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The main theme of this week’s double Torah portion of Tazria and Metzora is tzaraas, a spiritual ailment similar to leprosy. The Sefer HaChinuch, a book on the 613 mitzvos set’s this mitzvah as number 169, “The commandment of the matter of the impurity of a metsora.”
When describing the root of the mitzvah, or the reason behind the mitzvah, the Sefer HaChinuch writes, “It is from the roots of the commandment to fix in our hearts that the providence of God, blessed be He, is individualized upon everyone among people, and that His eyes are observing all of their ways, as it is written (Iyov 34:21), ‘For His eyes are upon a man’s ways; all of his steps He sees.” And therefore, he warned us to put our [minds] to this bad illness, and to think that it is sin that caused it – and as they, may their memory be blessed, said (Arachin 16b) that it generally comes from evil speech, and we should not take it [as being] by way of happenstance. And we need to come to the priest, who is the one that is ready [to effect] the atonement of sinners. And in the company of the one who atones, maybe he will contemplate repentance. And he is put in quarantine for a few days, in order that he put his matters into his heart with deliberation, and examine his deeds (Berachos 5a). And sometimes he is put into two [consecutive] quarantines, lest he contemplated repentance, but not complete full repentance. It is as if you would say by way of illustration, that he thought to return half of his robbery; and then God, blessed be He, renewed some of the signs that he should be quarantined a second time – perhaps he will complete his repentance and purify himself completely. And the whole matter of these quarantines indicates His providence, blessed be He, on all the ways of man – one by one. And because the opinions are many about the providence of God upon all of his creatures, many verses in Scripture and many commandments come about it, to instruct about the matter – given that it is a cornerstone in our Torah. As there are groups of people that think that the providence of God, may He be blessed, is [individualized upon all of the species – whether people or all other animals. And there are groups that think that the providence of God, blessed be He, is] upon all the matters of the world – whether animals or all other things – meaning to say that no small thing in the world moves without His will, blessed be He, and His decree; to the point that they think regarding the falling of one leaf from a tree, [that] He decreed about it that it should fall, and [so] it is impossible that the time of its falling be even a second later or earlier. And this opinion is very removed from the intellect. And there are evil groups that think that His providence, blessed be He, is not put upon any matters of this lowly world at all – whether upon people or other animals. And this is the opinion of the heretics – it is evil and bitter. And we who have the correct opinion, according to what I have heard, place His generalized providence, blessed be He, upon all the species of animals, such that each and every species that was created in the world, survive in the world – [that] it not completely finish and be lost – as with His providence does everything find existence in the world. But with the human species, we believe that His providence, blessed be He, is upon each and every one individually, and He is ‘the One who understands about all of their deeds.’ And so [too,] have we received from all of our great ones; and there are also many verses that instruct that the matter is so. And therefore, the Torah warned us that when this bad illness – and that is tsaraat – reach a man, he should not take it [as being] by way of happenstance. Rather, he should immediately think that his iniquities caused [it]. And he should distance himself from the company of people, like a man who is distanced due to the evil of his deeds. And he should associate with The One who can atone – The One who can heal the fracture of the sin – and show his ailment to him. And through his counsel and through his words, and through the examination of his deeds, the ailment will be removed from him – since God, blessed be He, who constantly watches him, will see the act of his repentance and heal him. And this matter is the matter of the quarantines, as we said.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Sefer HaChinuch reveals to us that the reason for the metzora to be quarantined from society for a number of days is not because he is contagious or even because we want to keep him away from others so that he won’t speak lashon hara [slander], with them which is the main reason for tzaraas to appear on a person. Rather, the quarantine is for him to contemplate Hashem’s Divine Providence with every individual in every minute detail of action, speech and thought of a human being and to realize the severity of his sin in order to do complete teshuva [repentance].
However, isn’t there a better way to ensure a person realizes his wrong doing, repents, and changes his ways? Why put him in seclusion? When a person gets a speeding ticket he has to take a number of hours of drivers education courses to have the points removed from his license. Wouldn’t it be better for a person who spoke lashon hara to require atonement in a similar manner? For example, an obligation to spend a number of hours or days by a rabbi or in a yeshiva, listening to lectures and learning about the laws of lashon hara, teshuva, and Divine Providence. He would be able to ask questions and get answers on how to change his life, to ensure he won’t fall into the same trap again. Wouldn’t that be more effective than being secluded, all alone, to contemplate his misdeeds and to realize on his own how far away from Hashem he really is, but how close Hashem in fact is to him in his life?
It would therefore seem that all the lectures and inspirational talks won’t make enough of an impact on a person to truly shock him into changing his whole life around for the good. Ultimately it has to be one’s own decision to change, and being put into a situation where there is no one around, it is only you and Hashem, no one is there to help you, to comfort you, to keep you company in a time where you feel vulnerable and ailing, then the hopelessness of the matter will force you to open your eyes and see the Divine Intervention. To see how Hashem is involved in every minute detail of your life and you can’t escape Him. Being all alone with no one else to turn to besides Hashem is in fact the precipitator of changing your whole life around that ultimately leads to complete teshuva.
Though it is always healthy and needed to seek out rabbis and teachers to learn what is right and wrong and how to act at all times, which in fact is why one must go to a kohen when he suspects he might have this spiritual ailment, however because faith and belief in Hashem and the decision to do the right thing ultimately is up to the individual; no one can force you to do anything or correct your deeds for you, therefore being quarantined is the best shock to the system which inspires you or really allows for personal introspection in order to turn your trust in complete reliance on Hashem, regret the sins of the past, and decide to follow whatever Hashem knows is right for oneself and the rest of existence.