In this week’s portions, the disease of tsara’as is discussed.
Tsara’as is an unusual disease in that it does not come from a failure of the physical immune system. Rather, it comes from a defect in the spiritual immune system.
In order to be cured from this malady, the character root which caused this spiritual defect must be repaired.
The first thing that would happen after the person is declared a metzora — one who has tsara’as — is he would be sent outside the camp. The reason for this punishment is obvious. One of the primary reasons a person would get tsara’as is from speaking lashon hara — slander. A person who slanders his fellow man does not have the proper relationship with him. He is sent away with the hope that in his brief exile, he will come to appreciate his fellow man, and not slander him.
Then he must make an offering of two birds, cedar wood, a crimson thread and a hyssop.
Each of these elements have symbolism that is meant to help rid him not only his illness, but its root cause.
The birds are used because birds are constantly making squawking and chirping sounds. This is meant to remind him of the mindless chatter in which he engaged, which had the unfortunate result of someone else being slandered. People are meant to be in control of what comes out of their mouth.
The cedar wood is used because it is a large proud tree. In other situations, cedar wood is used to remind us to have pride in our relationship with G-d (cedar wood is used in many parts of the Mishkan). But while a person is meant to have pride, he must beware of two things. 1. That his pride does not interfere in his relationship with his fellow man, that although he takes pride in who he is, he does not look down on others. 2. It does not affect his relationship with G-d, that he understands that the tools that he has, that enabled him to be who he is, were in fact given to him by G-d. To properly serve G-d, one must have a healthy self esteem and take pride in this relationship. But he also must always have the proper balance between pride and humility.
The crimson thread is used because sin is likened to scarlet thread: “G-d says, ‘if your sins are like scarlet, they will become white like snow, if they are red as crimson they will become like wool” (Isiah 1:18).
The hyssop is used to show how low he has fallen through sin, as a hyssop is a lowly bush.
We can learn a beautiful lesson from this process - that every punishment that we receive is only geared to improve us, and situations are always optimized to help us improve.