The Warning Siren

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
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In this week’s parsha we learn about the various forms of tzara’as that may afflict a person’s skin, clothes or home.  Lest one think that tzara’as is a  physical illness, such as leprosy, the Midrash states quite clearly that it is a supernatural punishment that Hashem brings upon man for his sins, must notably for the sin of lashon hara.  The Midrash[1] states as follows:


"נכונו ללצים שפטים ומהלמות לגו כסילים"... אמר הקב"ה עד שלא בראתי את האדם התקנתי לו ה' מגלבין שאת ספחת בהרת שחין מכוה.


Judgment is prepared for the scoffers, and shattering blows for the fools.”[2]  HaKadosh Baruch Hu said: “Before I created man, I prepared five whips [by which to punish him]: se’eis, sapachas, baheres, shechin, michveh.”[3]


The Ramban[4] contends that tzara’as of the skin is indeed a physical illness.  However, he concedes that tzara’as of the clothes or home is purely a supernatural, Heavenly punishment, which he describes as follows:


"והבגד כי יהיה בו נגע צרעת" - זה איננו בטבע כלל ולא הווה בעולם, וכן נגעי הבתים, אבל בהיות ישראל שלמים לה' יהיה רוח השם עליהם תמיד להעמיד גופם ובגדיהם ובתיהם במראה טוב, וכאשר יקרה באחד מהם חטא ועון יתהוה כיעור בבשרו או בבגדו או בביתו, להראות כי השם סר מעליו. ולכך אמר הכתוב  "ונתתי נגע צרעת בבית ארץ אחוזתכם", כי היא מכת השם בבית ההוא. והנה איננו נוהג אלא בארץ שהיא נחלת ה', כמו שאמר "כי תבאו אל ארץ כנען אשר אני נותן לכם לאחוזה", ואין הדבר מפני היותו חובת קרקע, אבל מפני שלא יבא הענין ההוא אלא בארץ הנבחרת אשר השם הנכבד שוכן בתוכה.  ובתורת כהנים דרשו עוד, שאין הבית מטמא אלא אחר כבוש וחלוק, ושיהא כל אחד ואחד מכיר את שלו. והטעם, כי אז נתישבה דעתם עליהם לדעת את ה' ותשרה שכינה בתוכם.



Tzara’as of a garment is not a natural occurrence at all, nor a normal course of the world.  The same is true of tzara’as of a house.


Rather, when Bnei Yisrael are loyal to Hashem, His spirit constantly rests upon them, to preserve their bodies, clothes and homes with a pleasant appearance.  However, when a person sins, his flesh, clothes or home becomes disfigured, to show that Hashem has forsaken him.


The verse states, “I shall place the affliction of tzara’as upon a house in the land of your inheritance[5] – clearly implying that Hashem’s plague is upon the house [and no natural occurrence].


The laws of tzara’as for a home apply only in the land that is Hashem’s portion, as it is written, “When you arrive in the Land of Canaan that I give you as an inheritance, and I will place the affliction of tzara’as upon a house in the land of your inheritance.”  This is not because tzara’as is an agricultural mitzva, integrally connected to the soil of Israel.  Rather, this is because tzara’as can only occur in the ChosenLand, in which Hashem in His Glory dwells.


In Toras Kohanim, our Sages add that a house could become impure with tzara’as only after the Land was conquered and divided, such that each person claimed his portion.  Only then did they achieve the peace of mind necessary to know Hashem, and let His Presence rest among them [such that His occasional absence would be clearly visible through the affliction of tzara’as].


