Tzaraat for Slander or Anger


Torah of the Metzora

From Commentary Y2-33


Tzaraat for slander or anger


Yeshua was a Torah-observant Jew (Yahudi), and the apostles were all Hebrews, including Matthew and Luke (whose name is common for a Hellenized Jew). Constantine and King James were anti-Semites. Today, we are considering Torah-observance and some of God’s ancient disciplinary methods.


Tumah (toom-ah, impurity) refers to spiritual contamination, usually that which can be transmitted to other people, even through things. Following the laws of tumah from dead animals (previous chapter 11), we have the laws of tumah from childbirth (chapter 12), and then the laws of tumah from slander (chapter 13). A person who is impure is called a metzora. A metzora who is quarantined / separated is called a niddah.


(Ezra 6:21-22) And the sons of Israel who returned from exile and all those who had separated themselves from the (tumah) impurity of the nations of the land to join them, to seek Yahweh God of Israel, ate the Passover. And they observed the Feast of Unleavened Breads seven days with joy, for Yahweh had caused them to rejoice, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.


While tumah is a result of the fall, it is not the same as sin: we are often required to become impure, though that would make us unfit to enter the Holy Temple until cleansing. Tumah relates to death – the result of the fall.


In chapter 11, it is from touching dead animals or people – and we are required to bury our dead relatives, though not while on duty performing the Temple service.


In chapter 12, it is from childbirth – and since Adam’s fall, all are born “spiritually dead”. Spiritual contamination is transmitted.


In chapter 13, it is from slander and anger – which fall under the commandment category of murder (slander is destroying another’s name). Isaiah 32:7 describes one who “devises wicked schemes to destroy the afflicted with slander.” Slander and anger can spiritually contaminate – spreading like fire.



Leviticus 13

Tzaraat (tza-ra-at) is commonly translated “leprosy.”


Leprosy is Hansen’s Disease. It is a popular mistaken idea that, with this disease, people’s fingers and toes rot and fall off. Actually, this is a disease of the nervous system, where people lose feeling. As a result of being unable to feel, people unknowingly sustain burns, animal bites, and other injuries. In poor southeast Asian countries and South Pacific islands, where this disease is prevalent, rats may bite off fingers or toes while one sleeps.


The quarantine for tzaraat is not consistent with disease prevention methods. One stricken with tzaraat is not considered unclean when the malady covers the entire body, but is unclean when the body begins to heal (v.13:13). When a house is stricken (v.14:26), the items inside are not quarantined. If a newlywed is stricken during a Festival, he is not quarantined until the Festival is over!


The word tzora (singular form of tzaraat) is a contraction of tozia ra, one who spreads slander (Arachin 15b). Tzaraat was a physical manifestation of a spiritual problem, a disciplinary punishment. Until the slanderer learned to overcome slandering, he was quarantined from society, having to shout “Unclean!” to anyone coming within hearing range. One stricken with tzaraat is called a metzora.


Biblical cases of tzaraat indicate slander and anger preceding the malady.


Numbers 12:1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); 2 and they said, "Has Yahweh indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?" And Yahweh heard it. 3 (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) 4 Suddenly Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, "You three come out to the tent of meeting." So the three of them came out. 5 Then Yahweh came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, 6 He said, "Hear now My words: if there is a prophet among you, I, Yahweh, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. 7 "Not so, with My servant Moses, he is faithful in all My household; 8 with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of Yahweh. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?" 9 So the anger of Yahweh burned against them and He departed. 10 But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was a metzora. 11 Then Aaron said to Moses, "Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned. 12 Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother's womb!" 13 Moses cried out to Yahweh, saying, "O God, heal her, I pray!" 14 But Yahweh said to Moses, "If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again." 15 So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again.


2 Chronicles 26:16 But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to Yahweh his God, for he entered the temple of Yahweh to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17 Then Azariah the priest entered after him and with him eighty priests of Yahweh, valiant men. 18 They opposed Uzziah the king and said to him, "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to Yahweh, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful and will have no honor from Yahweh God." 19 But Uzziah, with a censer in his hand for burning incense, was enraged; and while he was enraged with the priests, the tzaraat broke out on his forehead before the priests in the house of Yahweh, beside the altar of incense. 20 Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous on his forehead; and they hurried him out of there, and he himself also hastened to get out because Yahweh had smitten him. 21 King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of Yahweh. And Jotham his son was over the king's house judging the people of the land.


Psalm 15:1 A Psalm of David. O Yahweh, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend;


And today’s Psalm (77:13) says, “Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God?


From Commentary Y2-35


Torot haMetzora / Torah of the Metzora   


For display in today's lesson, we will use a sprig of thyme, tied with a red red thread, onto a 1"x6"x6' cedar board. We also need two imitation birds, a bowl, and a setup for running water.


