Tazria-Metzora:
A bar mitzvah planner's worst nightmare.



It could be a bar mitzvah planner’s worst nightmare. The double Torah portion Tazria-Metzora is all about skin diseases. (See Leviticus 13 for processes set forth below).

The classic commentators teach us that “tzaraat,” usually translated as leprosy, is a spiritual, rather than a physical ailment. It is a Divine punishment, warning the “metzora” (afflicted person) to mend his or her ways. Among the causes of tzaraat are slander, bloodshed, false oaths, pride, robbery and selfishness. The metzora is required to be isolated from society, so that he or she has the chance to experience the pain inflicted on others and to repent. (Artscroll Chumash, 610).

The priest diagnoses tzaraat. The metzora goes into quarantine. He or she dresses as a mourner to encourage repentence. The metzora declares to his fellows, “Contaminated. Contaminated,” so his sin will not spread to others. (Artscroll Chumash, 617). After the priest conducts a purification process, the tzaraat is allowed to return to the community.

One cause of tzaraat—pride—is demonstrated in the story of Uzziah, King of Judah, from 792 to 740 B.C.—about 200 years after the time of King Solomon. (2 Chronicles 26, 2 Kings 15; Archeological Study Bible, Zondervan, 650). Uzziah went on the throne at age 16 and was a great king—at first.

During this time, the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern King of Judah, expanded to the bounds of the great Kingdom of David and Solomon. With more than 300,000 troops, Uzziah waged war on the Philistines. He expanded the nation to the south and southwest. He built Eilat. He constructed towers throughout the land. He was a patron of agriculture. He built cisterns and planted vineyards.

Uzziah strengthen the defenses of Jerusalem. He built towers. He built war machines which hurled arrows and stones.

But pride and greatness went to his head. He entered the Temple to burn incense upon the incense altar—a duty only allowed the priests.

Azariah the the Kohen went after him, along with 80 strong Kohanim of HASHEM. they stood next to King Uzziah and said to him, "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to HASHEM, but it is for the Kohanim, the descendents of Aaron, who are consecrated, to burn incense. Leave the Temple, for you have been treacherous, and this will not bring you honor from HASHEM, God. Uzziah became enraged, and he already had a censer in his hand for burning incense. As he was becoming enraged with the Kohanim, a leprous growth appeared on his forehead in the presence of the Kohanim in the Temple of HASHEM, near the incense Altar. Azariah, the chief Kohen, and all the other Kohanim turned to him, and behold he was leprous on his forehead! So they rushed him away from there; He, too, hastened to leave, for HASHEM had afflicted him. King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death. He dwelt in his leprosy in a place of asylum for he was banished from the Temple of HASHEM.

(Artscroll Tanach, 1993-1994).

Tradition teaches that Uzziah lived out his life separated from the people. A house was constructed for him in a cemetery, because a metzorah is like a dead person. His son took charge of the royal house and judged the people. His burial was also a punishment. He was buried in the fields adjoining the royal tombs. He was buried near---but not with his ancestors. (Artscroll Kings, 345).

The text concludes:

"For they said, He is a leper." (Artscoll Tanach, 1994).

The story of Uzziah is inconsistent with the practices set forth in Leviticus. There is no evidence that Uzziah repented. There was no report of a purification process. He remained separated from the people for the rest of his life.

Why the departure?

One possibility is that Uzziah was treated more harshly because a person with greater responsibilities and status should be held to a higher standard.

What does this portion teach us? Rather than shun an ill person who is sick or “contaminated,” we should approach and offer to help. Rather than impose isolation, we should break through isolation.

The reverse of Tazria-Metzora is a good lesson for today. It makes the portion less of a nightmare for the bar mitzvah planner.