Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why Does a Metzora (Someone Afflicted With Tzaraas) Bring a Guilt Offering

(Corrected and clarified)
This week's Parsha discusses a person who is afflicted with tzaraas (tzaraat for you Israeli's/Sephardim/or random people who say t instead of s for a tav without a dot). We are told that the Metzora needs to bring three sacrifices, one an Guilt-offering (Asham), a sin offering and an Olah (Vayikra 14:12-13):

י  וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי, יִקַּח שְׁנֵי-כְבָשִׂים תְּמִימִם, וְכַבְשָׂה אַחַת בַּת-שְׁנָתָהּ, תְּמִימָה; וּשְׁלֹשָׁה עֶשְׂרֹנִים, סֹלֶת מִנְחָה בְּלוּלָה בַשֶּׁמֶן, וְלֹג אֶחָד, שָׁמֶן. 10 And on the eighth day he shall take two he-lambs without blemish, and one ewe-lamb of the first year without blemish, and three tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour for a meal-offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil.

יב  וְלָקַח הַכֹּהֵן אֶת-הַכֶּבֶשׂ הָאֶחָד, וְהִקְרִיב אֹתוֹ לְאָשָׁם--וְאֶת-לֹג הַשָּׁמֶן; וְהֵנִיף אֹתָם תְּנוּפָה, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה. 12 And the priest shall take one of the he-lambs, and offer him for a guilt-offering, and the log of oil, and wave them for a wave-offering before the LORD.

יט  וְעָשָׂה הַכֹּהֵן, אֶת-הַחַטָּאת, וְכִפֶּר, עַל-הַמִּטַּהֵר מִטֻּמְאָתוֹ; וְאַחַר, יִשְׁחַט אֶת-הָעֹלָה. 19 And the priest shall offer the sin-offering, and make atonement for him that is to be cleansed because of his uncleanness; and afterward he shall kill the burnt-offering.

The reason for bringing a Guilt-offering with a sin-offering and an Olah seems to be similar to the reason why a woman who just gave birth has to bring a Sin-offering with an Olah. There are a few differences based on the specifics of the case, for example, the woman has to bring the Olah first and the Metzora has to bring a Guilt offering on top of the other two, but I think the reason a Sin/Guilt offering has to be brought AT ALL is similar. As seen in this previous post (, a woman needs to bring a Sin-offering because of some sin she committed. The same is true for the guilt and sin offering of the Metzorah, he or she committed some sin, therefore a Guilt-offering must be brought. So, as usual, we must ask the question of "What was his/her sin?"

Most people only relate the affliction of Tzaraas with Lashon hora (slander). This is a popular misconception made so popular because of all the commentaries on the incident in Bamidbar (12) where Miriam slanders Moshe and is afflicted with Taraas. Yes, slander seems to be one way that a person can acquire Tzaraas, but Tzaraas is so much more than just a punishment for slander. The Midrash Tanchuma brings down different reasons for why a person is afflicted by Tzaraas (Metzorah 4):

זאת תהיה תורת המצורע. ילמדנו רבינו, על כמה דברים נגעים באים על האדם. כך שנו רבותינו, על אחת עשרה דברים הנגעים באים על האדם. על עבודה זרה, ועל חלול השם, ועל גלוי עריות, ועל הגנבות, ועל לשון הרע, ועל המעיד עדות שקר, ועל הדיין המקלקל את הדין, ועל שבועת שוא, ועל הנכנס בתחום שאינו שלו, ועל החושב מחשבות של שקר, ועל המשלח מדנים בין אחים. ויש אומרים, אף על עין רעה
This is the Law of the Metzora: Our Rabbis teach us , How many things bring about the affliction of Tzaraas on a man? Our Rabbis have taught that there are 11 things a person can do that brings about Tzaraas on them. Idol worship, Desecration of G-D, Illicit relations, Stealing (hidden), Slander, False testimony, A judge that distorts judgement, A false oath, Entering into an area that is not yours, thinking thoughts of falsehood, causing a rift between brothers and, there are those that say, having an evil eye. 

All of these perverse actions have one thing in common, they all constitute a betrayal of someone else by either tricking them into believing something or actually betraying them. The person who worships idols is betraying G-D by turning his or her back on G-D. The person who steals or testifies falsely is betraying the one he or she is causing harm to. The best way to understand why a person gets Tzaraas is to look at examples of it in the Torah, Neviim and Kesuvim.

