April 15, 2015

In this weeks double Sedra, the Netziv discusses the diagnosis and treatment of the Metzora and the unusual fact that he loses the right to medical privacy.

To rule on which day it is tamei and which day it is tahor – this is the law of tzora’as.
Toras Kohanim derives from the word lehoros/to rule that a person cannot issue a decision on matters of nega’im unless directed by his rebbi. The Raavad enlarges upon this, citing a Yerushalmi, that a person must first be pointed in the direction of the psak by his rebbi, and only then follow through with the proper conclusion. Even if a veteran student who is well-learned and comprehends the subject material is not authorized to rule on these matters unless his rebbi steers him in the right direction.

The Raavad understands “lehoros” here more precisely as “to instruct.” The upshot of our pasuk is that when questions of tzora’as arise, a seasoned rebbi should gather his students around, and seize a teachable moment, showing them the subtle distinctions between “which day it is tamei and which day it is tahor.” We do not follow such a strict procedure regarding other halachic matters. This is the reason the Torah continues, “this is the law of tzora’as,” i.e. it is only regarding tzora’as that we demand that a competent student not issue a ruling until his rebbi has indicated the proper disposition of the case.

This, perhaps, is the reason why our pasuk immediately follow one that speaks of the se’eis, the sapachas, and the baheres, which properly should have been mentioned in the order in which they were treated above, in all their detail. That would place them before the nega’im of garments and houses, which are here mentioned first. It is the complexity of se’eis, sapachas, and baheres which account for the special stringency here.

Alternatively, we can account for the order by observing that these nega’im appear on the flesh of a person. We are struck by the indelicate way in which the metzora is treated. The kohen convenes a group of his students to stand over the “patient” and gawk at this symptoms. This is an enormous invasion of his privacy, and a source of embarrassment and discomfort. The Torah therefore underscores that this procedure is allowed and justified only in the case of tzora’as, which is a Heavenly response to some antisocial behavior on the part of the stricken person. Because he acted improperly to his fellow man by shaming him, experiencing some semi-public shame is part of his atonement. Under all other circumstances, however, a person’s sense of privacy about his body – beyond any requirements of modesty – must be safeguarded.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Meir Wise


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