Outside the camp

This week's parsha is a double one, Tazria-Metzora. As the second name suggests, it deals with the rules of identification and treatment of a case of tzaraas. The person who is afflicted has to call in the priest to make the determination of whether or not it is tzaraas. If it is the person who has it has to leave the camp for a prescribed time during which he must warn people to keep away. The only person who must come to him is the priest who will determine when he is free of the affliction and can return to the community.

This made me think of the parallel but different case of a person who must leave the main community and whose sentence for exile is also determined by a priest in a different manner. One who unintentionally kills must flee to a city of refuge where he is joined by his family and even his rebbe for the duration of his stay. How long he must stay depends on the longevity of the High Priest. For that reason, the High Priest's mothers would visit those cities and distribute pastries to the inhabitants as a way to sweeten their disposition toward them and so prevent their praying for the demise of their son.

There are a number of contrasting points: the person exiled for killing may end up staying for years, while the person with tzaraas typically is there for a number of days or weeks at the most. But the one who killed even while outside his normal place keeps his family with him and can engage in normal business, something that the metzora cannot do. So the consequences of tzaraas, which is usually regarded as a punishment for lashon hara are much more intense than those for manslaughter. It's also interesting that the sentences are connected with priests, whether the standard one who makes the determination based on his observation or the High Priest whose death signals the end of the sentence for remaining in the city of refuge.

There are thematic links between the status of dead and tzaraas: Metzorah chashuv kameth, and perhaps the crime of lashon hara can be considered worse in its way than unintentional killing.

I haven't worked out what exactly we should conclude from this; I only note the parallels.



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