Tzaraat of the Body

Leviticus 13:1-46

The Torah next tackles the topic of tzaraat, a spiritual affliction typically translated as leprosy. It lists various lesions that need to be examined by a priest to determine whether one is infected. A leprous lesion, according to the Torah, is one which extends beyond the surface of the skin and contains white, or on certain parts of the body, golden, hairs. Its appearance is white or white with red streaks. However, if the individual’s entire body turns white, he is considered pure. If the appearance of the lesion is not decisive, the afflicted individual is quarantined for up to two week-long periods to see if it changes.


If the lesion is determined to be leprous, the afflicted individual must separate himself from the community during the period of his contamination. He tears his clothes, stops cutting his hair or shaving, and covers himself entirely with his cloak. He must also warn everyone he encounters that he is contaminated and dwell outside the communal camp.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Tzaraat is a fascinating disease. Some of the details provided suggest a medical element to it, but most point to a purely spiritual affliction. What evidence suggests a medical problem? What evidence suggests a spiritual disorder?


Comments ( 11 )

The comments below do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and opinions of The Israel Bible™.

  • SueJean, I agree with your last comment, true, confession is possession. We therefore have to confess positively.

  • Medical evidence is the consequence of spiritual sin. These rules contain at the same time how to act when something is seen “in the skin of the flesh” that should be treated. Then the sign follow: a rising of the flesh, a scab or a bright spot. The physical controle of them and the bodily symptoms of the supposed disease. (such as hairchange or even loss, colourchange of the spot, spread in the skin) Tzara’at formerly often denoted as leprosy, as people taking things easy don’t see the spiritual background. But seeing in an holistic approach we have to deal with cause and reason. Certain sins have an outworking on the body. Just as one who eats too much becomes too fat. Also the shutting up of the person does point to either physical, but also spiritual backgrounds. He cannot any longer spread disease. But in spiritual sense he is no longer capable to spread his infectuous “news”. Tsara’at is very contagious, even the clothes must be treated. That’s also reason why Mirjam had to stay outside the camp. People are sooner inclined to believe wrongs than truth. Lashon hara is the most dangerous. You even can say that tsara’at is the “Divine retribution for an offender’s failure to feel the needs and share the hurts of others.” (Chumas) So sacrifices must be brought and healing will come through repentance and submussion (to the Kohen).

  • Sheila

    Evidence is the sign available as proof. Num12 records this. In the case of a spiritual disorder/affliction, Miriam is an example. She became critical and envious of Moses’s position and because of this sin instantly her skin became diseased as white as snow. Aaron repented and Moses interceded but she remained in disgrace outside the camp for seven days. 2Kings:5 records Naaman’s disease healed but his skin disease was not the result of his wrongdoing. Would this relate to a medical sign? However Elisha’sservant through greed lied to his master and he became diseased immediately.

    • Diana Brown

      Sometimes people refer to Tza’arat on the body or on the clothes as a plague-mark.
      At this point in Israel’s history, I was taught God and Israel had what may be described as a treaty of protection. Basically God says, I am God. I created you and have called you out of the Nations to be a holy people before me. Here is the treaty/agreement I am offering you. Hear and obey My Instructions with your heart eyes, and ears.
      Israel cuts covenant based on this agreement of “trusting faithfulness in obeying Me and I will cover you with My Wings. Disobey and fail to repent and I will remove My Wings of Protection and you will feel the wrath of the Adversary/Accuser who will attack you in body, spirit, mind and circumstances. Return to Me and I will receive you.”
      This creates a cycle of listening, study, growth, repentance, God’s Intervention in the affairs of mankind and specifically to bless the people faithful to His Covenants. Purposeful living for sure. This also clears up something for me…..God doesn’t pick and choose who dies in a tragedy like an interstate pileup, but when tragedy occurs, He receives us unto Himself. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust and soul returns to his/her Creator.
      Danielle, I can’t remember how to spell this type of treaty common in the ancient world. It sounds like susarian but I couldn’t find it on Wikipedia.

      • Kevin

        Outward sores, blemishes, etc., can be evidence of inner corruption. That of course is not to say that is true in every case. Disease and sickness came into the earth when sin entered. Therefore, at its root cause, all sickness is due to sin. Sickness and disease will be no more in Messiah’s Kingdom. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will no longer be any death; and there will no longer be any mourning, crying or pain; because the old order has passed away.” [Revelation 21:4 CJB]

        • I agree Kevin, most sickness is as a result of sin, for example cervic cancer usually comes from breaking the niddah laws, other cancers may come due to non-observance of kosher laws. The order to the kohen to separate the person sick was so that person couldn’t contaminate others; in the same way, we may need to avoid people bent on continuing in their sin so we don’t get contaminated.

          • Good points! Angela & Kevin. I agree that sickness is very often related to sin.
            I've also found that people are often inclined to speak sickness and disease over themselves as they don't realize the power that the words that come out of their mouths has over them.
            Many times, as a missionary, I would pray for people to receive healing and watch them walk away telling their friends how they're sick. I'd just shake my head and know that the prayer wasn't going to be effective.
            Baruch Hashem.

  • Diana Brown

    I believe it is a spiritual disease which starts with gossip and is manifested in physical disease. The gossip is sin which then infects the body with stress hormones. Your PH slightly alkalized body succumbs to massive waves of acidity as your mouth keeps spreading the gossip. Then the consequences of the gossip you started is devastating as well.
    Torah, which Christians believe is Messiah with skin on to dwell among us, clearly speaks of this regarding negative speech about others. Miriam spoke against Moses and suffered as an example to Bnei Yisrael and Moses waited to move forward until the Lord was finished with the matter.
    Torah cleanses our speech as it renews our minds and changes our hearts.

  • Ken

    As a Christian, I have been taught this describes the disease of leprosy.
    However, your point that it describes a more serious issue of spiritual sickness is very interesting and seems much more logical. There are many diseases and why would God put forth so much description for just one disease. As bad as leprosy is, there are many other diseases that are very bad and perhaps worse.
    Medical science is learning that bad life styles (sins) often have outward psychological and physical effects upon our mind and body. It may exhibit in depression or mood swings or other manifestations. The descriptions in this portion address the skin (later garments). If the manifestation goes deep into the skin, or exhibits change in the hair (effect on the root) or increases in intensity or spreading, it signifies something bad ingrained in the individual.
    Having said this, I do not want to imply that our skin problems are all personal sin related. All of us are born with genetic (inheritance) good and bad characteristics. For example, my family has a history of certain cancers so in some regard we all exhibit various nasty characteristics.
    So if you see something bad in a person, wait seven days and watch, perhaps it will manifest worse, or perhaps we will see more clearly that it is not getting worse. So, I really appreciate the idea that this is describing a spiritual disease that effects both parties (the supposed bearer and the one who observer).

    • Ken

      The 7 day periods represent opportunity for us to investigate and better understand the situation. Often our first impression of others or the situation may be wrong and we need to first walk in their moccasins to understand where they are coming from or get the facts of the situation before we rashly judge.

    • This is a beautiful study of this portion of scripture, thank you! I’ve learnt from a Rabbi I respect very much that leprosy as in the story of Naaman (Haf tarah) portion – 2 Kings 5:1-19 is representative of a spiritual condition, and in Naaman’s case it was pride. It was after Naaman let go of his pride (accepting to dip in the Jordan (Yarden) seven times), that his leprosy left him.

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