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Home » Metzora, Tazria

Tazria Metzorah: Our Clash Of Priorities

Submitted by on April 11, 2010 – 2:55 amNo Comment | 16,677 views

A Curious Order

Tzara’as was a skin condition prevalent in Biblical times. Our sages taught that rather than a physical illness tzara’as was a symptom of a spiritual malaise; it struck the gossip as a consequence of Lashon Hara.

Tzara’as exhibited in four places, on skin, hair, clothing and the walls of the house. The order in which the laws of these four forms appear in the Torah, beginning with skin and ending with the house, is instructive.

Maimonidies taught that when one gossiped the results were soon visible on the walls of the house. If this served to quiet the gossip the tzara’as would stop there, but if the gossip continued, the tzara’as would spread to the sinner’s wardrobe. If this served to quell the gossip the tzara’as would stop there, but if the gossip continued, the tzara’as would spread to the sinner’s hair and beard. If the gossip stopped at this point, so would the tzara’as, but if it continued, the tzara’as would affect his skin.

The order in which the tzara’as spread seems deliberate; each step extending the reach of the malaise. One wonders, however, why the Torah did not present the four forms in the order in which it spread. Rather than begin with the house and work its way to the sinner’s body, the Torah presents the law of tzara’as in reverse order; it begins with the skin and concludes with the house.

We might suggest that whereas tzara’as was only prevalent in the Temple era, the Torah itself is timeless. By reversing the order the Torah teaches us a lesson relevant for all time.

Happiness

In a New York Times article that ran on March 29, 2010, David Brooks cited studies to the effect that increases in income do not necessarily equate with increases in happiness. Larger houses, cars or wardrobes do not make people happier. Successful relationships, personal friendships and social trust, do.

According to Coral Grahams of the Brookings Institution, the United states is much richer today than it was fifty years ago, but it is not measurably happier. On a personal level, winning the lottery and gaining a promotion does not necessarily produce lasting happiness. Instead overall happiness tends to rise in our mid twenties, when we generally reach or surpass educational goals, dips in middle age and peak after retirement.

If financial success does not translate into happiness, personal relationships do. According to one study people are as happy when they join a group that meets at least once a month as when their incomes are doubled. Marriage tends to generate more happiness than earning $100 000. Countries where people trust their neighbors tend to be happier, healthier, wealthier and less fearful of crime.

First Things First

Yet we invest more time in our careers and financial stability than we do in our relationships. We invest more effort in activities that secure our bank accounts than in those that secure happiness. This might be the subliminal message of the order by which the tzara’as strikes.

Sure we have fancy homes and nice wardrobes, but losing our homes to tzara’as is survivable. Losing our Armani suites and Gucci shoes does not affect our overall well-being. These are just things; they don’t have the power to devastate. Furthermore, even losing our physical appearance is not the end of the world. If tzara’as afflicts our carefully coiffed hair and we are forced to shave it off we might not want to look in the mirror, but we would be none the worse off for it. Where we are most vulnerable is in personal health. Losing that is by far the greatest blow to our well being.

It is not impossible to be happy when we are ill or in pain, but it is not easy. It is much easier to be happy when we have lost our attractive appearance, tailored suites or luxurious homes and are forced to make do with less. Poverty does not rob us of dignity and self esteem. In the order of things, losing our house in the smallest of our troubles, yet when we consider our priorities we invest more resources in our houses and vacations than in our families and relationships.

We care more about our wardrobe and appearance than about our friendships.

By presenting tzara’as of the skin before that of the house the Torah reminds us to return to the basics. Let us not allow life’s glamor to distract us from life itself. Being alive is more important than how we dress it up. First things first.

The Hierarchy

When we gossip, we are the first to be affected. That our integrity is the first casualty of our gossip may be why the Torah presents tzara’as of the gossip’s body first.

The next to be affected, are our family and friends. Tzara’as of the hair and beard, which serve as metaphors for the part of us that extends unto others and forms relationships, is thus the second tzara’as presented in the Torah.

The next to be affected are our acquaintances. Accordingly, the Torah presents tzara’as of the wardrobe because clothing indicate distant acquaintances; our friends know our character, acquaintances form their impressions of us from the way we dress.

Finally our gossip becomes so vitriolic and hateful, as to affect everyone around us. The Torah thus concludes with tzara’as of our homes because all who walk through our doors, even service staff and complete strangers, are tarred by the poison of our gossip.

We can now see that though tzara’as is not prevalent today the teaching we take from it is timeless. It is as relevant today as it was in the Biblical day.