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Shabbat Parashat Tazria 5782

Parashat Hashavua: Ketoret, Tzaraat, and Uziya

Harav Yosef Carmel

Our parasha is focused on tzara’at (roughly, leprocy), as is the next, and they form a bridge between the two parshiyot that discuss the death of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. Last week we saw that the sin of the Golden Calf was made possible by the sin, generations before, of the sale of Yosef. We learned from this that being careful about sins in the interpersonal realm precedes carefulness regarding the realm of mitzvot between man and his Maker. We will try to prove now that tzara’at is also the result of lacking between man and his fellow man.

At first glance, this is almost a trivial task, as Chazal teach us that the main cause of tzara’at is lashon hara, one of the most basic interpersonal sins (Arachin 16b). We can sharpen the picture, though, by looking at the life of King Uziya, one of history’s most prominent lepers. Uziya entered the Beit Hamikdash to offer ketoret (incense) on the altar, which was forbidden for him as a non-kohen, despite rebuke from the kohanim (Divrei Hayamim II, 26:19). This also hints at a connection to Nadav and Avihu, whose story bookends the parasha of tzara’at, in that they each brought ketoret improperly and were severely punished. The parasha that follows tzara’at deals with the service of the kohen gadol. Prominent among his tasks was bringing ketoret, and Uziya did not give sufficient deference to him.

The period of Uziya was one of the brightest points in our history, in some ways seeming like the days of Mashiach. It included the following elements of success (see Tzofnat Yeshayahu, p. 162-4). 1): The service of Hashem was largely kept in the palace and among the people; 2) All of the Jewish people were living in Eretz Yisrael; 3) The king was from the House of David; 4) The king won all the battles he fought; 5) The boundaries of Eretz Yisrael were fully in the hands of Bnei Yisrael (albeit broken up among two kingdoms); 6) Eretz Yisrael was blooming from an agricultural perspective; 7) Am Yisrael  was respected throughout the world; 8) The Beit Hamikdash was standing.

So why, in these ideal times, was King Uziya afflicted with tzara’at? The ills of this time are discussed by two prophets: Amos, throughout his sefer, and Yeshayahu in ch. 1-6, as Chazal tell us that the sefer begins at the time that Uziya was stricken.

Both prophets describe social corruption that festered and spread throughout the nation, from north to south. This corruption had a corrosive effect, both in Judea and in the Northern Kingdom. In the midst of a period of plenty, the wealthy were not satiated but were hungry for more and more, including by taking the little that was left in the hands of the weak. The judicial system was also compromised, and by and large, it supported the powerful and the “elite” against the weak and lowly. The judges, officers, and the rich, buoyed by the support of the intellectual elite, were responsible for this corruption (see Yeshayahu 1:23). This, then, is the reason that Uziya was punished with tzara’at, the punishment of the sins between man and his fellow man.
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