Mirriam had always been proud of her perfect alabaster complexion. It was usually the first complement she would receive on her looks. “Wow! You have perfect skin!” And she assumed that was why she got the most cheek pinches from her grandparents, nearly twice as many as her big brother Aaron. She had inherited the trait from her mother, who looked 20 years old well into her forties. Truly her skin was a blessing.
And now it was turning into a disaster.
She first noticed the pimple when she woke up Friday morning. It was just a little red dot on her chin. No big deal. A little cover-up would take care of it easily. By Shabbat morning it was starting to look a little scary. Raised, red and a little angry. Still, the cover-up cream would make it only a minor inconvenience. But by Sunday it looked like a stop sign. A three-alarm fire. Mount Kilimanjaro. It was bad. It was all she could see when she looked it in the mirror.
Aaron had received their father’s complexion, which was not meant as a compliment. He was a veteran of the acne wars. Mirriam dug through the back of the medicine cabinet in the bathroom that they shared to find something to treat the zit that swallowed New Jersey. It looked like Aaron had tried everything. There were so many creams to choose from. Benzoyl peroxide. Differn. Epiduo. Benzaclin. Proactiv. The number of tubes was dizzying, and they all had different instructions. Apply before bed daily, then rinse off in the a.m. Apply twice daily. Apply as needed. She needed some guidance.
Her brother was very sympathetic. Aaron could have tortured her—his perfect little sister with one pimple, and suddenly the world has come to an end—but he didn’t go that way. Instead, Aaron took the time to explain which medication he would recommend and how to use it.
“Thanks, bro, you’ve been terrific,” Mirriam said.
“No problem. Needless to say, I’ve been there.”
“Well, you really came through for me big time.”
“I’m glad,” Aaron said. “Of course, there is the other thing to consider here.”
“Oh? And what’s that?”
Aaron lowered his voice to a whisper. “The spiritual aspect of your pimple.”
“The spiritual what?”
“You know, skin issues don’t just come from nowhere. The Torah is filled with stories about the relationship between tzaraat, a bad skin condition, and loshon hara, evil speech. Some call tzaraat leprosy, but no matter what name you give it, it’s bad. And it doesn’t take a Kohen Gadol to know that some skin maladies have a relationship to your soul.”
“Aaron, it’s a pimple. And I’m a teenager. Come on! Not every blemish is a sign of bad behavior.”
“True, but this isn’t just ‘a’ pimple. This is ‘the’ pimple, if you know what I mean.”
Mirriam blanched. “Yes, I see your point. But still—”
“Miri, it never hurts to be careful. I would search my deeds if I were you.”
Mirriam left Aaron’s room in disbelief. It really was just a pimple. But still, the other day she had said something really nasty about Becky Stern’s dress to Natalie Blass. That wasn’t too nice of her. And how about what she said to Eliana Klein about Rachel Margolis’s leggings? Also not her finest moment. In fact, if she reviewed her verbal history of the last week, there were quite a few instances that did not inspire confidence in her behavior. She had a tendency to be a bit snarky, especially about other people’s clothes. Considering her sartorial slings, and her conversational content in general, Mirriam figured that her giant zit was long overdue.
The chumash was in the living room. Mirriam pulled it out and read all of the parshiot of Tazria and Metzora. It described the lesions of leprosy in detail.
It was certainly not a section of the Torah she read often if given the choice. It was true that the Torah did not suggest any linkage between acne in particular and loshon harah, but at that moment, Mirriam was relieved that she didn’t have full-blown leprosy. And what did the Kohen do if he checked the person and they had tzaraat? He shut them away for seven days. Seemed about right.
For the next week, Mirriam was more careful than usual about her speech and her fashionista tendencies. Someone was wearing a hideous blouse? Really not her problem. A plaid top with a polka dot skirt? No comment. Someone had a run in their stocking that went the length of their calf? It could happen to anyone. Fur? (Really?) Sure, why not. In fact, Mirriam tried to avoid loshon harah completely. And truth be told, she was at least 75 percent successful. Not bad for one week of effort.
Then something wonderful happened. After seven days of watching her mouth and a thorough application of Epiduo nightly, the zit resolved completely. Truly a dermatologic miracle.
By Larry Stiefel
Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.