Yoni Mozeson
Yoni Mozeson

Is Tzaraat a blessing or a betrayal? Midrash Tanchuma Tazria-Metzora

Midrash Tanchuma Tazria. Is Tzaraat a blessing or a betrayal

The skin disease called Tzaraat is a double edged sword. On the one hand you have a built-in early warning system that you are suffering from a  terrible spiritual malady. (Although it may have resembled leprosy, Tzaraat is not leprosy). It signals that you are engaging in slander and gossip and affords you a chance to mend your ways. On the other hand, your own skin has, in a sense, betrayed you. The telltale signs of Tzoraat can appear on your home, your clothes, and on your body. You can’t keep it a secret.

A history of beneficial betrayals

The Midrash creatively links the skin’s betrayal of the body to other famous betrayals. In each case, the one perpetrating the betrayal emerged from the one who was betrayed.

Let’s begin where it all started. Chava emerged from Adam. Yet she fell for a snake oil salesman (see Midrash Tanchuma Metzora) and caused both Adam and Chava to be expelled from Gan Eden. Not to mention, bringing mortality and hard labor (working and birthing) to the world.

In a sense, Moshe betrayed Pharaoh.  After all, Moshe grew up in Pharaoh’s palace yet Moshe led a campaign against Pharaoh’s interests. Egypt lost some of its slave labor. In the process, the 10 plagues wreaked havoc on the country. (You could add Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, to the list).

Midrash Tanchuma tells us that both king Sancherev and Nevuchadnezer were ultimately killed by their own sons. Finally, the Moshiach who will fight the final, epic battle of Gog and Magog will, himself, have grown up in the country that Israel will be fighting against. Thus you could say that the Moshiach will have betrayed the country he was born and raised in. 

The trade-off

Getting back to Tzaraat, where our skin betrays us, are we better off today where we don’t realize that we are engaged in the terrible practice of slander and malicious talk? Ironically, without the early warning system of Tzaraat we can engage in embarrassing others without getting embarrassed ourselves.   


Midrash Tanchuma Metzora. The primordial, preeminent snake oil salesman

In a creative twist on the leprosy-like look of Tzaraat, a snake’s skin is considered by the Midrash to be an everlasting, non-healing case of Tzaraat

How did the snake earn this distinction?  Tzaraat is the punishment for slander and malicious speech and the snake of the Garden of Eden outdid himself.

Promising  Chava the ultimate power trip.

Midrash Tanchuma describes the actual sales pitch that the snake used to get Chava to eat from the forbidden fruit:

כָּל אֻמָּן שׂוֹנֵא אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ, וּכְשֶׁבִּקֵּשׁ לִבְראֹת אֶת עוֹלָמוֹ, מִן הָאִילָן הַזֶּה אָכַל וּבָרָא אֶת עוֹלָמוֹ. 

“Every craftsman hates the competition. And when God sought to create His world, he ate from this tree (of Knowledge) in order to create (the world).”

The snake concocted one of the greatest lies ever told. He convinced Chava that God outlawed the Tree of Knowledge because it would enable Chava to become a god. And God does not want any competition. The snake was promising the ultimate power trip. Just as God created the world, Chava can create her own world. 

Going back to the actual verse in the Torah the interpretation of the Midrash comes right out of the words: 

כִּ֚י יֹדֵ֣עַ אֱלֹקְים כִּ֗י בְּיוֹם֙ אֲכָלְכֶ֣ם מִמֶּ֔נּוּ וְנִפְקְח֖וּ עֵֽינֵיכֶ֑ם וִהְיִיתֶם֙ כֵּֽאלֹקְים יֹדְעֵ֖י ט֥וֹב וָרָֽע׃ 

Because God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad.”(Bereishis 3:5)

If marketing is about delivering on the most powerful emotional needs of your customers, then you have to admit that the snake was as good as they come.

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at www.mindprintmarketing.com. We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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