that in mind, it’s pretty important to remedy this garment problem before it reaches and infects the skin.

The Talmud mentions sins of tzaraat: Evil gossip or lashan hara, murder, false oaths, illicit relationships, arrogance, theft and stinginess.  Most well known is evil gossip.

Lashan Hara, gossiping and speaking ill of others, is considered quite bad and to refrain from it improves the quality of life and apparently quality of your clothes.

Does the fabric on its own cause a discoloration to notify you of a spiritual disease or is G-d signaling the owner of the garment of a spiritual problem, so it can be remedied?  The ancients believed G-d has sent this signal.  Imagine you have a discoloration appear on clothes, I would think this often happened due to sun and sand damage.  But the text indicates it is because you said evil gossip or one of these other sins and you have a chance to clean up your act, change your ways and get on with life happier as a result and thereby, avoid home, clothing and skin infections.

As promised, back to Seinfeld. There was a Seinfeld episode when Elaine, not a Jewish character, seemed blue and her neighbor, the rabbi, invited her over to talk.  In confidence she told him that she was jealous that George got engaged, but she hadn’t said anything to George or anyone else except the rabbi. The rabbi gossiped to everyone he could find in the neighborhood about Elaine. She heard about this from several people, even neighbors she didn’t know, quite to her embarrassment.  Imagine the tzara-at on that rabbi’s garment. This comedy is so funny because these things happen. Rabbis and other people repeat gossip and things told confidentially to them, and sometimes the rabbi’s behavior is the source of gossip.  So according to my understanding of the Torah portion Tazria, when there is a tzara-at on your garment, laundry is not your biggest problem, it is spiritual disease.

Teachings, Words From Our Members|