One finds an interesting theme in regards to the Metzora, one physically stricken with the spiritual disease of Tzara’as which causes blemishes to appear on skin, clothing, or the walls of the home. The word “Metzora”, the Talmud writes, can be understood as a contraction of the words “Motzi” and “Rah,” [one who] spreads negativity. Spreading negative details about another, Lashon Harah, is the prime cause of the spiritual malady of Tzara’as. Telling a friend about someone else’s mistake, negligence, or limitations, reveals unknown faults to the public. It is fitting that the Metzora be visibly exposed as one guilty of spreading evil. His personal shortcoming is also made public, through his Tzara’as.
The secrets of the Metzora are not only made known to others, but to the Metzora himself. Before the disease, he lived undisturbed, spreading rumors and slander without considering that his behavior was spiritually destructive. Tzara’as forces him to put life on hold and consider his hurtful ways. In essence, the disease is a gift (and so it is portrayed in the Midrash), since it served to rehabilitate the tale-bearer and motivate him to change for the better, to make “healthier choices,” as it were.
In our time, this disease does not appear for various reasons. G-d, however, has ways of letting us know that our souls are unhealthy. The difficulties we encounter, the Sages teach us, are Heaven-sent opportunities for introspection. The mistakes we make, the failures we face, make it clear that we have flaws in our inner system that need improvement. As difficult as the messages may be to accept, they are gifts from G-d that have the potential to set us on a new, healthier course. We decide whether to toss the gift in the back of the closet, or use it in good health.
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org