The name of a Torah portion is indicative of its contents and theme. The name of the first of this week’s two readings, Tazria (literally “when [she] shall conceive”) is therefore surprising at first glance, as the entire portion deals with the affliction of leprosy rather than conception and birth. In fact, the Biblical plague of leprosy was the most severe form of spiritual uncleanliness, leading our Sages to declare, “The leper is considered as if dead.”
Tazria, however, is an allusion to the positive, inner purpose of all the afflictions and punishments that are prescribed in the Torah, as will be explained:
G-d is the epitome of goodness and loving-kindness. He doesn’t punish anyone for the sake of being punitive. His sole intention is to refine and purify the person, to remove the “shell” that was created by his sins, and to elevate him to a higher level. All of the Torah’s punishments, even the most stringent, are for the ultimate good of the recipient.
This is also the inner intention of the Biblical plague of leprosy (tzara’at), as distinguished from the modern day illness known as Hansen’s Disease. As Maimonides explains, the physical manifestations of tzara’at were miraculous in nature, and were visited on an individual for the sin of lashon hara (gossip). “The first symptoms would appear on a person’s house; if he repented, the house would be purified. If he persisted in his wickedness until the house was destroyed, the leather garments in his house would begin to change… If he persisted in his wickedness until they had to be burned, the clothing he wore would be afflicted.” It was only if a person did not return to G-d after all these warnings that any symptoms of tzara’at would appear on his body.
Once this happened, the afflicted person had to temporarily leave the rest of society and dwell in isolation. The purpose of this period of separation and reflection was to transform the former sinner into a new entity, one that was purified and refined.
The name of the Torah portion, Tazria, thus reveals the true objective of all the Biblical plagues: the “birth” of a new being, a purer and holier Jew.
This is also the inner meaning of the Jewish people’s exile. During the exile, we “sow” mitzvot and good deeds that they may “grow” and flourish when Moshiach comes. The reward we will receive in the Messianic era will not be dissociated from our present service; on the contrary, it will be the natural outgrowth of all the “seeds” we are planting now.
May we merit to see this immediately. Moshiach NOW!!