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For the Sake of Our Children

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, as follows: ‘If a person (adam) will have on the skin of his flesh a swelling or a rash or a discolouration, and it will become on the skin of his flesh a tzara’at affliction, he shall be brought to Aharon the Kohen or to one of his sons, the Kohanim’” (Vayikra 13:1–2).

The major focus of this and next week’s parshiot is tzara’at— a form of leprosy which was a physical manifestation of a spiritual malaise, primarily caused by slander. Other reasons given for tzara’at are haughtiness, selfishness and social sins.

One would assume that tzara’at could only afflict adults, who can be held responsible for their actions. However, the Mishna (Niddah 5:3) teaches us that a newborn child, who is only one day old, is already susceptible to tzara’at. The Gemara (Niddah 44a) explains that this is derived from the word “adam” in the verse above, meaning any person, regardless of age.

How can we understand the tzara’at of a baby? After all, babies do not have the capacity to speak, let alone slander or commit social sins. Why would a baby be afflicted with tzara’at?

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explained:

“Just as an affliction that appears on a garment or house is a warning sign to their owners, so it is with an affliction that appears on the forehead of an innocent child. It is a warning that shocks the hearts of its parents to come and scrutinize their deeds…

“The mark of affliction on their child’s body, the declaration of impurity and its consequences, are a harsh warning to its parents: Improve your deeds for your children’s sake. Be decent for the sake of your children’s future!” (R’ S.R. Hirsch’s commentary to Parshat Tazria).

It is important for parents and educators to know that improper speech does not only impact the person speaking and the person being spoken about, but the children of the slanderer as well. From the day they are born, our children are influenced by the atmosphere in which they are educated and nurtured. Tzara’at of a baby is not a punishment for its parents’ actions, but a natural consequence of the environment he or she is exposed to.

If our own fate is not enough to motivate us to scrutinize our deeds and improve our ways, we should act for the sake of our children and the example we set for them.


Rabbi Danny Mirvis is Acting CEO of World Mizrachi, and rabbi of Ohel Moshe Synagogue in Herzliya Pituach.

The RZA-Mizrachi is a broad Religious Zionist organization without a particular political affiliation.

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