The focus of Tazria Metzora is, without doubt, the mysterious condition tzaraat. While historically identified with leprosy, this collection of discolourations of the skin, garments and even houses, defies traditional categorisation.
Thus, explain our sages, this malady is primarily spiritual and miraculous and a physical manifestation of spiritual or moral failings, most notably lashon hara, evil speech.
Many of the details are illuminated with this perspective: for example, the demand for the one afflicted to be excluded from the camp is an opportunity for self-reflection away from those he may have harmed and visits from Kohen are an opportunity for engagement with someone engaged with holiness.
Sin divides communities, cuts people off from friends and isolates individuals. We understand how tzaarat, rooted in malicious behaviour towards others, brings isolation to the sinner.
However, Kings II in the Haftarah tells a different story.
Samaria is under siege by the King Ben-Hadad of Aram, leading to a catastrophic famine. As society is crumbling, the prophet Elisha predicts that soon matters will return to normal.
We learn of four men stricken with tzaarat, outside the Israelite city, who weigh up their options. They decide to beg for food from the besieging Aramite army, only to discover the entire camp has been abandoned. We learn it is not only those from within who hold the key to salvation. Sometimes, it is those who we would least expect to rely upon – the weak, the outcasts – who are the ones that prove the most dependable.
ω Rabbi Garry Wayland is an educator with United Synagogue Living & Learning