Tazria – Doctors of the Soul

April 15, 2015

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The Kohen shall look at the affliction on the skin of the flesh: If the hair in the affliction has changed to white, and the affliction’s appearance is deeper than the skin of the flesh – it is a tzaras affliction; the Kohen shall look at it and declare him contaminated. (Leviticus 13:3)

The Torah requires that the Kohen examine the person with tzara’s, an apparently severe and contagious skin affliction that is often wrongly translated as leprosy. Yet here in Leviticus chapter 13 the Kohen is asked to observe it twice in the same verse. So why is there an obvious redundancy? Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutno opined that it is incumbent that when one sees an afflicted person that he also see him as a whole person. The Kohenim were in a sense the “doctors of the soul”. This is the role of a Kohen, to restore the person to wholeness – to have the imagination therefore to see beyond a person’s present brokenness, and to recognize his or her own power to heal.


The Besorot records many stories of Yeshua healing individuals who are broken. In Luke 14 he chose to heal a man whose entire body was bloated as the result of tzuras. The healing occurs in the home of a very prominent Pharisaic scholar. Apparently the sick man is in some way related to the household and is just lying suffering and we might infer dying. What is ironic is that the group of men who were present had the power to heal but they were largely unaware of it. It was an untapped power, since they preferred to stand in judgment rather than invite the man to the table and see him as anything other than a lost soul. Only those who are whole can truly offer healing.


Most people are not healed because they choose not to be healed. When Yeshua came upon a paraplegic at the pool of Shalom who had been sitting there for years waiting to be lowered into the reputedly therapeutic waters. Yeshua asked the man the most enigmatic question, “Do you want to be healed?” The question seems so counter intuitive. Why else might a sick man wait for therapy? Still so many people avoid healing both intentionally and inadvertently. They often lower their ideals to accommodate their present ability to fulfill their potential. Oddly many people would rather languish in pain and isolation than risk the failure of trying and trusting. This is why Yeshua’s simple remedy was to ask the man to pick up his mat and walk. We are often crippled by our own fear of trying.

I have always been amazed and inspired by the story of Zaccheus. Zaccheus is a tax collector who climbs a tree to get a glimpse of Yeshua. From the reading we can deduce what is obvious to the social-historical context of the text. Tax collectors were considered ‘sinners’, collaborators with the illegitimate and pagan government. Yeshua’s rhetoric, though, would say anything but that. “Zaccheus come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Yeshua goes on to describe Zaccheus as a “son of Abraham too”. Yeshua is not merely appealing to Zaccheus’s lineage, rather to a promise of Torah, that in the social context, had long since been domesticated and dismissed when it came to Zaccheus and those like him. The point here is that Zaccheus accepts Yeshua’s counter-verdict and begins the process of living up to it, giving half his possessions to the poor and paying back four times what he has gained illicitly, twice the degree of repentance prescribed for such an act in Torah. Zaccheus’ desire and effort to be spiritually healed is matched and encouraged by Yeshua’s will to see him as he can be rather than as he presently is.

I would offer one more example, this one of a modern day Kohen and the spiritually broken “metzorah” who crossed the threshold into his life. Michael Weisser was a trained conservative cantor, recently graduated and ordained as such. He was offered the position as spiritual leader of a small synagogue in Lincoln, Nebraska; a synagogue that could did not have the resources or appeal to call a rabbi. But shortly after moving his family into a house on Randolph Street in Lincoln he began to receive threatening anti-Semitic phone calls, “You’ll be sorry you moved into 5810 Randolph Street Jew boy.” The calls became more frequent and were accompanied by letters as well. They were all coming from a man named Larry Trapp who had connections and credentials from several white supremacist organizations. He had been terrifying Jews and other minorities in Lincoln for almost a decade.

The truth is that the terrifying specter of Larry Trapp was merely an illusion. Trapp was severe diabetic who had already lost both legs to amputation and was confined to a wheel chair. He was a sad, angry, disenfranchised man, a victim of abuse himself, who used terror to try to regain some control over his world in lieu of the acceptance he craved. One day when Trapp called, Cantor Weisser inexplicable began to read Psalms to him over the phone. Following a series of strange developments during subsequent calls Cantor Weisser went to visit the man who still was a symbol of fear to his family. He was shocked to see the broken man who had previously terrified him, and was appalled at the squalor in which he lived. He continued to visit Larry Trapp until his health had faltered so severely that he could no longer care for himself. Trapp moved in with the Weisser family, and in a still stranger turn of events converted to Judaism and became a virtual member of the family. He lived with the Weisser family for years, and they became his caregiver until his physical maladies from years of abuse overcame him. He was buried in a Jewish cemetery and was remembered fondly by many of the people in the community who he had previously terrorized.

To be healed we must see ourselves as whole. To fill our role as a nation Kohenim we must see others as whole. Let us then rise to the occasion.


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2 Responses to Tazria – Doctors of the Soul

  1. Vladislav Nagirner on April 4, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    “Oddly many people would rather languish in pain and isolation than risk the failure of trying and trusting. This is why Yeshua’s simple remedy was to ask the man to pick up his mat and walk. We are often crippled by our own fear of trying.” – Yes. Toda raba.

    • Rabbi Paul on April 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm

      Thank you Vladislav.

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