This week’s parsha 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.
Shabbos HaChodesh (“Sabbath [of the] month” שבת החודש ) precedes the first of the Hebrew month of Nisan during which Pesach is celebrated (this Shabbos is Rosh Chodesh Nisan). Exodus 12:1-20 and the laws of Pesach are read as the maftir aliyah, along with a special haftorah. On the first day of Nisan, Hashem presented the first commandment of how to “sanctify the new moon” (kiddush hachodesh) for the onset of Rosh Chodesh and thus Nisan becomes the first month of the Jewish year (counting by months). This special reading helps to prepare us for Pesach.