4/27/2005

Tzara'at: Psoraisis or Psychosis?

Haven't gotten the chance to write this up over the past couple of weeks, but it represents my attempt, as a member of the Rabbinic profession, to talk about something other than lashon ho-ra during the weeks of tazria and metzora.

First off, I wonder if there's reaslly a connection between the term 'psoraisis' and 'tzara'at'.

Regarding the text itself, there's a clearly discernable pattern in what the Torah calls the tzara'at afflicted person:
13:2 אָדָם, כִּי-יִהְיֶה בְעוֹר-בְּשָׂרוֹ שְׂאֵת אוֹ-סַפַּחַת אוֹ בַהֶרֶת
נֶגַע צָרַעַת, כִּי תִהְיֶה בְּאָדָם 13:9
וְאִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה, כִּי-יִהְיֶה בוֹ נָגַע 13:29 - similar in 38 and 40
אִישׁ-צָרוּעַ הוּא, טָמֵא הוּא 13:44
וְהַצָּרוּעַ אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ הַנֶּגַע 13:45
זֹאת תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת הַמְּצֹרָע, בְּיוֹם טָהֳרָתו ֹ:14:2

  1. There's a clear progression here, where the tzara'at itself moves from being something relatively incidental to being something all-consuming. The identity of the afflicted person becomes increasingly wrapped up in the tzara'at, and there's a fall from being 'adam', to 'ish o ishah' to ish-tzaru'a' to 'tzaru'a' to 'metzora'.
  2. Rambam (Tum'at Tzara'at 16:10) describes a different progression, where the more obstinate the person, the closer to his person the disease would affect - house, furniture, clothing, body.
  3. One whose home was afflicted went to consult the kohein; one whose person was afflicted was brought before the kohein. Apparently, denial aint just a river in Egypt.
It doesn't seem too far-fetched to suggest that the diagnosis and cure of Tzara'at parallels the psychanalytic process. Therapy is designed to take a person who appears well on the surface and probe early experiences to discover unhealthy pesonaliy structures; by identifying and accepting them, they can be healed. If they remain under the surface of consciousness, they remain unhealthy. Both the Rambam's progression here (and his description of the Teshuvah process; this is the real role of 'vidui' - confession. Bring a repressed memory to the forefront of consciousness so that it can be released), and the progression in the torah itself, where one can only become cleansed by fully identifying with the root of the problem.

The healing ceremony reflects a maintenance of a certain type of balance:
Cedar balanced by hyssop and 'tola'at shani' - Majesty balanced by humility
2 birds - one sacrificed, one dipped in blood and set free - autonomy balanced by submission

Final thought: Rashi quotes a Midrash that when entering the land, the homes of the conquered Canaanites were afflicted with tzara'at, so that the Israelites would find treasure that the Canaanites had buried. This goes with our psychoanalytic model as well: the purpose of Tzara'at is to instigate a process of digging. That process can culminate in the finding of 'treasure' buried within the subconscious realms.

Is this real? Is this my attempt to come to grips with a superstitious artifact of my own culture? Is it an attempt by the Torah to sublimate prevalent superstitions?

Maybe I'm just in denial about the implications of looking at this in another way. But like I mentioned - denial ain't just a river in Egypt.
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