Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg's blog on Metzora

The parasha deals with house fungus, menstruation, male discharge. What do we make of it?

The rabbis said the following about the house fungus

Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbi Joseph ben Zimra that anyone who bears evil tales (lashon hara) will be visited by skin disease (tzaraat), as it is said whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I destroy (azmit)." The Gemara read azmit to allude to tzaraat and cited how Leviticus25: says "in perpetuity" (la-zemitut). And Resh Lakish interpreted the words of "This shall be the law of the person with skin disease (metzora, מְּצֹרָע)" to mean, "This shall be the law for him who brings up an evil name (motzi shem ra)." (Babylonian Talmud Arachin 15b.)

Similarly, Rabbi Haninah taught that skin disease came only from slander. The Rabbis found a proof for this from the case of Miriam, arguing that because she uttered slander against Moses, plagues attacked her. And the Rabbis read it to support this when it says in connection with skin disease, "remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam." (Deuteronomy Rabbah 6:8.) read Number 12 for the full story here.

Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Johanan that skin disease results from seven things: slander, the shedding of blood, vain oath, incest, arrogance, robbery, and envy. The Gemara cited scriptural bases for each of the associations: For slander, for bloodshed, 2 Samuel for a vain oath, for incest, Genesis for arrogance, 2 Chronicles for robbery, (as a Tanna taught that those who collect money that does not belong to them will see a priest come and scatter their money around the street); and for envy, Babylonian Talmud Arakhin 16a.)

Similarly, a midrash taught that skin disease resulted from 10 sins: (1) idol-worship, (2) unchastity, (3) bloodshed, (4) the profanation of the Divine Name, (5) blasphemy of the Divine Name, (6) robbing the public, (7) usurping a dignity to which one has no right, (8) overweening pride, (9) evil speech, and (10) an evil eye.

Do we really think skin disease comes from these? Well, we know our insides can affect our health but they were obviously very concerned about slander and gossip and used this portion to warn against it.

Parashat Metzora, with its emphasis on lashon hara, brings to mind a famous parable told about a Jew who slandered a town's rabbi. After a time, the man felt pangs of remorse for his actions and begged the rabbi for forgiveness.

"Of course I'll forgive you," the rabbi told him. "But before I do you must do one thing for me."

"Anything," the man promised.

"Go to the center of town with a pillow, and rip open the pillow and spread the feathers into the wind. When you're done, come back to me."

The man, puzzled, did what the rabbi asked and split open a feather pillow in the center of town. When he finished, he returned to the rabbi for his forgiveness.

"One more thing," said the rabbi. "Now go and collect all the feathers."

"That's impossible!" said the man. "I can't possibly collect all the feathers."

Asked the rabbi, "And what about my reputation? How will you return that to me?"