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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
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Home » Life Is Beautiful, Tazria

Tazria: Holier Than Thou

Submitted by on March 30, 2019 – 11:39 pmNo Comment | 2,590 views

Tazria: Holier Than Thou

Holier than thou is an expression that connotes false piety. It describes those who pass themselves off as holy when they aren’t. For example, those who give generous donations when others are looking, but nothing at all when no one takes notice. Or those who make sure everyone knows how honestly they filled out their tax returns. Or those who go out of their way to demonstrate their marital fidelity.

Holier than thou is particularly vulgar when it is directed toward putting down those who don’t pass muster. For example, when those who are holier than thou see someone making a meager contribution, they disparage that person in public. When they hear that someone cheated on their taxes or their marriage, they put on airs of incredulity.

When you see someone pass themselves off as holier than thou, or worse berate others for not being holier than thou, you know something is wrong. It is like a bully who harasses someone with low self-esteem because he himself suffers from insecurity. Similarly, those who take vicious pleasure in highlighting another’s faults, often suffer from those very faults. Broadcasting another’s faults from the billboards helps them deflect attention from their own faults.

Even when they aren’t disparaging others, their effort to draw positive attention to their supposed strengths serves to deflect negative attention from their faults. It helps them overlook their own faults and it creates a smokescreen for others. People who goes to great lengths to ensure that everyone knows about their honesty, integrity, or loyalty, are often dishonest, duplicitous, or disloyal.

While Splotches
The Torah tells us about a skin condition called, Tsaraas that was prevalent in the biblical day. Tsaraas is often misconstrued for leprosy, but that is a mistake. Tsaraas was a condition of white splotches that appeared on the skin surface or the scalp. But it wasn’t a medical condition. Tsaraas was a product of spiritual malaise. The Torah tells us that when people were guilty of certain sins, gossip in particular, this condition would appear on their skin surface.

The question is asked, if Tsaraas denotes a state of sin, why does it present as a white splotch of skin. Isn’t white the color of purity and wouldn’t it make more sense for the affected splotch to have been black or some other angry color? It is true that red skin played a role in Tsaraas, but it was a relatively minor role. The primary color of Tsaraas was white.

The answer is that the white splotch was whiter than the natural color of skin. It was an artificial white. When someone creates an artificial appearance of piety in one particular area, beware of that person. If they present as normal people in all other areas of life, but seem holier than thou in one area, and moreover, they make a point of showing off their unusual whiteness by contrasting it against others who are not as white as they are, that is a sign of sin.

The person who has Tsaraas is called a Metsora. Metsora is an amalgam of two Hebrew words, Motsie Ra – one who circulates negative rumors about others. It can very well be a true rumor, but the Metsora’s need to circulate that rumor and showcase the other’s negative behavior, highlights the Metsora’s own faults. Normal people don’t take pleasure in tearing others down. If the Metsorah makes himself look good by disparaging others, he is likely guilty himself. The lily white image that the Metsorah meticulously crafts, gives him away. The white splotch is an indication of sin.

The Mirror
I was on a plane this morning and my seatmate and I engaged in a conversation about politics. We were chatting about how divisive and polarizing politics has become and how issues that should be addressed with common sense become overly complex when politics gets involved. We were having a wonderful time bashing the politicians, calling out their corruption and mocking their ineptness.

All at once, a thought struck me that took the air out from under my wings. I noticed that I was feeling holier than thou compared to these politicians. They were corrupt, they were dishonest, and they were unfair. By comparison, my interlocutor and I were positively puritanical.

At that point, I suggested that we stop judging others for what we might likely be guilty ourselves. Would we be better politicians if we had run for office? Would we avoid corruption, bribery, and the dirty political games that are the hallmarks of politics everywhere? I remembered Lord Acton’s words that power corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and realized that I am not qualified to judge those politicians because I have not walked in their shoes.

To his credit, my conversation mate agreed with me and we deftly changed the subject.

This doesn’t mean that we can never call out the crimes of our politicians. It means that we only call them out when there is a practical reason to do so. If we can help to identify a criminal or solve a problem, we have reason to discuss the crimes of another. But if we can’t do anything to help them and are discussing it merely to pass the time and make ourselves feel good by comparison, we are creating an artificial white splotch—making ourselves look good at the expense of another.