The first case of Tzaraas in the Torah was when Moshe was speaking to G-D by the burning bush (Shemos (4:6):
ו  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה לוֹ עוֹד, הָבֵא-נָא יָדְךָ בְּחֵיקֶךָ, וַיָּבֵא יָדוֹ, בְּחֵיקוֹ; וַיּוֹצִאָהּ, וְהִנֵּה יָדוֹ מְצֹרַעַת כַּשָּׁלֶג.6 And the LORD said furthermore unto him: 'Put now thy hand into thy bosom.' And he put his hand into his bosom; and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, as white as snow.
This was a form of punishment, apparently, because just a few verses earlier Moshe had said: (ibid:1):
א  וַיַּעַן מֹשֶׁה, וַיֹּאמֶר, וְהֵן לֹא-יַאֲמִינוּ לִי, וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי:  כִּי יֹאמְרוּ, לֹא-נִרְאָה אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה.1 And Moses answered and said: 'But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice; for they will say: The LORD hath not appeared unto thee.'
This was inappropriate for Moshe to say. He slandered the Jewish people. How could he claim that they will not listen to him when G-D was sending Moshe? Therefore, he was punished with Tzaraas.

The next case is when Miriam slanders Moshe (Bamidbar 12:10):
י  וְהֶעָנָן, סָר מֵעַל הָאֹהֶל, וְהִנֵּה מִרְיָם, מְצֹרַעַת כַּשָּׁלֶג; וַיִּפֶן אַהֲרֹן אֶל-מִרְיָם, וְהִנֵּה מְצֹרָעַת.10 And when the cloud was removed from over the Tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow; and Aaron looked upon Miriam; and, behold, she was leprous.
She was punished with Tzaraas because she had spoken slanderously against her brother. Therefore, she was punished, just like Moshe was, with Tzaraas.

The next case is found in Melachim 2 (5:1) by Naaman the Aramean:
א  וְנַעֲמָן שַׂר-צְבָא מֶלֶךְ-אֲרָם הָיָה אִישׁ גָּדוֹל לִפְנֵי אֲדֹנָיו, וּנְשֻׂא פָנִים--כִּי-בוֹ נָתַן-יְהוָה תְּשׁוּעָה, לַאֲרָם; וְהָאִישׁ, הָיָה גִּבּוֹר חַיִל--מְצֹרָע.1 Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and held in esteem, because by him the LORD had given victory unto Aram; he was also a mighty man of valour, but he was a leper.
The question here is why does this man deserve to be a Metzora? Weren't only Jews punished with Tzaraas because of its close connection to G-D? (meaning G-D places this disease on the Metzora) The truth is that this Naaman was a righteous gentile, as is seen in this chapter. He believed in G-D and his power (ibid:11):
יא  וַיִּקְצֹף נַעֲמָן, וַיֵּלַךְ; וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה אָמַרְתִּי אֵלַי יֵצֵא יָצוֹא, וְעָמַד וְקָרָא בְּשֵׁם-יְהוָה אֱלֹהָיו, וְהֵנִיף יָדוֹ אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם, וְאָסַף הַמְּצֹרָע.11 But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said: 'Behold, I thought: He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper. 
He clearly believed in G-D, but it was this incident that made him realize that the only G-D is the G-D of Israel (ibid:15):
טו  וַיָּשָׁב אֶל-אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים הוּא וְכָל-מַחֲנֵהוּ, וַיָּבֹא וַיַּעֲמֹד לְפָנָיו, וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה-נָא יָדַעְתִּי כִּי אֵין אֱלֹהִים בְּכָל-הָאָרֶץ, כִּי אִם-בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל; וְעַתָּה קַח-נָא בְרָכָה, מֵאֵת עַבְדֶּךָ.15 And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him; and he said: 'Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel; now therefore, I pray thee, take a present of thy servant.'
So, what was Naaman being punished for originally? It seems like he was punished for entering into an area where he didn't belong (ibid:2):
ב  וַאֲרָם יָצְאוּ גְדוּדִים, וַיִּשְׁבּוּ מֵאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל נַעֲרָה קְטַנָּה; וַתְּהִי, לִפְנֵי אֵשֶׁת נַעֲמָן.2 And the Arameans had gone out in bands, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife.
G-D had granted Naaman power over Israel, but he had no right to abduct a young girl from Israel. This is, apparently, why he was a Metzora.

The next case is found in the same chapter where Elisha's servant, Gehazi, is afflicted with Tzaraas (ibid:27)
כז  וְצָרַעַת נַעֲמָן תִּדְבַּק-בְּךָ, וּבְזַרְעֲךָ לְעוֹלָם; וַיֵּצֵא מִלְּפָנָיו, מְצֹרָע כַּשָּׁלֶג.27 The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever.' And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.
The reason for this affliction was because Elisha did not want to accept any gifts from Naaman, but Gehazi wanted money. Gehazi chased after Naaman after he had departed from Elisha. He told Naaman that Elisha changed his mind and wanted to accept some gifts after all, a pure lie! Therefore, Elisha informed Gehazi that he would be a Metzora. All because of his greed that caused him to lie.

