Rabbi Shimi Ash

The titles given to Torah portions by the Rabbis do more than distinguish one from another, they reflect the theme and overall content of each.

What possible connection is there then between the title of “Tazria,” or childbirth, and the contents of this portion, which deal mainly with the leprous-like affliction of tzora’as — unknown nowadays — that resulted from evil gossip, lashon harah?

Not only does the title “Tazria” seem to have no connection with tzora’as, they are seemingly opposing ideas.

Tazria refers to birth and new life, as the verse states: “When a woman conceives and gives birth…,” while tzora’as indicates the very opposite. As our Sages state: “One afflicted with tzora’as is considered as if dead.”

The concept of reward and punishment is a main tenant of Jewish faith. As the Rambam writes: “The eleventh fundament is, that G‑d rewards those who obey the Torah’s commandments and punishes those who transgress them….”

Since the Torah is replete with verses that indicate that G‑d is compassionate and merciful, it follows that His punishments are not for the sake of revenge — Heaven forbid — but are for the sinner’s benefit, to help them with improving their conduct.

However, it is not patently obvious that most of the Torah’s punishments benefit the individual during his lifetime. This was not the case regarding tzora’as ; it was clearly revealed that this benefited the person.

The Rambam writes: “This alteration [of tzora’as] that affects clothing and dwellings…. was not a natural phenomenon. Rather, it was a sign and a wonder that affected the Jewish people to keep them from speaking lashon harah. For he who speaks lashon harah will have the beams of his house altered [by tzora’as].

“If he repents, then the house becomes undefiled… If he does not… ultimately the person himself will become afflicted with tzora’as, and will have to be separated from others until he ceases occupying himself with evil speech, scoffing and lashon harah.”

G‑d reordered nature to keep individuals from engaging in lashon harah. Tzora’as would first afflict a person’s home, then his clothing, and finally his person, to tell the sinner, gently at first, and then more severely, to stop indulging in lashon harah.

Even the punishment of the person himself, which required that he “sit alone, outside the camp shall be his dwelling,” was for the purpose of seeing to it that he “cease occupying himself in evil speech, scoffing and lashon harah.

The reason why this portion is titled “Tazria” will be understood accordingly: Tazria is the beginning of life. The tzora’as itself, as well as the person’s dwelling alone, are not so much meant as a punishment, but as a means of rectification and healing, enabling one to begin a new lifestyle free of

lashon harah.

All aspects of Torah serve as a lesson. Tzora’as was clearly for the benefit of the individual. The same is true of all punishments in the Torah; they are all for the rectification of the sinner so that he will return to the proper path in life.

And why is this lesson specifically gleaned from tzora’as? Because the suffering of tzora’as — being considered as if dead and compelled to exist in absolute solitude — is one of the most severe in the Torah.

If in this instance we can clearly see the benefit — being reborn anew — then surely this is so with other punishments: They are all part of a sinner’s spiritual rehabilitation, thus helping make a new beginning possible. JN

Rabbi Shimi Ash is the spiritual leader for Chabad Jewish Center of Gilbert.