This week’s Torah portion, Metzora, is part two of the laws of spiritual leprosy. The portion continues to expound on the process a person who is found contaminated by this ailment has to go through, whether it was found on his body, clothing, or house. The section concludes: “This is the law for every tzaraas affliction and the nesek; and the tzaraas of the garment and of the house; and of the seis, of the sapachas, and of the baheres; to rule on which day it is contaminated and on which day it is purified; this is the law of tzaraas” (Vayikra/ Leviticus 14:54-57).
The Rabbeinu Bachye
makes a very important observation about these blemishes: “Even though the tradition the Rabbis have are true, and it testifies about tzaraas
that it first strikes one’s house in order to humble his heart, search his ways, and repent. If he really changed his ways, good; but if not ,he is afflicted on his garment. If he repents, good; and if not, he is literally afflicted on his body. This order is not how it is listed in the Torah portions, for affliction on a person is listed first, then on the garment, and then on one’s house. The Torah listed them in this manner because all its ways are pleasant and all its paths are peaceful. So in order so that the order would not increase in misfortune as is the reality therefore it lists them from worst to least as explained in the portion.” (Click here
for Hebrew text)
The order of affliction to which a person who transgressed a sin like loshon hara (speaking slander against his fellow) was subject is as follows: he first was afflicted on his house, something far removed from himself, as a warning to repent. Then, if he did not mend his ways, the tzaraas came closer; it manifested on his clothing. If he remained obstinate, then the tzaraas actually spread onto his hair or skin, where it remained until he honestly repented. The Torah, however, did not explain the punishment in order because the Torah is pleasant and peaceful; it did not want to discuss a buildup of misfortune afflicted on anyone.
Yet why could the Torah not just state the facts? The Torah is the epitome of truth; it obviously didn’t find any other reason to change the order, so why not say it as it is, with a caveat that Hashem loves everyone and that out of His overwhelming mercy Hashem created a system to ensure that people repent and fix their ways, which starts with more subtle hints and gets more blatant if people don’t catch the drift. Wouldn’t that be both a beautiful message and the absolute truth?
We must therefore say that Hashem, knowing human psychology better than anyone, for He created us, understands that the psychological impact of seeing the steps of punishment of tzaraas plainly spelled out in the Torah of Truth would give a person such a shock that it is not considered a pleasant and peaceful way to send a message; even if one also explains G-D’s good intentions. It therefore had to be written out of order, and told over properly in the Oral Tradition.
Emulating Hashem and walking in His pleasant and peaceful ways we can learn a lesson here about how to break bad news. One should not be blunt but rather should break bad news in a more subtle and empathic manner.