In this week’s Parashah, Parashat Metzora, the Torah continues its discussion of purity, which it began previously in Parashat Tazria. One of the main focuses of Parashat Metzora is Tzara’at, a spiritual disease that afflicts the body by making parts of the skin white. While the disease of Tzara’at, as well as other spiritual impurities, might appear to be simple and straight-forward, perhaps we can understand a greater, more universal meaning behind the Torah’s mentioning of impurity and learn how we, as Jews, can relate to and find unique meaning in these diseases.
We can view purity as a goal that symbolizes man’s constant struggle to attain perfection and reach the ultimate spiritual plane. However, based on the Torah’s complicated explanation of the purification process, with a lengthy list of criteria to fulfill, it appears that this journey to purity is a significant and meaningful spiritual voyage. First, man must discover that there is something wrong with himself (i.e., he has a white skin irritation that is unlike any other). Upon realizing that he has an issue, man must go to the Kohein for a diagnosis of his skin disease. If the disease is unlike any standard ailment and is Tzara’at or some variant, man must isolate himself from the rest of society for a period of time until he is healed fully. As man isolates himself, and perhaps even after his isolation period, he must contemplate his actions that caused him to receive Tzara’at. This introspection will lead the man to Teshuvah and perhaps prevent him from sinning in the future. Finally, after the man is healed, the Torah commands him to offer a Korban to Hashem (VaYikra 14:1-32). Once man has completed this trying process, he has presumably reached his goal of transforming his impure self into a pure being.
However, what exactly does the Torah consider pure and impure? While we say that purity is achieved after man’s completing the aforementioned process, what has he achieved? Perhaps we can understand purity’s nature based on Aveirot that yield impurity. For example, Gilui Arayot, sexual immorality, infringes on moral statutes and honest behavior, and is thus deemed impure. This impurity, unlike Tzara’at, seems to be metaphysical and has severe ramifications beyond merely impure conduct. As purity enables man to discern good from bad, impurity must be the blurring of the line between these concepts, and due to this distortion, the impure man may become heartless and harm others. With these evils stemming from a skewed perspective of good and bad, Hashem, with the warning that “A boor cannot be a God-fearing person” (Pirkei Avot 2:5) in mind, deems it imperative to stress purity in Jewish life in all aspects — thinking, speaking, personal attitudes, and interactions — to prevent man from his falling prey to this dreadful mental process.
During the eras of the Mishkan and Batei HaMikdash, to identify the pure from the impure was fairly simple; for, example, the Kohanim were able to diagnose Tzara’at and instantly issue treatment and encouragement for personal reformation. However, today, we lack the guidance and support of the Kohanim. Moreover, we face an even greater danger in the modern world, in which society is replete with more evil and impurity than the world of before, and we are often bashful to stand out and be pure. Therefore, we must purify ourselves on our own, even in the face of the pain it may cause us. Nonetheless, despite the complications and painful nature of purification , the end result, attaining a pure and holy spirit, is well worth the tribulations. While we today are challenged by the absence of Tzara’at, the indicator of impurity, perhaps this deficiency could be for our benefit. Without Tzara’at, we must diagnose ourselves, be introspective, and become our own Kohanim. With this necessity, we can grow successfully as more self-aware individuals, and, with enough effort, we can reach full purity.