This shall be the law of the metzora (Leviticus 14:2)

Said Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Yosei ben Zimra: One who bears evil tales will be visited with the plague of tzaraat. . . . Reish Lakish said: What is the meaning of the verse “This shall be the law of the metzora”? It means: This shall be the law for him who is motzi shem ra (‘gives a bad name’ through slander).” (more)

Because of seven things the plague of tzaraat is incurred: slander, bloodshed, a false oath, incest, arrogance, robbery and envy.

(Talmud, Erachin 15b–16a)

This shall be the law of the metzora . . . he shall be brought to the kohen (14:2)

Both the onset and the termination of the state of tzaraat are effected only by the proclamation of a kohen. If suspect markings appear on a person, they are examined by an expert on the complex laws of tzaraat—usually, but not necessarily, a kohen; but even after a diagnosis of tzaraat had been made, the state of ritual impurity does not take effect, and the metzora’s banishment is not carried out, until a kohen pronounces him “impure.” This is why even after all physical signs of tzaraat have departed, the removal of the state of impurity and the metzora’s readmission into the community is achieved only by the kohen’s declaration.

The kohen’s function as a condemner and ostracizer runs contrary to his most basic nature and role. The kohen is commanded by G‑d to “bless His people Israel with love”; our sages describe a “disciple of Aaron” as one who “loves peace, pursues peace, loves G‑d’s creatures and brings them close to Torah.” But this is precisely the reason that the Torah entrusts to the kohen the task of condemning the metzora.

There is nothing more hateful to G‑d than division between His children. The metzora must be ostracized because, through his slander and talebearing, he is himself a source of divisiveness; nevertheless, the Torah is loath to separate him from the community. So it is not enough that the technical experts say that he marked by tzaraat. It is only when the kohen—whose very being shudders at the thought of banishing a member of the community—is convinced that there is no escaping a verdict of tzaraat that the metzora is separated from his people. And it is only when the one doing the banishing is suffused with loving concern for the banished person that the penalty will yield a positive result—the repentance and rehabilitation of the metzora.

There is another lesson here as well: it is not the fact of the tzaraat that renders the metzora impure, but the kohen’s declaration of his impurity. In other words, no matter how terrible a person’s state may be, to speak ill of him is more terrible still. The kohen’s saying that he is impure affects his spiritual state far more profoundly than the actual fact of his tzaraat!

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Two birds (14:4)

Because the plague of tzaraat comes in punishment for evil talk, which is an act of chattering, therefore birds are needed for his purification, because these chatter continuously with a twittering sound.

(Rashi; Talmud)

Cedar wood . . . and hyssop (14:4)

Because he has exalted himself like a cedar . . . he should humble himself like a grass.

(Midrash Tanchuma)

If the point is that he should show humility, why does he bring both a cedar and hyssop? But the true meaning of humility is not to broken and bowed, but to be humble even as one stands straight and tall.

(The Chassidic Masters)

A person should have two pockets in his coat. One should contain the Talmudic saying (Sanhedrin 37a) “A person is commanded to maintain: For my sake was the world created.” In the second pocket he should keep the verse (Genesis 18:27) “I am but dust and ashes.”

(Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa)

When you come into the land of Canaan . . . I will put the plague of tzaraat in a house of the land of your possession (14:34)

It is good news for them that these plagues would come upon them. Because the Amorites [residents of Canaan] concealed treasures of gold in the walls of their houses during the 40 years the Israelites were in the wilderness, in order that they would not possess them when they conquered the land, and in consequence of the plague they would pull down the house and discover them.

(Rashi; Midrash)

I will put the plague of tzaraat in a house (14:34)

So is it when leprous plagues come upon man: First they come upon his house. If he repents, it requires only the removal [of the affected stones]; if not, it requires tearing down the entire house. Then the plagues come upon one’s clothes. If he repents, they require washing; if not, they require burning. Then the plagues come upon his body. If he repents, he undergoes purification; if not, “he shall dwell alone.”

(Midrash Rabbah)

“It seems to me there is something like a plague in the house” (14:35)

Even if he is a learned man and knows for sure that it is a plague, he shall not decide the matter as a certainty, saying, “there is a plague in the house,” but “It seems to me there is something like a plague in the house.”

(Talmud, Negaim 12:5)

The priest shall command that they empty the house (14:36)

The Torah is frugal with the property of the Jew.

(Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 27a)

This is why the Torah commands to remove everything from the afflicted house before the kohen arrives. Otherwise, if the house requires shutting up, all that is inside immediately becomes impure.

Over what is the Torah concerned in ordering these precautions to be taken? If it had in mind wooden or metal vessels, which need only be immersed in water in order to restore them to cleanness, he can immerse them and they will become clean. If it has in mind food and liquids, he can eat them during the time of his uncleanness. Consequently it follows that the Torah is concerned only about earthenware vessels, for which there is no means of purification in a mikvah! (Earthenware vessels are the least valuable items in a household.)


A man says to his friend, “Lend me a kav of wheat,” and the other says, “I have none”; or one asks for the loan of a kav of barley . . . or a kav of dates, and the other says, “I have none.” Or a woman says to her friend, “Lend me a sieve,” and the other says, “I have none” . . . What does G‑d do? He causes leprosy to occur in his house, and as he takes out his household effects, people see, and say: “Did he not say, ‘I have none’? See how much wheat is here, how much barley, how many dates! Cursed be the house with such cursed inhabitants!”

(Midrash Rabbah)

They shall remove the stones in which the plague is . . . (14:40)

Woe to the wicked, and woe to his neighbor! [For if the afflicted wall is shared between two homes,] both must take out the stones, both must scrape the walls, and both must bring the new stones . . .

(Talmud, Negaim 12:6)

G‑d spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: . . . When any man has a running issue out of his flesh . . . (15:1–2)

One verse says, “Black like a raven” (Song of Songs 5:11), while other verses say, “His aspect is like Lebanon [from lavan, white], excellent as the cedars” (ibid. 5:15), and “Their appearance is like torches; they run to and fro like the lightnings” (Nahum 2:5). . . . This refers to those sections of the Torah which though they appear as if repulsive and black to be spoken of in public, such as the laws relating to issues, leprosy and childbirth, G‑d says: They are pleasing to Me.

You have proof that this is so, since the sections relating to a man who has an issue and a woman who has an issue are not stated as one, but each by itself, namely, “When any man has an issue . . .” (Leviticus 15:1–18) and in a separate section (15:19–30), “And if a woman has an issue . . .”

(Midrash Rabbah)

“A prayer of David: . . . Keep my soul, for I am pious” (Psalms 86:1–2). Thus spoke King David before G‑d: Master of the world, am I not pious? All the kings of the east and the west sit with all their pomp among their company, whereas my hands are soiled with the blood of menstruation, with the fetus and the placenta, in order to declare a woman clean for her husband. And what is more, in all that I do I consult my teacher, Mephibosheth, and I say to him: My teacher Mephibosheth, is my decision right? Did I correctly convict, correctly acquit, correctly declare clean, correctly declare unclean? And I am not ashamed.

(Talmud, Berachot 4a)

And if a woman has an issue, and her issue in her flesh is blood, she shall be seven days in her menstrual separation (15:19)

Why did the Torah ordain that the uncleanness of menstruation should continue for seven days? Because being in constant contact with his wife, a man might develop an apathy towards her. The Torah therefore ordained: Let her be unclean for seven days, in order that she shall be as beloved by her husband as at the time that she first entered into the bridal chamber.

(Talmud, Niddah 31a)