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S.A.L.T. - Friday


          One famous law relevant to a metzora introduced in Parashat Tazria requires that “badad yeishev” – he must dwell in solitude outside the camp (13:46).  The Gemara in Masekhet Pesachim (47a) establishes that a metzora must remain isolated from even other temei’im – those who, like him, have contracted ritual impurity (presumably including other metzoraim).  The Torah requires that the metzora live in complete solitude, and may not enjoy social contact with any other person.

         A surprising qualification of this halakha is cited in the name of the work, “Eil Miluim.”  Why does the Torah require the isolation of the metzora?  The Gemara in Masekhet Arakhin (16) explains that a metzora “separated between people”; he is therefore punished by having to remain isolated and separate from all other people.  The Gemara here refers to the famous association drawn between tzara’at and lashon ha-ra – gossip and slander.  Spreading rumors about someone causes others to keep their distance from him; the talebearer is thus punished by living in solitude until he is cured from his tzara’at.

         In truth, however, the Gemara there in Arakhin lists seven sins for which one is stricken with tzara’at.  Thus, while we generally associate tzara’at with the sin of lashon ha-ra, it is actually brought on by other transgressions, as well.  Indeed, we find in Tanakh several examples of tzara’at as a punishment for other forms of wrongdoing.  King Uziyahu was stricken by tzara’at for bringing an unlawful incense offering.  Geichazi, the attendant of the prophet Elisha, is punished with tzara’at for greedily accepting a gift from Na’aman, the general of Aram, after Elisha had turned down the offer of such a gift.  Accordingly, the “Eil Miluim” contends that the provision in Masekhet Pesachim, that a metzora must remain isolated even from fellow metzoraim, applies only to someone stricken with tzara’at for speaking lashon ha-ra.  A violator of a different transgression who suffers from tzara’at as a result, may, in fact, maintain social contact with other metzora’im. (Presumably, we must find some other reason why he is banished from the city in the first place.)

         In light of this theory, the “Eil Miluim” suggests an explanation for a comment in Masekhet Sanhedrin 107a regarding the famous story of the “arba metzoraim,” the four lepers of Shomron, of which we read as the haftara for Parashat Metzora (though this year on Shabbat Parashat Metzora we will read the special haftara for Shabbat Ha-gadol).  Sefer Melakhim II (chapter 7) tells of four metzoraim who resided outside the city of Shomron when the city came under siege by the forces of Aram.  Seeing that there was little hope for the city’s survival, the four decided to try launching an offensive of sorts against the enemy camp.  When they arrived in the camp, they found it deserted; the entire army had been scared away by a miraculous simulation of the sound of large armies produced by God.  They informed the city of what had happened, and the starving residents of Shomron were saved and took all the goods left by the fleeing soldiers.  The Gemara in Sanhedrin identifies these four metzoraim as Geichazi and his three sons.  As mentioned, Geichzai was punished for dishonestly taking a gift from Na’aman against the wishes of his mentor, Elisha (see Melakhim II chapter 5). Elisha declared that Na’aman and his offspring will suffer from tzara’at on account of Geichazi’s greed. According to the Gemara, these four were the metzoraim outside the city of Shomron.

         On what basis did the Gemara make such an identification?  The “Eil Miluim” suggests that the Gemara sought to resolve a basic question with this story of the four metzoraim: how could it be that they dwelled together outside the city?  Did not the Gemara explicitly state in Masekhet Pesachim that a metzora may not enjoy the company of even another metzora?  The Gemara therefore identifies these metzoraim as Geichazi and his sons who, as we know, were not stricken with tzara’at for spreading gossip; they were punished for an entirely different matter.  Therefore, based on the principle established by the “Eil Miluim,” they were, indeed, allowed to dwell together.

         One may, however, suggest a far simpler explanation as to the significance of this identification of the metzoraim as Geichazi and his sons.  As mentioned, Elisha decreed tzara’at upon their family as a punishment for greed. In the story of the “arba metzoraim,” we read that when the four first noticed the deserted enemy camp, full of food, provisions and riches, they ate, drank, and began hiding treasures for themselves.  In the midst of their activity, they suddenly come to the realization that this was improper: “They then said to one another: We are not doing right.  This is a day of good news, and we are keeping silent!  If we wait until the light of morning, we shall incur guilt.  Come, let us go and inform the king’s palace” (Melakhim II 7:9-10).  These verses take on far deeper significance in light of the Gemara’s assertion that these men were none other than Geichazi and his sons. We see in the clearest possible way the positive effects of the tzara’at experience, the transformation of a greedy family into people sensitive to the plight of others.  The ordeal they had just undergone led them to take pause as they filled their pockets and hid treasure chests, realizing their obligation to people other than themselves.  This account, then, is a true tzara’at success story, an example of genuine teshuva resulting from the metzoraim’s banishment from society and process of introspection and change.



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