In an ancient Talmudic story (from memory), a certain man came to his priest, asking how he could rectify his having made evil statements about another person. The priest told the man to go home and bring his pillow, which he did. Then the priest told him to open it and shake all the feathers to the wind, which he did. Then the priest told him to go and gather all the feathers back; the man complained that it was impossible. The priest said that such was the situation with the evil words he had spoken.


A slanderer whom God has under the discipline of the disease tzaraat is called a metzora (both words being from the root tzara – one who spreads slander). Tzaraat is a state of spiritual impurity (tumah), with physical manifestations: no other impurity takes effect upon the declaration of a priest, and no other impurity can be temporarily ignored as a matter of convenience, such as for a wedding or festival. Only a metzora is excluded from the entire camp, and contaminates everything in a building he enters. (Note that tozia ra (slander) includes truth and lies.)


Leviticus 13 is concerned with the diagnosis and discipline of the metzora – the one who is stricken for slander. Leviticus 14 deals with the healing and return of the niddah – the quarantined slanderer, who repents.


When God heals him, he must go through an eight-day two-stage process of purification. A priest who is himself a niddah – one who is quarantined as a metzorah – is not eligible to rule on a healing, since the Torah requires that the priest who rules must go out of the camp to rule.


The root cause of the sinner’s gossip or slander is haughtiness – contempt for others. His purification therefore symbolically displays his repentance, going from haughtiness to humility.


The first stage of involves a ritual with two birds, performed outside the camp, after which he could enter the camp. Because the punishment came for gossip and slander, twittering, chirping birds are used in the ritual as symbols. The slaughter is not a karban – offering. The birds must be of a kosher kind, but not of those species that may be used for offerings.


The tall, wide cedar tree symbolizes haughtiness. Crimson dye comes from a small creature whose identity is uncertain, showing lowliness; likewise, thyme (often translated hyssop) is a lowly plant.


As the gossip / slanderer has “slain” his victims, with his words of life-destruction running far and wide, so now the better of two birds must be slain, its life-blood being spread with water.


A sprig of the small thyme plant is tied with a scarlet thread to a large cedar board. {Sample presented} They are dipped into the bloody water. The live bird is also dipped into the blood, and then thrown to freedom over the open field: the death-cry of the blood is carried far. The slaughtered bird is buried after the ritual.


The healed metzora is sprinkled seven times with the blood, and then must go to a mikvah (baptistery) and put on clean clothes. He is afterward allowed into the camp, but may not go into his house (he may not cohabit with his wife) until his cleansing is completed seven days later.


The final stage of his purification, on the eighth day, requires an unusual three atonements: two male lambs, plus a ewe lamb. The third offering, a guilt offering, is brought by someone who has used something dedicated to God – stolen from the Temple; the implication is that the slanderer has taken something from God.


Loaves made from three omers (about 5 pounds per each of three animals) of fine flour and olive oil, plus one log (about 1 pint) of olive oil, are also offered.


Acting out today’s portion:

A person, who spoke in a manner defaming another’s character, has been quarantined from society, and is now repentant. His tzaraat has been healed. A priest must go outside the camp to meet him.

The priest would send for two kosher (but not sacrificial type) birds, a bowl, a cedar plank, a scarlet thread, and a sprig of thyme / hyssop.

Look at these two (stuffed imitation) birds, whose chirping represents the slander or gossip that was spread by the penitent. The better of these birds will be slaughtered in the bowl, its (red dye) life-blood being spread by running water, like the life of the slander victim. The live bird is dipped in the blood, and then released to fly away (stuffed bird carried by the presenter), the death-cry of the victim’s blood going afar.

This (fence board) plank from a great proud cedar tree has a thin red thread around its lower end, to which an insignificant sprig of thyme is tied. This symbol of haughtiness to humility is dipped in the bloody water. The penitent is sprinkled seven times with the blood.

The penitent must now immerse in a mikvah, and put on clean clothes. Afterward, he may enter the camp, and seven days later may enter his house.


It was the year 5608 (1848). The city of Vilna was in the grips of a terrible epidemic. The killer cholera was sweeping through the city and the surrounding countryside and the Jewish community was in turmoil. As in all times of trouble, Jews gathered to pray to Yahweh. Their leaders exhorted them to search their hearts and repent, each one for his particular sins. People were urged to give charity and be especially kind to one another.


Most people genuinely repented and improved. There were some, however, who instead of examining their own faults and sins, eagerly examined those of their neighbors.


One such Jew came to R’ Yisrael Salanter during this time. He had something to confess. He whispered in the rabbi’s ear of some sin he saw in a fellow Jew.


“Rabbi, who knows if it is not that very sin which is causing our plague? Something must be done about that person,” he said.


