Parshas Tazria describes in great detail the varying manifestations of the disease called tzara’as. Although it has commonly been mistranslated as leprosy, this skin disease bears little resemblance to any bodily ailment transmitted through normal exposure. Rather, tzara’as is the physical manifestation of a spiritual malaise, a punishment from G-d primarily for the sin of speaking loshon hara. Loshon hara, meaning literally ‘the evil tongue’, is often translated as ‘gossip’. However, loshon hara is the Hebrew term for derogatory speech that is true. Motzei shem rah refers to derogatory speech about others that is false and slanderous.
The metzora (one diagnosed with tzara’as) was to be sent into isolation, tear his garments, and to call out ‘contaminated, contaminated!’ Since he abused his power of speech, sowing strife and distancing people from one another, it was fitting that he too should suffer the effects of isolation. Parshas Metzora continues the discussion of tzara’as, detailing the purification process of the metzorah. Tzara’as could afflict one’s clothing and home, and necessitate the burning of one’s clothes and demolishing of one’s home if the disease spread. The various punishments recorded in the Torah are not intended to serve as revenge for the sin; they are measures that will hopefully restore the person to the correct path.