Seforno writes similarly:


ממה שאין ספק בו שלא יהיה זה בטבע בשום פנים, כי בבגד לא יקרו אלה המראות המשונות אם לא מצד מלאכה תשימם בו בצבעים שונים בכונה או שלא בכונה וזה מצד איזה חטא שיקרה בסמים הצובעים או במלאכת האומן או בהתפעלות הבגד הצבוע. וכבר באה הקבלה שלא ידונו בנגעי בגדים זולתי הלבנים בלתי צבועים כלל. אמנם העיד הכתוב שלפעמים יהיה זה כפלא בבגדים ובבתים, וזה להעיר אוזן הבעלים על עבירות שבידם, כמו שספרו ז"ל שיקרה בענין השביעית כאמרם: בא וראה כמה קשה אבקה של שביעית אדם נושא ונותן בפירות שביעית סוף מוכר את מטלטליו לא הרגיש סוף מוכר שדהו וכו'.



Tzara’as of the clothes is obviously no natural occurrence, since no garment will ever take on such odd discolorations unless it is deliberately dyed or even accidentally dyed as the result of a mistake in which dyes were used or the way they were applied.  However, we have a tradition that the laws of tzara’as apply only to a white garment.  [Therefore, the discoloration of tzara’as cannot be the result of improper dying.]


Rather, tzara’as is a miraculous punishment, which comes to draw a person’s attention to the sins he has committed.  This is just as our Sages teach concerning the sin of selling the produce of shevi’is – that a person who does so will be forced to sell his possessions, his home, and finally himself into slavery.[6]  [So too, tzara’as afflicts a persons garments, his home, and finally his very flesh.][7]


The Kli Yakar adds that just as tzara’as of garments and homes cannot possibly be a natural occurrence, but is instead a supernatural punishment, the same must be true of tzara’as of the flesh – as we have seen above in the Midrash.







Now that we have established that tzara’as is no mere natural illness but a sign from Heaven, we must contemplate how to decipher this sign.  Hashem has no interest in seeing His beloved children suffer, but punishment is sometimes necessary to awaken us to the foolishness of our ways and make us reconsider our lives, as the Gemara states:


אם רואה אדם שיסורין באין עליו יפשפש במעשיו שנאמר "נחפשה דרכינו ונחקורה ונשובה עד ה."

If man sees that suffering has befallen him, let him inspect his ways, as it is written, “Let us inspect our ways, consider them, and return to Hashem.”[8]


When a person is honest with himself, he can be the best judge of his own behavior.  If misfortune befalls the physical structure of his home, let him consider what misdeeds he may have committed in his home.  Does he run his home with a proper atmosphere of Torah values?  Is his home open to guests?  Is it free from the corruptive influence of the street?


If misfortune befalls him in his garments, let him consider what misdeeds he may have committed with them.  Has he checked his clothes for shaatnez?  Does he wear kosher tzitzis?  Does he encourage his wife and daughters to dress modestly, as befits a Daughter of the King?  This is part of each man’s responsibility, as head of his household.


If misfortune befalls his physical body, let him consider how he might have used his body to sin, or failed to apply himself to mitzva observance with all his bodily strength.


The Seforno cited above states that the various forms of tzara’as are in fact a series warning sirens of increasing levels of urgency.  If a person has stumbled into the disastrous trait of speaking lashon hara, Hashem warns him to desist before he entirely forfeits his portion in this world and the next.  First, Hashem warns him by sending tzara’as to his clothes, then to his home, and finally to his very flesh.


In any case, tzara’as, like other kinds of punishment, is an expression of Hashem’s lovingkindness.  If we do not heed the warnings of the Torah, Hashem sometimes finds no other course but to send us punishments of one form or another, in order to alert us to the great danger that hovers over our heads, and guide us back to the path towards success for our own ultimate benefit.


May we merit to return to Hashem with all our hearts and see the speedy resolution of all our problems, in fulfillment of the verse, “ושב ורפא לו - He shall return and be healed.”[9]

[1] Bamidbar Rabbah 13:4

[2] Mishlei 19:29

[3] These are the five forms of skin tzara’as described in this week’s parsha.

[4] See Ramban’s Commentary on the Torah, Vayikra 13:3

[5] Vayikra 14:34

[6] Kiddushin 20a

[7] Seforno’s Commentary on the Torah, Vayikra 13:47

[8] Eichah 3:40; Berachos 5a

[9] Yeshaya 6:10