Tzaraat, commonly translated as “leprosy,” is the main topic of the portion of Metzora. “Leprosy” is a bit of a misnomer, because although tzaraat was a skin illness, it had a spiritual element to it. In the Tanach, we find quite a few individuals who were plagued by tzaraat.

1. Pharaoh

One of the most tragic episodes of tzaraat occurred during the Egyptian enslavement. The verse tells us: “Now it came to pass in those many days that the king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel sighed from the labor, and they cried out, and their cry ascended to G‑d from the labor.”1

The great commentator Rashi quotes a Midrashic tradition that the king didn’t actually die, rather, “He was stricken with tzaraat, and he would slaughter Israelite infants and bathe in their blood.”2

This act of pure evil was the tipping point when G‑d began the process of the Exodus and reached out to Moses at the Burning Bush.3

Read: A Profile of Pharaoh

2. Moses

Moses stood barefoot at the Burning Bush, where G‑d instructed him to go redeem the Jewish people. At some stage in the seven-day conversation with G‑d,4 Moses said: "Behold they will not believe me, and they will not heed my voice, but they will say, 'The L‑rd has not appeared to you.' "5

G‑d then gave him three signs to present to the people, which would serve as proof of the authenticity of his claims.

For the second sign,

The L‑rd said further to him, “Now put your hand into your bosom,” and he put his hand into his bosom, and he took it out, and behold, his hand was leprous like snow.

And He said, “Put your hand back into your bosom,” and he put his hand back into his bosom, and [when] he took it out of his bosom, it had become again like [the rest of] his flesh.6

Rashi explains the meaning behind this sign: “With this sign, G‑d hinted to him that he spoke slanderously when he said, ‘They will not believe me.’ It is for this reason that He struck him with tzaraat, just as Miriam was struck for speaking slanderously.”

Read: Moses: Man of G‑d

3. Miriam

The most noted episode of tzaraat in the Torah is that of Miriam.7

Miriam had spoken negatively about her younger brother Moses’ decision to separate from his wife. G‑d was angry with her and her brother Aaron, who shared in the gossip. After admonishing them, “the cloud departed from above the Tent, and behold, Miriam was afflicted with tzaraat, [as white] as snow. Then Aaron turned to Miriam and behold, she was afflicted with tzaraat.”

Aaron begged Moses to pray on her behalf, which Moses immediately did. G‑d did not accept his request and commanded that she be placed outside the Jewish camp for seven days.

As an act of respect for her, the Jewish people did not travel until she concluded her seven days of solitude.

Miriam: Tambourines of Rebellion

Let us now move to the books of Prophets and Scriptures. We’ll read a fascinating tale in three parts, all of which connect to the prophet Elisha and various lepers.

4. Naaman

In the book of Kings II we read of an Aramean general named Naaman who was stricken by tzaraat. Through a Jewish maidservant he heard that there was a prophet in Israel who could cure him. He then shared this information with his king, who then sent a message to the Jewish king telling him to cure his general. The king was devastated when he read the letter and rent his garments, for how was he to cure the general?

When the prophet Elisha heard about this, he calmed the king and told him to send Naaman to him to “let him know that there is a prophet in Israel.” Naaman arrived at his doorstep.

Elisha sent out a messenger to advise Naaman to immerse seven times in the Jordan River. The general was disappointed. The prophet had not gone out to see him nor pray for him; he had only told him to dip in an ordinary river—no better, Naaman thought, than those he had back home.

His servants begged him to follow Elisha’s orders, and he finally acquiesced. Indeed, once he immersed himself seven times, his flesh was restored like that of a young lad.

Naaman came back to Elisha’s home and offered a great reward as a token of gratitude. Elisha did not accept the gift, but Elisha’s servant Gehazi had a different plan . . .8

5. Gehazi

He chased after Naaman and said, “My master sent me, saying, ‘Here, just now two youths have come to me from Mt. Ephraim, of the disciples of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two suits of clothing.’ ”

Thinking that the request was coming from Elisha, Naaman gladly gave him what he asked, plus more, and sent two servants with him to carry the gifts. When Gehazi came back home he hid the gifts and then presented himself to Elisha.

Upon learning that Gehazi had lied in his name, Elisha foretold that the tzaraat of Naaman would now attach itself to Gehazi.

Read: Elisha’s Miracles

6. The Four Lepers

In this week’s haftorah, we read of four lepers who were sitting outside the Jewish camp.9 Rashi tells us that these were Gehazi and his three sons, who were stricken with tzaraat as well.10

At the time, the Jews in Samaria were being besieged by the king of Aram. The hunger was so bad that women were eating their babies.11

It was then that Elisha the prophet confidently said: "At this time tomorrow, a seah of fine flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley will sell for a shekel in the gate of Samaria."12

Starving, the four lepers decided out of desperation to go to the enemies’ camp: “If they spare us we will live, and if they kill us we will die.”

Miraculously, “the L‑rd had caused the Aramean camp to hear the sound of chariots and the sound of horses, the sound of a great army. And they said to one another, ‘Behold, the king of Israel has hired for us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians to attack us.’”

The lepers found the camp deserted with huge amounts of food. They shared this good news with the Jewish camp, and the words of the prophet were fulfilled, as food became so abundant and so cheap.

Read: The Full Story of the Four Lepers

7. King Uzziah

The tenth of the Kings of Judah was Uzziah (also known as Azariah), son of Amazia.13 He was a pious man who began his rule at the age of 16. Due to his good ways, G‑d blessed him with much success.

Unfortunately, the success got to his head and led to haughtiness, as detailed in II Chronicles.14

Because the king was not a kohen, he was prohibited from bringing incense on the altar. His ego blinded him, however, and he insisted on doing so.

Soon after, tzaraat was seen on his forehead. He suffered until the day of his death, and he lived in a “house of retirement.”15

8. King David

According to Talmudic tradition, after King David sinned with Bathsheba, he was punished with tzaraat for six months. As a consequence, the Sanhedrin abandoned him, and the Shechinah (Divine Presence) left him as well.16

Read: The Story of King David

According to tradition, Moshiach himself is described as a leper. May we merit to see his arrival soon.