…the Kohen shall look, and behold! – the affliction has covered his entire flesh, then he shall declare the affliction to be pure… (Leviticus 13:13)
The portion of Tazria includes a detailed discussion of an affliction known as Tzara’at, one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Torah. Because Tzara’at afflicts the skin, it is commonly mistranslated as leprosy. Ramban’s commentary (Spain; 13th century) explains that Tzara’at was not a physical malady, but a spiritual ailment that manifested itself physically on the person’s body. This affliction was the result of committing one of several misdeeds, the most common of which was lashon hara, or gossip, and slander.
The Torah goes into great detail when discussing the various forms of Tzara’at that may exhibit themselves on a person’s body. Should a person discover a suspicious-looking patch of skin, a Kohen must be brought in to examine the affected area. There are several stipulations that must be fulfilled in order for the Kohen to declare the person spiritually impure and afflicted with Tzara’at, and there are times when the individual must be quarantined and then reexamined. However, one situation is absolutely clear: If the Kohen looks and sees that the person’s entire body is covered with what appears to be Tzara’at, the law is that the Kohen must declare the person pure.
This seems completely counter-intuitive. If a small patch of Tzara’at renders a person impure, certainly if one’s entire body is covered, (s)he should be impure! A more pensive look makes it clear that the Torah is teaching a fundamental lesson about the Kohen’s relationship to those in need of spiritual guidance. If the Kohen sees someone as totally blemished, without a single redeeming “clean” area, it’s his flaw; he must not be seeing the person properly and therefore is not in a position to declare him afflicted. What’s even more significant is that if the Kohen can’t find some “clean” aspect, he is in no position to help the person. Only when the Kohen sees some healthy skin, i.e., some good in the person, may he then declare him “impure.” In such a case, the declaration is the beginning of the individual’s journey back to spiritual health, rather than a permanent judgment about his status.
A great Chassidic Rabbi used to lead his congregation each Yom Kippur for the Kol Nidre prayers. One year, everyone stood quietly waiting, but the Rabbi wasn’t moving from his place. He seemed entirely lost in thought, and no one dared to disturb him. Finally after a protracted wait, he finally began in his usual manner. His followers were intrigued. After Yom Kippur, a few of them approached the Rabbi to ask him what caused the long delay. The Rabbi explained:
“I try to never lead the Kol Nidre prayer until I can find one area in which each person is better than I am. Only with the recognition that we are all flawed, and that some of us are greater in some areas, and some in others, can I approach G-d with my prayers. This year, just before I was about to begin, someone walked in who behaved so rudely that I simply could not find any redeeming qualities in him. After thinking about it for a while, however, I realized that he was in fact greater than I in one respect: If I was as rude as he is, I would never come for Yom Kippur services! Once I came to this realization, I was able to begin the prayers!”
In one way or another, each of us serves as a mentor or guide to someone else at some point in our life. It may be to our children, a younger co-worker, a study partner, or friend. Sometimes we come up against a situation in which the other person appears beyond hope. However, this week’s portion demonstrates that the status of being beyond hope is more of a problem with the mentor than the person in need of guidance. If our view of someone else is so tainted that we cannot find any redeeming qualities, it is a sign that we are not viewing his situation – or our relationship with that person – properly. Finding the good in a person is the seed from which all of our efforts on their behalf can bear fruit.
(Source: Rabbi Leiby Burnham, Partners In Torah)