“He [the metzora] shall dwell isolated, he shall dwell outside the camp” Leviticus 13:46


The International Classification of Diseases does not recognise the metzora as described in the Torah. The misnomers “leprosy”, and “leper” have plagued our understanding of this condition which simply does not match up with any known medical diagnosis. This is because tzara’at, the “disease” of the metzora, can be better understood as a sign rather than as a disease at all; the disease is the person and the tzara’at markings on the skin are essentially the symptoms.

Tzara’at plagued those who spoke lashon hara, slanderous or damaging speech. Famously, Miriam was affected after speaking about her brother Moses and his decision to separate from his wife.

The saying goes, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people”. Lashon hara indicates a person’s focus on externalities — a small-mindedness that is unbecoming. And so the affliction begins with markings on the external frontiers of a person’s existence, on the walls of their home.

If the issue is not addressed and the individual does not change their ways, then the tzara’at will migrate to the sufferer’s clothing and eventually on to their skin, the outer barrier of their body. The message is clear: you are poisonously focused on externals and this needs to change.

There is no cure per se. It is a case of self-medication — or rather, self -meditation. The metzora must become the solution. This can only be achieved by removing from society and embarking on a journey of introspection. The character traits that are so toxic need to be recognised, reflected on and changed. Ousted from the encampment, isolation is a necessary part of recovery. The person who focused on externals now needs to truly experience the outside before being reintroduced to society.

An affliction of the soul requires a soul-searching, but this can only be achieved in solitude. Isolated with one’s own faults, with nothing else to focus on, this confrontation can occur.

The metzora eventually returns to society a more refined individual. One who has delved into his or her own psyche and faced their demons. For anyone, this is a mammoth task. Perhaps this is why tzara’at only afflicted great people — giants of our history like Miriam.

Perhaps this sidrah offers us solace in our current imposed isolations. If nothing else, it is certainly food for thought.


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