“And the kohen shall see him on the seventh day a second time. And, behold! the lesion has become dimmer, and the lesion has not spread on the skin, the kohen shall pronounce him clean. It is a mispachath. He shall immerse his garments and become clean.” (Leviticus 13:6)
This portion is about Tzara-at, that some people in the past have erroneously thought to be leprosy. It is not. This would get better, unlike leprosy at that time. The suspected area would turn white, supposedly because God cut off circulation because of the way one had behaved.
As I read about this portion, I learned:
1) That one doesn’t not have tzara-at until the priest says he or she does. Sometimes before a festival the priest will not look for it so that the person can participate in the festival. This is similar to our “innocent until proven guilty.”
2) The priest was not a doctor, nor was this thought to be a medical affliction. It was thought to be an expression of God’s anger, perhaps because the person engaged in hostile talk or gossip. At one point, Moses attempts to prove God to the Pharaoh by having some tzara-at on his hand and then having it disappear.
3) Even walls in houses would get the disease. This is further proof that it was not a human disease.
4) Again, unclean is not fit for the temple or ritual practice, or in this case, necessitating removal from society.
5) Medicine was not shunned, but there seemed to be some confusion between what ills were caused by God and what were a disease. It is interesting that Freud’s theories seem to overlap this ancient thinking, i.e. that diseases (esp. mental) are created by our psyche.
6) The moral lesson here is that when one behaves badly God is angered and makes us unclean. One of the cleansing agents here is time. We are not eternal sinners. We had behaved poorly and now we need to clean up our act. First step is recognition of the infliction by the kohen, then some time out from society. I take it that the person is not afflicted for life, as prisoners of felonies are in our society. They are deemed clean at some point and are then equal to anyone else.
7) The ancients were stuck between a rock and a hard place in regard to illnesses and medical treatment. They didn’t want to encourage shaman practices, though there are many examples of healers in the Torah and thereafter. But the question remains: if you can get sick from bad behavior, can you get well from medicine, or only from God?