Why Does One Get Tzaraat?

How does one end up with Tzaraat, the scale disease that existed in biblical times? This is not a medical disease but rather a spiritual disease inflicted by God and where only God can heal the afflicted. It does not relate to leprosy, to Hansen’s Disease or anything in our modern age.

The rabbis link Tzaraat with Motzi Shem Ra,[1] speaking poorly about someone else, giving him/her a bad name. However, there is another meaning behind Tzaraat that I wish to share tonight: a lack of faith.

Ibn Ezra comments on this latter definition of Tzaraat. He writes in his comment on Moses ‘What if they don’t believe me?’ the following:

“We know that God knows the entire future. This statement is against Moses. After God said, ‘They will listen to your voice (Ex. 3:18),’ Moses said, ‘I am afraid that they will not all listen to my voice.’”[2]

         How many times in life do we doubt ourselves or our true potential? How many times have we said ‘I’m not the right person’ when precisely we are? Even our greatest leader, Moses, did not believe in his abilities. Yet God knows our true potential. We are part of a story that is still being written and could go in any number of directions. What we need to do is maintain faith in ourselves and in our abilities to effect change.

         This is not a blind faith or an escape from reality: rather it is the importance of stepping up to the plate when that is what we are called to do. When we have doubts about the difference we will make or we say to ourselves ‘What’s the point?’ it is at those moments that we need to have Emunah, faith in ourselves and belief in our future. If we do not than we are in trouble. Yes, we should not disparage people, as Rashi indicates Moses and Miriam did, giving them Tzaraat; yet of equal importance we need to keep our faith strong. When we put our full effort forward, there is no limit to what we can achieve.


[1] See Rashi Exodus 4:6

[2] Ibn Ezra Exodus 4:8

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