The Torah describes a Metzora, one afflicted with a disease on his skin called Tzaraas. This was a spiritual impurity with obvious physical symptoms. A Kohein (a member of the priestly Jewish tribe) would examine a lesion on a person and declare him or her to be a Metzora, and he or she would heal over a series of quarantine periods.

The Kohein had to return and confirm that the Tzaraas had fully healed, after which the person would undergo a purification process. Concerning this, the Torah writes, “And the Kohein went outside the camp and looked, and behold the lesion of Tzaraas had healed from the Metzora (Lev. 14:3).”

Even in the original Hebrew, the phrasing seems backwards. Shouldn’t it be, “and behold, the Metzora had healed from the lesion,” rather than “the lesion had healed from the Metzora?” We say that a person “recovered from the flu,” not that “the flu recovered from him!” So what does it mean that the Tzaraas had healed from the Metzora?

The Talmud writes that if a person sins but then corrects his ways in repentance, the transgressions he committed are transformed into merits (Yoma 86b). The mistakes in his service of G-d are no longer held against him; rather, they become merits in his favor.

Again, this is confusing, Shouldn’t the sins simply be erased? Why are they seen, instead, as merits? The explanation is that since the sins created an opportunity for that person to repair his relationship with G-d, and he then used that opportunity, we view those sins as the vehicle that brought that repentant person closer to G-d, even closer than he was at the outset, before he sinned!

This explains the strange language of our verse. The Metzora’s infection was a message from G-d that the person had transgressed. During the quarantine, the Metzora corrected his ways, prayed for forgiveness, and asked others to pray for his recovery. Ultimately, his sickness served as a vehicle for his return to G-d, and the inspiration for others to pray on his behalf. In this way “the infection,” which was a result of sin, became instead a form of healing and relationship building with G-d. For this reason the Kohein could declare “Behold! The infection healed from the Metzora,” as the lesion of Tzaraas had been transformed into something entirely different, something spiritually healthy rather than an infection, all as a result of the Metzora. (Based on Sefer Medrash Shmuel, introduction to Pirkei Avos)

May we too have the strength and will to transform our challenges and mistakes into healing by using them as opportunities to grow our relationships with others, and our relationship with our Creator.

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