Parashat Metzora

Sensitivity To Speech

Rabbinic interpreters regarded leprosy as punishment for the sin of careless speech.

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Provided by KOLEL--The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, which is affiliated with Canada's Reform movement.


The portions of Tazria and Metzora are perhaps, for many, the two most uncomfortable portions of the Torah, dealing with all kinds of issues related to ritual purity and impurity. Ritual impurity, or tumah, has nothing to do with hygiene. Instead, tumah is a spiritual state that prevents a person from participating in the worship life of the community. One becomes impure through a variety of means, all of which are perfectly natural, such as illness, childbirth, physical discharges and contact with a corpse.

Purity and impurity are not related to good or evil. However, impurity is considered to be a spiritual disability. For example, Tzaraat, the skin affliction that is discussed at length in this part of the Torah, is not the biological disease leprosy (as it has historically been translated--it is probably something more like psoriasis or impetigo, which are common in the desert) but rather a state that the Torah understands as the physical manifestation of a spiritual or ritual problem.

This is not a medical treatise, nor are the Kohanim (priests) serving as paramedics. Rather, tumah is a purely ritual concern, and as the ritual leaders of the community, it falls upon the priesthood to facilitate purification for those who find themselves in a state of impurity.

In Focus

And God spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the Metzora (one afflicted with tzaraat) on the day of his purification; he shall be brought to the Kohen (priest).” (Leviticus 14:1)


In Parashat Metzora, the Torah discusses the process of purification the Metzora must undergo in order to become ritually pure again.


The late Rabbi Pinchas Peli (z"l) relates the following tale:

In the town of Sepphoris, the voice of a street peddler was heard, crying out, "Who wishes to buy the elixir of life?" The great Rabbi Yannai was sitting in his academy studying when he heard the peddler's voice. He went out on his balcony to see what it was the man was selling, but he could see nothing. And so he sent one of his students to bring the peddler to his study.

As the peddler entered, Yannai said, "Come here, show me what it is that you have to sell." The peddler replied, "What I have to sell is not required by you, nor by people like you." But the Rabbi pressed him, and finally the peddler approached him and drew a Book of Psalms out of his satchel. He opened the book and showed the rabbi the passage that states, "Who is the man who desires life?" (Psalm 34:13), and then the passage that follows immediately thereafter: "Keep your tongue from evil; depart from evil and do good."

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Rabbi Jordan D. Cohen

Jordan D. Cohen is the rabbi of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, Ontario. Previously, he worked as Associate Director of KOLEL - The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, Canada. Prior to his return to Canada, Rabbi Cohen served as Rabbi of the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, and Associate Rabbi of the North Shore Temple Emanuel in Sydney, Australia.