Parashat Tazriah: Publicizing a Sin


R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch succinctly described Tzara’at as a physical manifestation of a spiritual affliction. Whether it affected the home, clothing or body, it was a clear and visual sign that a spiritual cleansing was required – a sin, or sins, had been committed. Sometimes the affliction could be cured quickly, and sometimes the afflicted person would be required to live outside the camp for a certain period of time to become pure again.

But what seems a little fishy is that God would create a system reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Why create a marker that allows the whole neighborhood to know that someone has sinned? We have an obligation a rebuke a sinner, but not to publicize the sins! Couldn’t a system be devised that would be very clear and obvious to the offender, but not result in full-disclosure to other people? Why are we adding potential embarrassment of the sinner to an already bad situation?

To better understand why, we can look in the Gemara in Masechet Arachin that outlines seven different sins that could be the cause for Tzara’at: Lashon Hara, Murder, Swearing Falsely, Illicit Relations, Pride, Theft and Miserliness. The common denominator among all of these is an abuse or neglect of our obligations to one another as human beings.

A person’s Kavod and privacy is taken into consideration for most mitzvoth between a person and God, but when it comes to someone who has mistreated their fellow human being, it must be stopped swiftly and effectively. Even if this might result in the embarrassment of the offender, the Tzara’at is in place to stop the offense and set the sinner on the path to Teshuvah. The risk is too great that others in the community will fall victim to the offender’s hurtful ways.

As we read through this parashah full of elaborate descriptions for dealing with Tzara’at, let’s think about why so much attention is devoted to this one halacha, and take the extra time to be considerate to one another’s feelings and sensitivities.

This Dvar Torah was written for the Mt Sinai Jewish Center Kesher Newsletter.