As usual, R’ Yisrael listened patiently and when his visitor fell silent, he said, “As you know, the Torah instructs us to send the metzora from all three camps (of the kohaniim, leviim, and the rest of the people, Yisrael). Our sages tell us that tzaraat is the punishment sent upon a tale-bearer, the baal lashon hara (lit. – possessor of evil speech). Some people think that this sin only applies to lies one says about another. That is not so. A person who searches out other people’s faults and sins is certainly considered a baal lashon hara, too. We tell him, ‘If you think that you are expert at discovering sins, go out of the camp. There, where you will be isolated for many days, you won’t be able to uncover another’s sins. But you will certainly be able to discover and see your own.   From “Tales of Tzaddikim - Vayikra” (Artscroll Youth Series)



A house with tzaraat:

A man carries some responsibility for what goes on in his house – that is: what his family does (see Job 1:5, 1 Timothy 2:4, 12). When a house becomes contaminated with apparent tzaraat on its walls, there is a seven-day period for taking care of the problem in the family. If the contamination is still spreading – because of slander still going on – then the affected stones must be removed and replaced. If the contamination returns, the house must be torn down.


Gossip and slander will destroy one’s house – that is his family. God requires repentance. That is the purpose of discipline – to bring repentance.


We all meet people who look for double meanings of statements made in general conversation: when we are speaking of something entirely different, they will seek to twist it to have a sexual meaning, to make a joke of our statement.


The sages teach us to speak with double meanings of another kind, as well as to look for double meanings in what we hear. We should always have our minds upon God. When we speak of our worldly needs, our words should be chosen to instill devotion to God. When we hear others speak, we should understand the words as if they were holy – to find God’s message to us. (“Jewish Spiritual Practices” by Yitzhak Buxbaum)


Everything that happens to us, including everything we hear, should be considered as a message to us from God for that particular time. All things work together for good for those who love God – those who are called for His purpose (Romans 8:28).



R’ Mordechai of Pinchov did not have two pennies to rub together. Small wonder, then, that his wife would beg him, whenever he went to his Rebbe, the Chozeh of Lublin, to speak of their sorry plight and ask for advice and a blessing. But as soon as he entered the Rebbe’s room, the world of here and now vanished. He forgot all about his wife’s pleas and had only eyes and ears for the Rebbe. They would spend hours in exploring the intricacies of the Torah, the Talmud, and Chasidus. All worldly things were as mere shadows compared to their eternal wisdom.


And so R’ Mordechai returned to Pinchov each time invigorated in spirit. He glowed. But when he entered the house and his wife greeted him with the question, “Well, did you speak to the Rebbe about parnasah this time?” R’ Mordechai would strike his forehead. He had completely forgotten again!


When they had sold everything they possibly could and were down to their last crust, she again came crying to R’ Mordechai, “You must go to the Chozeh again. You must beg him to pray for us. This time, however, I want to make sure that you do not forget. I will accompany you!”


And indeed, the next time he visited Lublin, he entered the Rebbe’s study and blurted out the words immediately, before they could slip his mind, “Rebbe! I can bear it no longer.” He went on to describe the squalor and poverty in his home, begging the Rebbe to pray for him.


“I did not realize that things were so bad. Why did you never mention this to me before!” he said in a note of complaint. “You should not have allowed things to reach such a terrible state!”


R’ Mordechai hung his head in shame. “I felt it was not right to bother the Rebbe with such material matters. Besides,” he added, lowering his voice, “I always thought that, in His divine intuition, the Rebbe would know of my condition.”


The Chozeh smiled and said, “The Torah differentiates between tzaraat upon a person and tzaraat that afflicts a house. With regard to a person it says, ‘And if a man has on his skin a tzaraat lesion . . . and the priest shall see the spots (Leviticus 13:2-3).’ This implies that a person need not tell the priest what happened. It is enough to come to the priest. He will see it without your telling him and know what to do.


In contrast, with regard to plague spots on the wall of a house, the Torah states, ‘And the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest thus: such a spot did I see in my house.’ The Torah explicitly states that in connection with things that concern the house one must tell the priest exactly what is wrong with the house, before he can begin to treat it.”   From “Tales of Tzaddikim - Vayikra” (Artscroll Youth Series)


So we see how the specific rules of Leviticus 14 are applied to broader situations. (Until reading this story, I had not picked up the difference in the situations of a plagued man and a plagued house: how one is seen but the other must be told. Also, we see here that “house” symbolizes the family (the family was poor).



Ephesians 4:

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” – v.25.


If we have found faith in Yeshua, we have a new life, and should walk accordingly. We should be repentant of our former ways of defaming others, and practice speaking truth and acting in love. We are to seek redemption for the faithless and for help other believers to grow in grace and overcome sin.


29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Messiah also has forgiven you” – v.29-32.


© 2017  Beikvot HaMashiach
(Followers of the Messiah)