May 21, 2024
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The Gemara (Berachot 12) brings that “Anyone who has the opportunity to beseech (Hashem) for mercy on behalf of his fellow and does not beseech (Him) is called a sinner.” On that note, we can raise the idea of there perhaps being a responsibility to pray for the welfare of others, and from our parsha, we might see the extent of this responsibility.

When one afflicted with tzara’at has been declared a metzora, the Torah says that he is to call out: “Contaminated, contaminated!” The Gemara (Moed Kattan 5) says, this teaches us that the metzora must inform the public of his anguish. The reason for this is so that the public will beseech (Hashem) for mercy on his behalf.

Rav Shimshon Pincus says that we learn from here the responsibility we have to pray for others who are in distress and find themselves in difficult circumstances (Tiferet Shimshon, Tazria). According to Rav Pincus, it would seem that when the public is informed of the metzora’s situation, they have a responsibility to pray for him.

Who is this metzora? What kind of character does he possess?

The Gemara (Erechin 16) teaches that tzara’at come upon a person for any one of seven things: 1) for lashon hara; 2) for murder; 3) for vain oaths; 4) for illicit relations; 5) for haughtiness; 6) for theft; 7) for stinginess.

So why is this a person whom the public may have a responsibility to pray for?

Furthermore, it seems that usually a metzora was one who was guilty of the first reason—lashon hara, as the Mutzal M’Eish (ibid) notes that of the seven aforementioned misdeeds, the most prevalent one is lashon hara. The Gemara in Erechin brings many statements highlighting the gravity of speaking lashon hara, among them: “Whoever speaks lashon hara is regarded as though he denied the fundamental tenet [of the existence of God];” “Whoever speaks lashon hara proliferates iniquities equivalent to the three [cardinal] sins of idol worship, illicit relations and murder.” Also, the midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 16:6) brings that “whoever speaks lashon hara transgresses the five books of Torah.” (And as will be mentioned immediately below, the Sages—in regard to the list of seven abominations brought in Mishlei—say, the seventh “is as severe as all [the other six] combined).”

Additionally, the midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 16:1) quotes the pasuk in Mishlei that states, “Hashem hates these six, but seven is the abomination of His soul.” The list—as it states there in Mishlei (and to which R’ Yochanan says that all of those who engaged in these behaviors were stricken with tzar’aat)—is: haughty eyes, a false tongue, and hands spilling innocent blood, a heart plotting iniquitous thoughts, feet hastening to run to evil, one who spouts lies, a false witness, and one who stirs up strife amongst brothers [through his lashon hara]. The Sages say that the seventh “is as severe as all [the other six] combined.” Rav Shlomo Ganzfried (Apiryon, Tazria 13:2) comments that, therefore, the metzora is quarantined for seven days in order to rectify these seven abominations. It is perhaps implicit from Rav Ganzfried that the metzora who has been found guilty of lashon hara reveals—as a result—that he has been in violation of all the other six abominations as well, and hence he is to rectify all of them.

Furthermore, the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed due to sinat chinam (Gemara Yoma 9), and the Chafetz Chaim explains this means that it was also due to lashon hara, since lashon hara is an outgrowth of hatred. This further shows the gravity of speaking lashon hara, and also, we perhaps see that this metzora is one who—through his lashon hara—seemingly shows that he has sinat chinam for other Jews.

Based on all this, it would seem that the metzora was a person with not the best of character, to say the least. Indeed, the Kli Yakar (Vayikra 14:2) notes that the term “metzora” is a contraction of two words motzi (lets out), and ra (evil). Meaning, the metzora has “let out” all the “evil” that resides hidden within him—thus revealing his evil to the public.

The effects of lashon hara could be devastating, as the Gemara (Erechin 15) says that lashon hara kills three: the one who speaks it, the one who accepts it, and the one about whom it is said.

Furthermore, through his lashon hara, the metzora may have caused significant interpersonal damage: The Gemara (ibid 16) brings a question as to why the metzora dwells in isolation, and explains: “He caused a separation (through his lashon hara) between a man and his wife, [or] between a man and his fellow man (for through his lashon hara he caused them to quarrel (Rabbeinu Gershom); therefore, the Torah said: ‘he shall dwell in isolation.’”

Yet, despite the apparent unfortunate spiritual level and character of the metzora, and despite what he may have done and caused, nevertheless, we perhaps see that there is still a responsibility to pray for such a person. To take it a step further: coming off of the aforementioned Gemara, Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg seems to comment that despite the metzora causing friction and separation amongst people, nevertheless, “All the people must forgive him and beseech (Hashem) for mercy on his behalf” (Yalkut Yehuda, Vayikra 13:45). From the wording, “All the people must forgive him,” it’s perhaps implicit that even if this metzora may have spoken lashon hara even about us and contained a disliking for us, and may have also caused friction within our own relationships, nevertheless, we still maintain a responsibility to pray for his welfare.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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