Likkutei Sichos-Parshas Metzora: Tzaras-A skin lesion preserved for the righteous which reveals the hidden impurity

Parshas Metzora

Tzaras-A skin lesion preserved for the righteous which reveals the hidden impurity

(Likkutei Sichos Tazria Vol. 22 Sicha 2)

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Metzora, we learn about the purification process of the Metzora, the person who was stricken with the miraculous skin lesion known as Tzaras which was discussed in the previous portion. As part of the process of purification, the Metzora must take two birds, cedarwood, a string of Crimson wool, and a hyssop branch. One of the two birds are slaughtered and its blood together with fresh spring water are then sprinkled onto the Metzora using the live bird, cedarwood, Crimson wool, and hyssop branch. What is the meaning behind this strange ceremony of purification and its necessary ingredients? So, Rashi in his commentary explains why each one of the ingredients are necessary and how it corresponds to the sin of the Metzora. Regarding the two birds, Rashi states that they are taken because the skin lesion known as Tzaras comes as a result of speaking gossip, otherwise known as lashon-hara. Accordingly, we take birds which chirp for the sake of the purification being that the person sinned with his uncontrolled tongue. Interestingly, despite this very well-known fact that the Tzaras leprosy comes as a result of lashon-hara, in the Hasidic teachings it states that the Tzaras leprosy is reserved only for the completely righteous and is only received by those who have already refined everything of their souls. For this reason, it is explained that we no longer have this miraculous Tzaras skin lesion today, being that there is no individual, even a Tzadik, who was in such a righteous level to be worthy of receiving Tzaras. This Hasidic approach completely contradicts the above statement that Tzaras comes as a result of one of the greatest of sins, lashon-hara. The Rebbe delves into this seeming contradiction and in the answer to this question explains that there are two different forms of lashon-hara, one that is of actual evil that can cause damage to another, and is expressed because of one’s character flaws, and another which is not intrinsically evil but nonetheless can eventually lead to evil. The Rebbe explains that the person who receives Tzaras is really a very righteous Jew who is only guilty of the second type of lashon-hara which is not intrinsically sinful. The Tzaras comes to him as a message that he should beware from even this form of lashon-hara, as it can eventually lead to complete evil. The Rebbe explains that although speech expresses the external parts of one’s soul, it can affect the essence and subconscious of one’s soul. From this talk we learn a great lesson regarding the need to guard our speech not just from actual gossip, but from any negative talk that can stain the root of our soul.


Explorations of the Sicha:

1.      For what sin is a person stricken with Tzaras?

2.      Why do we not have Tzaras today and why is it reserved for only the completely righteous?

3.      What two forms of lashon-hara exist?

4.      How does speech, which seems merely external, have an essential impact on our soul?


1. The type of people who receive Tzaras-Tzaras is reserved for the righteous:

In the beginning of the subject of Tzaras discussed in Scripture the verse[1] states “Adam/Man when he has on his skin a lesion.” Now, there are four terms used in scripture to describe man; Adam; Ish; Gever; Enosh. Each name represents a different aspect about man. The highest name, which incorporates all aspects and human advantages, is the name Adam. Accordingly, it ends up that when the Torah describes the person who has Tzaras he describes him as an Adam, which is the highest-level name. This doesn’t make any sense being that a person of such a high level, that he is worthy of being defined as an Adam, should not be receiving Tzaras at all. Tzaras is one of the worst and most severe impurities that exist, to the point that the sages state the one who has Tzaras is considered as if he is dead.[2] How then can such a person who is defined as an Adam be liable to receive Tzaras?

To answer this question the Alter Rebbe[3] explains that on the contrary, it is specifically only a righteous person of the level of Adam who can receive Tzaras. The skin lesion of Tzaras is not a typical rash or skin disease but is a supernatural ailment[4] which Hashem brings only to the person who is on the level of Adam. It is brought as a message that he only requires refinement in his external aspects, as the term Adam represents a person who has refined all of his internal spiritual self and has gained perfection of all of his qualities and abilities, having complete control of his senses and emotions. Just as the skin lesion of Tzaras is only found on the skin of a very high-level person, so too the Tzaras itself represents a very high and sublime spiritual revelation of G-dliness. Now, the reason why even when one has reached the level of Adam he is still liable to receive Tzaras, is because it is possible that there remains some external aspect which he has not yet refined from its evil and waste. It is thus specifically found on the skin of the Adam, as skin is external, and thus the external skin lesion comes to reflect the Adam’s merely external lack of refinement. Based on the above one can understand why there is no longer Tzaras found amongst people. The reason is because the Tzaras can only come onto a person who has completely refined his inner soul from evil, and thus can have Tzaras come to his skin as a sign that there remains an external aspect that still requires refinement. However, in today’s times such people are not found, as even the Tzaddik has some evil mixed with his good. 

