Leprosy Rectifies Pride

It is written, “If a person will have in the skin of his flesh a rising, or a scab or a bright spot, and it becomes a plague of leprosy in the skin of his flesh…” (Leviticus 13:2).

On the verse, “When…I will put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession” (Leviticus 14:34), the Sages have said that this constituted good tidings for the Children of Israel, for they would be forced to pull down their houses and thereby discover the treasures that the Canaanites had hidden there (Vayikra Rabba 17:6; see also Horayot 10a). Similarly, afflictions of the skin told a person that he must improve his ways. We already have the statement of the Gemara: “Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, ‘Because of seven things the plague of leprosy is incurred: Lashon Harah, the shedding of blood, a vain oath, incest, pride, robbery and envy’ ” (Arachin 16a).

We therefore see that pride is among the things that can cause leprosy. This is indicated by the word s’eit, which designates not only a rising in the skin, but also excessive pride leading to arrogance. How does a person allow himself to become filled with pride? It is by not studying the Torah, which was given on Atzeret, a word that indicates the festival as well as the concept of restraint. This is why a person is struck with tzara’at (leprosy), for the letters of tzara’at are the same those of atzeret. Thus when a person considers himself to be very important and wants to dominate G-d’s people, he is afflicted with tzara’at (leprosy) in his skin, a punishment that is commensurate with the sin (see Sanhedrin 90a, Shabbat 32a). This is atzeret, in the sense of, “Women atzurah [have been restrained] from us” (I Samuel 21:6) and, “A certain man of the servants of Saul was there on that day, ne’etzar [restrained] before the L-RD” (v.8). Rashi states, “He restrained himself before the Tent of Meeting in order to study Torah.” If a person fails to do this, he will be struck with leprosy.

How do we heal him of it? We bring the leper to the priest (Leviticus 13:2), meaning that he must go to the tzaddik. He must then remain outside the camp, as it is written: “Alone shall he dwell; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (v.46). Now this is difficult to understand, because if this man is a talmid chacham (knowing the laws of leprosy and realizing the situation he is in), why would the Torah order him to be brought – even against his will – to the priest? He himself understands the situation completely, thus why the need to bring him before the priest?

It seems that all this falls under the category of “measure for measure,” for if a person is struck with leprosy due to pride, his punishment and rectification will be measure for measure. Thus even if he knows that he has been afflicted with leprosy, meaning that the priest does not need to confirm what he has, he must nevertheless submit himself to his authority and cast off his pride by going to see him. Even in the case that he, the talmid chacham, is more important than the priest – along the lines of the verse, “It is more precious than pearls, and all your desires cannot compare to it” (Proverbs 3:15), meaning that the Torah is more precious than the High Priest who enters the Holy of Holies, as the Sages have said: “The learned mamzer takes precedence over the ignorant High Priest” (Horayot 13a) – even then a person must yield to the priest. That is what will set him right, the fact that he lowered his pride before the priest.

As we have said, a person struck by leprosy has to remain outside the camp (Leviticus 13:46). What was the reason for this? The Sages have said that the Holy One, blessed be He, cannot live in the same world as a person who is haughty (Sotah 5a). Therefore the leper who acted with self-importance was not allowed to return to live in the camp, for the Shechinah was there. The leper had to leave the camp and remain outside until he was completely cleansed of his sin.

Along the same line of thought, we note that the passage dealing with the leper comes after the regulations governing childbirth, which themselves follow the passage dealing with animals. Commenting on this, the Sages have stated: “Rabbi Simlai said, ‘Even as man’s creation was after that of cattle, beasts, and birds, even so the law concerning him comes after that concerning cattle, beasts, and birds’ ” (Vayikra Rabba 14:1).

Consequently, we may say that this is why the Torah makes the connection between the passage dealing with the offerings and the one dealing with the leper. It is to teach man to guard himself from pride and not to swell with self-importance, but rather to be exceedingly humble (Perkei Avoth 4:4; Kallah, start of ch.3). As opposed to himself, who was still swelling with pride, the leper was to learn from the animals, creatures whose creation preceded that of man and who always obeyed Hashem’s commands with great humility. It is therefore not without reason that the leper had to remain outside the camp and go before the priest. Only the priest could examine the plague during the day (not at night), and only the priest could decide if the leper had already humbled himself. The priest, who is the tzaddik, can help a person to leave his pride (which resembles the night) and reach the day in a state of holiness and purity.


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