Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Metzora


L’horos b’yom ha’tamei uv’yom ha’tahor zos toras ha’tzara’as (14:57)

A doctor in Jerusalem once approached the Tzitz Eliezer, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, with an interesting legal question. As part of his medical training, he took the Hippocratic oath, in which a doctor swears to practice medicine ethically and to focus his professional efforts on the well-being of his patients. One component of the oath is a promise by the doctor that all information that he has about his patients will remain confidential.

As such, the doctor questioned whether he was permitted to take medical students with him as he made his rounds checking on his patients. The doctor was concerned that perhaps doing so placed the patients in an uncomfortable situation since the students became aware of their medical diagnoses and discussed them with the doctor. The doctor asked the Tzitz Eliezer whether this practice is permitted according to the oath that he took.

Rav Waldenberg responded that from this perspective, there is no room for concern. At the time that the doctor took the oath, he was aware that standard medical practice involves the use of patients for the training of medical students, and he certainly did not have in mind that this oath would preclude him from engaging in this common activity. Further, Chazal point out (Taanis 7a) that a teacher often learns a great deal from his students, as answering their questions helps him to crystallize his own understanding of the material. As such, the practice of discussing patients’ cases with students actually benefits the doctor by increasing his medical knowledge and skills, and it is in the best interest of the patients that he do so.

However, Rav Waldenberg suggested that there may be other grounds to prevent the doctor from engaging in this practice. The Netziv writes that when an affliction was brought before a Kohen for a ruling on its status, he would call together other Kohanim in order to discuss it with them and transmit to them his tradition regarding which afflictions are pure and which are impure, as the verse says “l’horos b’yom ha’tamei uv’yom ha’tahor” – to teach on which day it is impure and on which day it is pure. This was necessary because the laws governing the various types of afflictions are intricate and complex.

However, the verse ends off by stating “zos toras hatzara’as,” meaning that the permissibility of gathering together students to examine and discuss a person’s body and its afflictions is not global in nature, but is limited to the case of an affliction of tzara’as. Because the person who became afflicted demonstrated disrespect toward others in speaking negatively about them, the Torah was not concerned about his potential embarrassment. One may derive from here the Netziv that the practice of a doctor humiliating and demeaning a sick person by showing off his illness to others would not be allowed. As a result, Rav Waldenberg advised the doctor to gently solicit the consent of his patients to be studied and examined by the medical students, but in the event that they refuse, their wishes must be respected.

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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Since most of the laws governing a person with tzara’as are contained in Parshas Tazria, wouldn’t it be more logical to call it Parshas Metzora, and similarly, since the impurities which result from bodily emissions are discussed at the end of Parshas Metzora, why isn’t the impurity of a woman who has given birth mentioned there instead of at the beginning of Parshas Tazria? (Yad Av)

2)     Can a Kohen who is presently a metzora assist in the purification process of another metzora? (Toras Kohanim, Rambam Hilchos Tumas Tzara’as 11:6, Minchas Chinuch 173:12, Afikei Yam 2:34, Ayeles HaShachar 14:3)

3)     The Torah mentions that part of the process of purifying the metzora involves cedar wood, crimson thread, and hyssop (14:4). Rashi explains that because one of the causes of tzara’as is a haughty spirit, the Torah is hinting that the cure for a person who has made himself arrogant like the mighty cedar is to lower himself and become humble like the small hyssop bush. As the hyssop bush is taller than the animal from which the wool thread is dyed crimson (Niddah 26a), wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to list them in order from tallest to shortest, which is indeed the order in which they are listed in reference to their use in preparing the ashes of the red heifer (Bamidbar 19:6)? (Taima D’Kra)

© 2011 by Oizer Alport.