The two portions of Tazria and Metzora are perhaps the most difficult and technical in the book of Leviticus.
The first portion, Tazria, describes the laws of impurity caused by tzaraat, a form of leprosy that afflicts human flesh and garments. Tzaraat is a malady that came upon a person as a consequence of slandering or gossiping about another person, as well as other sins.
The next portion, Metzora, describes the process of purification from this leprosy. Only after discussing the purification of the body and garments does the Torah introduce a third type of leprosy, one that afflicts the walls of a home. This is immediately followed by the laws of purification for the home.
Why, when talking about the leprosy that afflicts the person and the garments, are the affliction and its purification taught in two separate portions? This is not the case when discussing the topic of leprosy of the home—the purification process is taught immediately after, and in the same portion as, the affliction.
Anyone looking at life objectively can appreciate that a setback can be an opportunity for growth. Challenge has the potential to bring out the best in the human soul.
But that is theoretical.
When we experience an actual struggle in life, our perspective may be very different. We do not feel anything positive or constructive in our moment of despair and pain. Pain hurts. It does not build.
Eventually, when we find the courage and strength to pick ourselves up and overcome the challenge, we feel as though we have reached a new state of being. Only after we are removed from the painful situation are we capable of looking back and realizing that the person we have become is very much a result of the previous challenge that we tried so hard to escape.
This is the reason that the affliction of tzaraat and its purification are written in two separate portions. From the human perspective, the purification is a new beginning; it is an escape from the impurity, not its culmination.
Things are very different from God’s perspective. The purpose of the challenge is to lead a person to greater heights. But we humans are not always capable of seeing it that way.
In describing the tzaraat that afflicted the home, the Torah says: “When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as a possession, and I place an affliction of tzaraat upon a house in the land of your possession.” The Midrash teaches that from the words of the verse we learn that God Himself placed the affliction of tzaraat on the house, so it was in fact a blessing. For when the Israelites removed the afflicted stones from their homes, they discovered treasures that the native Canaanites had hidden within the walls.
The tzaraat of the home was taught to us from God’s perspective. Every affliction is just a facade, begging to be pulled away so we can discover a great treasure. By telling us the laws of the home’s purification immediately after the affliction, the Torah asks us to keep God’s perspective in mind. This will give us the strength to transform challenge to treasure.
Rabbi Menachem Feldman serves as the director of the Lifelong Learning department at the Chabad Lubavitch Center in Greenwich, Connecticut.