Tzara'at, the skin discoloration mistranslated for millennia as "leprosy," is a curious disease. It is not contagious—it was only acquired by virtue of speaking badly of other people. It was a physical skin discoloration caused by a spiritual defect. The "metzora," the sufferer with tzara'at, had to stay outside the city and inform all that he or she was spiritually impure.

The Talmud tells us that the penalty of the metzora is imposed "measure for measure": his gossip and slander build walls of mistrust and bad feeling between people and isolated them from each other, so he, too, is isolated from society.

The cedar reminds that arrogance brought us to tzara'at in the first placeThe Talmud also discusses the reason why the purification ritual for the healed metzora includes a wand of cedar wood, the tallest species of tree, by far, in the Levant: The cedar wood reminds us that arrogance brought us to tzara'at in the first place.

This statement does not contradict the idea of slander as the cause of tzara'at, but adds texture and depth to the theme.

It teaches us that the root cause of tzara'at is arrogance, a sense of being superior to other people. This causes one to look down on others as inferior and therefore to pass judgment on them. Once those judgments fill the mind, the person then shares them with others.

It seems to me that the isolation aspect of the metzora's "sentence" is not just to sense the distance from other people caused by the gossip, but also to see how foolish a sense of superiority is. When alone you discover that all the abilities you pride yourself on as making you superior are meaningless.

Are you wise? Who learns from you if you are alone?

Are you articulate and persuasive? Whom do you persuade if you are alone?

Are you a leader? Whom do you lead if you are alone?

Are you an artist? Who will be inspired by your vision if you are alone?

In isolation, the metzora learns that all his superiority really comes from those whom he hitherto looked down upon because they received from him.

It is the need in others that we fill that makes our abilities significant. We all are givers and we all are receivers and together we form a stable living community.

We are never greater than another; we are made greater by each otherWe are never greater than another; we are made greater by each other.

In Torah, all taharah, purity, is related to life. All tum'ah, impurity, is related to death. Arrogance tears us from our garden of life; a system that we give life into and receive life from, and turns us into a dry dead specimen that only dully hints of what it was when it was green and alive.

Fortunately, this death is reversible through honest introspection; the metzora is then cleansed and welcomed back to his/her community.