Much of Parashat Tazria is devoted to the subject of Sara’at, a skin discoloration that would affect those who were guilty of speaking Lashon Ha’ra – gossip and negative talk about other people. In introducing this topic, the Torah refers to an individual stricken with Sara’at with the term “Adam” (“Adam Ki Yihiye Be’or Besaro…” – 13:2). Normally, the Torah uses the word “Ish” as a generic term for “person” when presenting a hypothetical scenario. Here, however, it chooses to use the word “Adam.”
The word “Adam” is unique in that it has no plural form. The word “Adamim” does not exist in the Hebrew language. This is as opposed to the word “Ish,” which becomes “Anashim” when it is used in reference to more than one person. The word “Adam” thus expresses the indivisible nature of Am Yisrael, the fact that no matter how many people we are, we are always a single “Adam,” one undivided entity. We see this quality of Am Yisrael with our own eyes. Whenever a Jew anywhere in the world is in trouble, Jews across the globe mobilize to assist him. Even though they never met him, they treat him like a member of their family. This stems from the awareness of “Adam,” the sense that we are all family, all together in the same close-knit group.
This term is used here, in reference to the gossiper, to indicate the gravity of his sin. Speaking negatively about another person is not simply a crime committed against that person. Rather, it undermines the unity of the Jewish people. We are all part of the same family, and the gossiper seeks to break up the family by turning some members against other members, and sowing strife and friction. This is why Lashon Ha’ra is treated with such gravity, to the point where the individual is stricken with Sara’at and then forced to reside outside the city walls, isolated from the rest of Am Yisrael.
The Torah requires a person with a skin discoloration to consult a Kohen, who looks at the infected skin and determines whether or not it is indeed Sara’at. It is specifically the Kohanim who are assigned the role of overseeing the process of Sara’at. The Mishna describes Aharon, the first Kohen Gadol and progenitor of all future Kohanim, as “a lover of peace and pursuer of peace, who loves people and brings them close to Torah.” The gossiper must go to a Kohen, a descendant of Aharon, to see a living example of this concept of “Adam,” to witness firsthand how Jews are to look upon and treat one another. As he had sought to sow strife and divisiveness, he is now forced to speak with a Kohen and see what it means to be part of Am Yisrael. This experience would then inspire him to change the way he speaks about his fellow Jews, recognizing that they are all part of his family, and thus worthy of his respect, care and concern.