Parashat Tazria-Mesora: Self-Destructive Arrogance
Parashiyot Tazria and Mesora devote a great deal of attention to the laws of Sara’at, a condition that would befall people as a punishment for various sins. Sara’at manifested itself as a discoloration either in a person’s skin, in his clothing, or on the walls of his home. In the case of bodily Sara’at, the individual was required to remain alone, in quarantine, outside his city, reflecting and repenting, until his ailment was cured and a special ceremony was performed through which he regained his Tahara (purity).
The Torah requires a person who sees a discoloration on his skin to come before a Kohen, who would inspect the skin and determine whether the individual indeed suffers from Sara’at. In formulating this requirement, the Torah writes, "Ve’huba El Aharon Ha’kohen O El Ahad Mi’banav Ha’kohanim" – "he shall be brought to Aharon the Kohen, or to one of his sons, the Kohanim" (13:2). Significantly, the Torah does not say that the person should himself go to the Kohen; rather, it says that he should "be brought" to the Kohen, implying that others force him to approach the Kohen to have the skin discoloration inspected.
We can understand the Torah’s formulation by observing the unfortunate situation of an addict. Very often, addicts refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem that requires professional help. They insist that they are fully in control, that their drinking – for example – is not a very big deal, and that they could stop if they felt they needed to. Human nature is such that we do not like to recognize our faults and failures. And thus the Torah envisions the person’s family and peers bringing him to a Kohen to have his skin discoloration evaluated, because, in many instances, the person will refuse to do so on his own. He will continue along his path of self-destructive behavior rather than humbly admit that he has a problem which needs to be addressed.
Developing this point further, one of the sins mentioned by the Gemara as causes of Sara’at is arrogance. Few character traits are more self-destructive than arrogance. Indeed, the Mishna teaches in Pirkeh Abot (4:21), "Jealousy, desire and [the pursuit of] honor remove a person from this world." Pride and a lust for honor lead a person to act irrationally, against his own best interests. Such a person will almost certainly not recognize his arrogance as a spiritual ill that must be addressed, and so "Ve’huba" – he must be brought to the Kohen, because he would not likely approach the Kohen on his own.
The Book of Melachim II (chapter 5) tells the story of Na’aman, the commander of the army of Aram, an enemy country north of Israel. Na’aman was a very successful and prominent figure, but he suffered terribly from Sara’at. Somebody advised him to travel to Israel and consult with Elisha, the prophet, who would be able to cure his condition. Na’aman arrived with a large entourage, and Elisha, without even bothering to greet the general, sent his assistant to tell Na’aman that he should bathe in the Jordan River, and he would then be cured. Na’aman was incensed. He had assumed that the prophet would greet him with great honor, and perform some special ritual to cure him. Na’aman felt it was an affront to his honor that Elisha just sent a message to do something so ordinary like swim in the Jordan River. He refused to comply with the prophet’s instructions, until his men convinced him to do what the prophet said. Na’aman eventually bathed in the Jordan, whereupon he was completely healed.
This is a man who suffered for many years from a painful and embarrassing condition – and yet he refused to try a method of treatment prescribed by a renowned prophet, all because of his pride. When a person feels compelled to protect his ego, he acts against his own best interests, and causes himself great harm.
There are so many examples of this unfortunate and tragic phenomenon. Relationships and partnerships are torn apart because people refuse to undertake relatively simple measures to accommodate each other. Destructive conflicts endure and wreak havoc upon families and communities because both parties persist and refuse to back down. People lose their jobs because their pride prevents them from doing their work properly. When pride becomes our highest priority, we are willing to sacrifice everything else, and we end up destroying ourselves.
This is one lesson we can learn from the Torah’s discussion of Sara’at – the need to avoid self-destructive arrogance. Rather than allow our pride to ruin our lives, let us remain humble, respect other people and their wishes, and be willing and open to seek help when we need it.