Parashat Tazria: Looking Out for Today’s Mesora
Parashat Tazria deals mainly with the subject of Sara’at, a type of skin disease that in ancient times would affect people who were guilty of certain sins. Sara’at was manifested in the form of discolorations on the skin, and when a suspicious discoloration appeared, the individual would be brought by his family or friends to a Kohen, who would examine the skin and determine whether the discoloration indeed constituted Sara’at. If the individual was determined to have been stricken with Sara’at, he would have to reside outside his city until the skin returned to its normal color.
One of the concepts underlying this law of Sara’at is the reality that most people are reluctant to acknowledge their problems. When a person would notice a mysterious discoloration, he would likely dismiss it as a temporary medical condition, perhaps eczema, some kind of virus or allergic reaction. The last thing he would think of is that he is being punished by G-d for sins he committed, such as Lashon Ha’ra and arrogance. For this reason, the people around him are instructed to bring him to a Kohen for a “diagnosis.” Given our innate reluctance to recognize our own flaws and behavior problems, the people around the Mesora (the person stricken with Sara’at) bore the responsibility of bringing him to the Kohen to initiate the process of atonement.
The laws of Sara’at do not apply nowadays, as this supernatural punishment no longer occurs. Still, the basic concept underlying this process applies as much today as it did in ancient times. The Mesora’im of today are those suffering from addictions or other types of self-destructive behaviors and tendencies. Unfortunately – and let us not delude ourselves into thinking otherwise – there are many people in our community who are ruining their lives and their families through harmful habits and behavior patterns. As in the case of the Mesora, these people generally respond to their problems with insistent denial. More often than not, people with addictions deny that they have a problem and thus refuse to seek the help they so desperately need. This is the normal and natural reaction to such situations, and this is what makes these situations so dangerous and so difficult to handle. The responsibility therefore falls upon the people around the suffering victims – family members, friends, the Rabbi, and the community at large – to get involved. Just as the Mesora’s family members and peers would bring him to the Kohen for guidance, we, too, must take the initiative to help those who need help but refuse to initiate the process. We must look out for the “Mesora’im” in our midst to ensure they receive the assistance, support and guidance they need to overcome their problem and resume normal, healthy, productive lives.
Even if the law of Sara’at does not apply nowadays, the fundamental message of communal responsibility most certainly does.