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Torah Portion

Weekly Torah Portion: A Spiritual Affliction

Only a priest can diagnose Tzaraat, a skin affliction with spiritual roots. [Image: THE HISTORY OF COSTUME By Braun & Schneider via Wiki Commons]

Only a priest can diagnose Tzaraat, a skin affliction with spiritual roots. [Image: THE HISTORY OF COSTUME By Braun & Schneider via Wiki Commons]


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The Torah tackles the topic of tzaraat, a spiritual affliction typically translated as leprosy. It lists various lesions that need to be examined by a priest to determine whether one is infected. A leprous lesion, according to the Torah, is one which extends beyond the surface of the skin and contains white, or on certain parts of the body, golden, hairs. Its appearance is white or white with red streaks. However, if the individual’s entire body turns white, he is considered pure. If the appearance of the lesion is not decisive, the afflicted individual is quarantined for up to two week-long periods to see if it changes.

If the lesion is determined to be leprous, the afflicted individual must separate himself from the community during the period of his contamination. He tears his clothes, stops cutting his hair or shaving, and covers himself entirely with his cloak. He must also warn everyone he encounters that he is contaminated and dwell outside the communal camp.

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It is not only the human body which can acquire tzaraat; it can appear on clothing, as well. A garment of wool, linen or leather upon which a red or green mark appears must be examined by the priest. He quarantines the garment for a week, then reexamines it. If the mark has spread, the garment must be burned. If it has not, the garment must be washed and rechecked. If the mark remains unchanged by washing, the garment must still be burned. If the mark fades, the owner may simply remove the affected section of the garment. However, if the mark returns to any other part of the garment, it must be burned. If washing removes the mark entirely, the garment is considered pure and need only be immersed again.

Thus ends the section on “diagnosing” tzaraat of clothing. The Israel Bible mentions the teaching of the Sages, that tzaraat is a punishment for a number of sins, most notably lashon hara or slander. This serves to emphasize the importance God places on treating others with respect.

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