2. The contradiction- Tzaras comes as a result of lashon-hara, a most severe sin:

The sages state that the skin lesion of Tzaras comes as a result of the sin of lashon-hara.[5] Now, the sin of lashon-hara is a very severe sin to the point it is compared to the three cardinal sins for which one must give up his life, murder, idolatry, and adultery. One who speaks lashon-hara is considered as if he has denied the very existence of G-d.[6] How then is it possible to suggest that Tzaras can come up on, and only come upon, a person on the level of Adam, if it comes as a result of one of the most severe of sins. If in truth the person is guilty of speaking lashon-hara and therefore received Tzaras, then he certainly should not merit the title of Adam which exemplifies him as only lacking refinement in his external spiritual matters.

3. The severity of lashon-hara:

To understand this matter we must first introduce and explain the severity of one who speaks lashon-hara, as described in the works of the Rambam.

The Rambam in his work Mishneh Torah speaks of the prohibition of lashon-hara into different sections of laws, one being the laws of “Deios[7]” and the second being in the end of the laws of “Tzaras.[8]” In the laws of “Deios,” the Rambam lengthens on the details of the prohibition of lashon-hara and of its severity. He describes how damaging the speaking of gossip can be and how it can lead to murder of the victim whom one spoke lashon-hara about.

In the laws of “Tzaras” the Rambam explains that Tzaras comes as a result of speaking lashon-hara and brings a proof from Miriam who spoke lashon-hara of her brother Moshe and was stricken with Tzaras as a result. He then goes on to explain in length of the dangers of idle talk, which can begin innocently with the speaking of nonsense and then eventually lead to the speaking of derogatory matters against the righteous. This can then lead to then coming to speak against the prophets and question their words, and from there they can be led to speak against G-d himself and deny His existence. The Rambam concludes that all this is caused by the waste of time and idle speech of the Reshaim and ignoramuses. In contrast, says the Rambam, the speech of kosher Jews only involves matters of Torah and wisdom.

Now, this lengthy addition of the Rambam here in the laws of Tzaras seems superfluous, and if anything should have been mentioned in the laws of lashon-hara which he discussed earlier in Hilchos Deios. Why does the Rambam feel necessary to lengthen on this idea of idle talk and its dangers here in the laws of Tzaras? Now, if the Rambam is trying to teach us of the severity of lashon-hara, then he should’ve brought all of the very severe statements that he already wrote in Hilchos Deios. Furthermore, if the Rambam was trying to teach us of the severity of what gossip can lead to, and how it can eventually lead to heresy, then he should’ve cut to the chase and simply brought the statement of the sages which says that one who speaks lashon-hara is considered as if he has denied G-d. Hence, we must conclude that the Rambam here in the laws of Tzaras is not trying to convince us of the severity of speaking lashon-hara, but rather of the essence of what constitutes lashon-hara. After a careful analysis of the Rambam’s words we will discover two different types of lashon-hara, one which he is referring to in the laws of Deios ,and the second which he is referring to in the laws of Tzaras.

4. The two types of lashon-hara:

There are two types of lashon-hara. The first is a type of evil speech that causes damage to the person one spoke about, and as well is the result of the flawed character traits of the person speaking this gossip. Usually, a person speaks derogatory remarks of another due to his jealousy and hatred, and hence the lashon-hara is an expression of his own faulty character. In this respect, lashon-hara is defined as speech which causes evil [to the victim whom one speaks about], or as speech which is the expression of evil [of the person who is speaking the gossip]. It is this form of lashon-hara, its severity and how it affects the victim, that the Rambam lengthens on in his chapter on the laws of “Deios.”

Now, the second aspect of lashon-hara is the fact that it has ability to draw one towards an even greater evil. In other words, even if the lashon-hara was truly spoken out of innocence, and not as an expression of one’s bad character, and even if its intent was not to speak derogatorily of the person and truly did not cause any harm to the person, nonetheless, it has the ability to draw a person towards absolute evil. This can be learned from Miriam the sister of Moshe and Aaron who loved Moshe with all of her heart and put her life in danger to help save him when he was placed into the Nile River. When she spoke derogatorily of Moshe, she had no intent to do so, and simply spoke due to a mistaken understanding, and Moshe did not mind this at all and completely dismissed it. Despite all this, she was punished with Tzaras because at the end of the day it was derogatory speech. In other words, lashon-hara can be defined not only as speech which causes damage to another, or speech which is expressed due to jealousy and hatred, but even as innocent speech which cannot cause damage to another, but nonetheless is derogatory in its essence. Furthermore, even if the speech is not derogatory in its essence, but is simply unnecessary nonsense that is commonly spoken by their ignoramuses and Reshaim, this too can lead to evil and is therefore defined as lashon-hara which means speech that leads to evil action. It is the second type of lashon-hara which the Rambam refers to in his laws of Tzaras. The Rambam is hence saying that one must be aware of even this seemingly benign form of lashon-hara, as it can eventually lead and draw one to speak complete forms of lashon-hara even against the righteous until eventually one becomes a heretic. Now, why is it that such a benign form of lashon-hara has such a power and negative effect, is what we will now explore.