The next case we have is Azariah (also known as Uzziah) the son of Amaziah, King of Yehuda becoming a Metzorah (Kings 2 15:5):
ה  וַיְנַגַּע יְהוָה אֶת-הַמֶּלֶךְ, וַיְהִי מְצֹרָע עַד-יוֹם מֹתוֹ, וַיֵּשֶׁב, בְּבֵית הַחָפְשִׁית; וְיוֹתָם בֶּן-הַמֶּלֶךְ עַל-הַבַּיִת, שֹׁפֵט אֶת-עַם הָאָרֶץ.5 And the LORD smote the king, so that he was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a house set apart. And Jotham the king's son was over the household, judging the people of the land.
(He is referred to Azariah in Kings because that was his actual name. However, he is referred to Uzziah in Chronicles because the Kohein (Priest) that kicks him out of the temple when he becomes a metzora is named  Azariah.)
What did he do to deserve the affliction of Tzaraas? This is told to us in Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles 2 26:16,18,19):
טז  וּכְחֶזְקָתוֹ, גָּבַהּ לִבּוֹ עַד-לְהַשְׁחִית, וַיִּמְעַל, בַּיהוָה אֱלֹהָיו; וַיָּבֹא אֶל-הֵיכַל יְהוָה, לְהַקְטִיר עַל-מִזְבַּח הַקְּטֹרֶת.16 But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up so that he did corruptly, and he trespassed against the LORD his God; for he went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense.
יח  וַיַּעַמְדוּ עַל-עֻזִּיָּהוּ הַמֶּלֶךְ, וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ לֹא-לְךָ עֻזִּיָּהוּ לְהַקְטִיר לַיהוָה--כִּי לַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי-אַהֲרֹן הַמְקֻדָּשִׁים, לְהַקְטִיר:  צֵא מִן-הַמִּקְדָּשׁ כִּי מָעַלְתָּ, וְלֹא-לְךָ לְכָבוֹד מֵיְהוָה אֱלֹהִים.18 and they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him: 'It pertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron that are consecrated it pertaineth to burn incense; go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thy honour from the LORD God.'
יט  וַיִּזְעַף, עֻזִּיָּהוּ, וּבְיָדוֹ מִקְטֶרֶת, לְהַקְטִיר; וּבְזַעְפּוֹ עִם-הַכֹּהֲנִים, וְהַצָּרַעַת זָרְחָה בְמִצְחוֹ לִפְנֵי הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּבֵית יְהוָה, מֵעַל, לְמִזְבַּח הַקְּטֹרֶת.19 Then Uzziah was wroth; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense; and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy broke forth in his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, beside the altar of incense.
Uzziah (Azariah) was trying to enter into a place he did not belong, which was considered to be a betrayal of G-D and the Kohanim (Priests). It was thier right to offer up incense to G-D and G-D designated it for them.  Also, the Tzaraas did not actually come upon Uzziah until he was considering evil thoughts against the priests. Thus, when G-D saw Uzziah would not back down until he was made a Metzora, that is exactly what happened.

All of these cases from Tanach teach us that it is obvious that it is more than just Loshon Hara (slander) that causes a person to be afflicted with Tzaraas. Any betrayal that a person commits is deserving of this punishment. However, the only people to ever be afflicted with this "disease" were righteous individuals or people that were close to G-D. This can teach us something very valuable about betrayal. Betrayal is bad, but it is even worse when you are considered to be someone who should know better. Yes, we get upset when someone steals from us, but it is even worse if the person who stole from us turns out to be our best friend! That is possibly the worst feeling ever. Not only that, but it effects our psyche and we are forever unable to trust people.

Why was Moshe's slander so bad? Because he was supposed to become the leader and stick up for the Jewish people even when G-D wanted to destroy them. Why was Miriam's slander so bad? Because she was the one who protected her little brother in the reeds and was supposed to defend him from others. Why was Namaans abduction so bad? Because he was supposed to restrain his own men from kidnapping Jews and he kidnapped one himself. (Notice how the verse tells us the Arameans only kidnapped one young woman and it happened to be that she served in Naaman's house.) Why was Gehazi's lie so bad? Because he was the close confidante of Elisha and he ended up using Elisha's righteous name to get money out of Naaman. Finally, why was Uzziah's attempt to take over the Kohanim's job so bad? Because he was the one who was supposed to defend G-D's Torah through being the king not a priest. The verse tells us that Uzziah was completely righteous, but his success led him to be haughty and that was his betrayal.

This is why a Metzora must bring a guilt offering and an Olah. The guilt offering is to invoke forgiveness for a betrayal and the Olah is an attempt to try and reestablish the relationship with the person who was betrayed. At least, that is how I see it based on these cases in Tanach and the Medrashim.

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