The long section of Parashiot Tazria and Metzora dealing with the affliction of Tzara’at begins with the phrase, “Adam Ki Yihyeh VeOr Besaro Se’eit O Sapachat O Vaheret,” “A man who has on his the skin of his flesh a Se’eit or a Sapachat or a Baheret (types of Tzara’at)” (VaYikra 13:2). Contrary to the logical expectation and despite being the first character introduced (and thus seemingly the main character), this “Adam” plays a very small role in the Tzara’at scenarios. In fact, from the very beginning, the “Adam” is described passively, as the Pasuk states, “VeHuva El Aharon HaKohein,” “He shall be brought to Aharon the Kohein” (13:2). Immediately afterwards, it is clear that the “Adam” is not a main character. All the Tzara’at scenarios deal almost exclusively with two characters: “HaKohein,” the Kohein who inspects the Tzara’at, and “HaNega,” the affliction itself. The Pesukim deal with phrases such as, “VeRa’ah HaKohein Et HaNega,” “The Kohein shall look at the affliction” (13:3); “VeHisgir HaKohein Et HaNega,” “The Kohein shall close off the affliction” (13:4); “VeHineih Keihah HaNega,” “And behold, if the affliction has dimmed” (13:6); and the ubiquitous “VeRa’ah HaKohein,” “The Kohein shall look” (13:3, 13:6, 13:8, 13:10, 13:13, 13:15, etc.). None of these phrases mention the “Adam.” With most verbs in this section attributed to either “HaKohein” or “HaNega,” the “Adam” is the character mentioned least in this section, and when he is mentioned, he is merely mentioned passively. This is in stark contrast to his prominence in the introduction to the section.
As the Parashah continues, the Torah seems to continue to de-emphasize the “Adam.” When the Torah needs to introduce a new Tzara’at scenario, it states, “Nega Tzara’at Ki Tihyeh BeAdam VeHuva El HaKohein,” “If a Tzara’at affliction will be in a person, he shall be brought to the Kohein” (13:9). As opposed to the first introduction, which started with the “Adam” and only then moved onto “HaNega,” this introduction goes so far to begin already with “HaNega” mentioning the “Adam” only in passing as the affliction’s location. Further degrading the “Adam,” the Torah immediately stresses his passivity by using the word “VeHuva,” “He shall be brought.” When the Torah needs a third introduction, it states, “UVasar Ki Yihyeh Vo VeOro Shechin VeNirpa,” “If flesh will have had an inflammation on its skin, and it will have healed” (13:18). By this point, the Torah has completely left out the “Adam,” and refers only to “flesh.” By leaving him out in the one place he is sure to be found, the Torah goes beyond just de-emphasizing the “Adam; it emphasizes his de-emphasis.
This extreme de-emphasis is very puzzling. Why does the Torah feel the need to put the “Adam” in the back seat during the Tzara’at process? Furthermore, if the “Adam” is to be so inactive and unimportant during the Tzara’at process, why is he the first character introduced, and why is he introduced in a way that makes it seems like he will be active?
Like most of the Torah’s punishments, Tzara’at comes as a way to encourage Teshuvah for certain sins. The Gemara (Arachin 16a) lists seven sins for which Tzara’at is given as punishment. One of them is Gasut Ruach (haughtiness). A person who is haughty views himself as very important; he considers himself the main character in life. Throughout the Tzara’at experience, this person is drawn to the other extreme. The haughty “Adam” is the least important person in the Tzara’at process, as proven by the multitude of locations de-emphasizing him. This de-emphasis is a perfect punishment for his haughtiness and a way of drawing him toward a more balanced view of himself.
Furthermore, three more sins mentioned by the Gemara are Lashon HaRa (slander), Shefichut Damim (murder), and Gezel (theft). All three of these sins involve one person unfairly exercising control over another person’s life. When one tells Lashon HaRa, he can start a rumor that causes extreme shame to another. This can ruin his life without his participation or consent. When one murders, he is obviously exercising control over another’s right to life. When one steals, he exerts unfair control over another’s property, believing that it is his to take without the other’s participation or consent. In all these cases, the victim is completely passive. As punishment, the sinner is thrown into the same situation during the Tzara’at proccess. He is completely passive and remains at the mercy of his affliction and the Kohein. The sinner didn’t let someone else act without ruining his life, so he is not allowed to act either. This is a perfect Midah KeNegged Midah punishment.
Interestingly, an active verb is applied to the “Adam” twice in this section of the Torah. In one scenario, after the Kohein declares the Nega to be Tahor, the Torah states, “VeChibeis Begadav VeTaheir,” “And he shall wash his clothes and he will become Tahor” (13:6), referring to the “Adam.” In another scenario, when the appearance of the Nega changes from one that is Tamei to one that is Tahor, the Torah states, “UVa El HaKohein,” “And he shall come to the Kohein” (13:16), once again referring to the “Adam,” and substituting the active “UVa” for this section’s normal “VeHuva.” In both these cases, the “Adam’s” affliction is becoming Tahor, and he is now more active. An affliction of Tzara’at becomes Tahor because it has already successfully led the sinner to Teshuvah. At this point, the sinner has learned his lesson. He is no longer too haughty or too active. He no longer needs Tzara’at’s punishment of extreme de-emphasis. He is ready to rejoin normal society and be active while allowing others to retain their right to be active as well.
May we all remember that everyone has the right to be an active member of society and we should work to protect that right instead of violating it.