5. Speech is rooted in the essence of the soul:

Although speech is a merely external faculty in comparison to intellect and emotions, nonetheless, it is connected with the essence of one’s soul even more than the intellect and emotions themselves. The Torah calls humanity by the name “Midaber” in its contrast to the animal kingdom. Why is the human race referred to as “speakers” when we come to contrast it from animals, and not as people of intellect. Seemingly, the advantage of human intellect is the superior quality that man has over animal, far more than mere capability of speech, and hence it is strange that we are referred to specifically as speakers when contrasting us to animals. Rather, the explanation is that in truth the faculty of speech is rooted in the essence of the soul even higher than that of our intellect, and hence shows a more advantageous aspect within us in contrast to animals even more than our aspect of intellect. Accordingly, it is understood when a person speaks derogatory language, or has low class conversations as is common amongst the Reshaim and ignoramuses, as benign as it may seem, it causes the essence of the soul in which the faculty of speech is rooted to be drawn towards evil.

6. The Tzaras comes onto the skin as a warning sign for one who is guilty of the second form of lashon-hara:

Based on all the above, we can now explain why there is no contradiction between the teachings of Chassidus which states that Tzaras only occurs to a person on the very high spiritual level of Adam, and the fact that it comes due to lashon-hara. The intent of the statement of the sages which say that Tzaras comes as a result of lashon-hara is in reference to the second type of lashon-hara described by the Rambam in his laws of Tzaras. This second form of lashon-hara does not have to necessarily contain any damaging speech about another person, and is not necessarily the result of a faulty character, and hence is something that even a person on the level of Adam can become guilty of doing, as indeed was the case with Miriam. It simply refers to speech that is derogatory in nature or that contains no purpose and resembles the speech of ignoramuses and Reshaim. Even such speech is defined as lashon-hara, and when a person on the level of Adam who contains no inner evil is guilty of such speech, G-d sends him the miraculous skin lesion known as Tzaras in order to warn him to stop his behavior. If he does not listen and continues with this second form of lashon-hara, it can eventually lead him into greater evils, to transgress even the first most severe form of lashon-hara, and cause him to lose his status of Adam, being that the evil speech draws even his inner essence into the evil.

It is for the above reason, that G-d made an order in the striking of the skin lesion, that it first strikes the person’s house, and then his clothing, and only then the person’s skin. The reason for this is because when he is first guilty of this first type of lashon-hara, the evil that it contains and affects his soul, is very external to his soul, and therefore the skin lesion appears only on his house which is most external to him. However, if he continues his behavior, the damage gets worse, and just as his own soul now becomes more internally tainted by the evil, so too the skin lesion moves closer to him and strikes his clothing. If he continues his behavior, then it eventually strikes him on his actual skin which is the last warning sign that the person on the level of Adam receives to stop his behavior before it is too late, and draws his soul into evil.

7. Why the Metzora is brought to the Kohen-A need to refine the hidden subconscious evil:

Based on all the above, we can understand a little deeper why the Tzaras is shown specifically to a Kohen, and he must be the one to perform the purification process and announce the purity status of the healed skin lesion. This is due to the hidden evil that may be contained within the soul of the Adam.

Although the person who receives the Tzaras is on the level of Adam, and hence should be fully capable to independently fix his merely external evil, nonetheless, since this external evil comes as a result of negative speech which is rooted in the essence of the soul, it itself can be a sign that he contains a level of subconscious and concealed evil within his soul that he is not aware of at all. In other words, even a person who has completely refined all of his conscious inner being and soul, it is possible that in a subconscious level he contains evil within his soul that he never tapped into or rectified or refined, and this then became expressed through his negative speech.

It is for this reason that he requires specifically the Kohen to cure him of his Tzaras as a Kohen comes from the level of Chesed Ilaah and has ability to refine even the deep essential evil that is found in the subconscious part of one’s soul. This is accomplished through the purification process and through the priest exclaiming that the person is pure. Through the Kohein’s speech and declaration of purity he is able to successfully draw down a great divine light which is then able to refine even the evil which is found in the subconscious depths of the Metzora, and hence make him completely pure.


The divine lesson:

·         We often do not recognize the severity of negative speech and the effect that it can have on our soul. Even what is seemingly viewed as benign negative conversation or words can have an extreme negative affect, being that our speech is rooted in the essence of our soul. From the above talk, we learn of the absolute importance of positive speech, and to not only avoid speaking lashon-hara in its literal sense, but avoid speaking any matter of conversation that is not beneficial for our mental, emotional, or spiritual health and sanity, being that a benign conversation and negativity can G-d forbid lead to a malignant mental, emotional or spiritual growth.

·         We are all aware of the existence of various conscious character flaws that we and/or others may be guilty of. In this talk we learn that there exist character flaws that come from the subconscious. Sometimes, a seemingly non-severe wrong behavior can be an expression of a much deeper and subconscious flaw that we need to fix. Having knowledge of this concept is half the cure.


[1] Tazria 13:2

[2] Nedarim 64b

[3] Likkutei Torah Parshas Tazria

[4] A normal rash usually contains some moisture. This rash is completely dry and appears lower than the rest of the skin. The Tzaraas was no less than a medical miracle taking place on the skin of the person who reached the level called Adam. See Rambam end of Hilchos Tumas Tzaras

[5] Erechin 16b

[6] See Rambam Hilchos Deios 7:3

[7] Hilchos Deios 6:7

[8] Hilchos Tumas Tzaras 16:10

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