Rabbi Berel Wein
The laws regarding ritual purity and the metaphysical disease of tzoraat, which, by the way, is not the medically recognized disease of leprosy, affect three categories of human life and society: the human body, clothing and houses. These three areas of human societal existence are the basic building blocks of civilization and society generally. They are the most vital and at the same time the most vulnerable areas of our existence. And it is apparent that the Torah wishes us to be aware of this fact. Health of body is a necessary precedent to most cases of human accomplishment. Not many of us are able to rise over illness, pain, and/or chronic discomfort on a regular and permanent basis. Medical science recognizes that our mood and our mind affect our physical state of wellbeing. The Torah injects into this insight that our soul also has such an effect as well. The rabbis specifically found that the distress caused to one’s soul by evil speech, slander and defamation reflects itself physically in the disease of tzoraat. In biblical times, hurting other human beings by the intemperate use if one’s tongue had clear physical consequences that served as a warning of the displeasure of one’s soul at such behavior. The human body is our mainstay. It is also the most fragile and vulnerable to decay and discomfort. It is only logical that it is in this area of our existence that the possibility of tzoraat lurks and lingers. Clothing represents our outer representation of ourselves to the society around us.
Originally, as described in the Torah itself, clothing was meant to shelter us from the elements and to provide us with a sense of privacy and modesty in covering our nakedness. As humanity evolved and developed, clothing became a statement of personality and even of the mental and spiritual nature of the person. Clothing also became an instrument of hubris, competitiveness and even of lewdness. It also became vulnerable to the distress of the soul over its use for essentially negative purposes. And in biblical times, the angst of the soul translated itself into tzoraat that affected clothing directly. And finally, tzoraat was able to invade the physical structure of one’s dwelling place. One is entitled to live in a comfortable and attractive home. All of the amenities of modern life are permitted to us. But the Psalmist warned us that we should be careful not to make our homes our “graves.” Homes, by their very nature, are temporary and transient places. Our father Avraham described himself as a wandering itinerant on this earth. Again, as in all areas of human life, the Torah demands of us perspective and common sense when dealing with our homes. We gawk with wonder when visiting palaces and mansions of the rich and famous, yet our inner self tells us that this really is not the way that we wish to live. The vulnerability of homes and houses to tzoraat is obvious to all. In Jewish life, less is more.