Isolation Cell

All the days that the affliction is upon him he shall remain contaminated… He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Vayikra 13:46)

Penal codes around the world vary in treatment of crimes. Violators of societal norms are penalized with different types of punishments. One value that is shared in inflicting punishment is that when a criminal is already incarcerated and continues to behave in unacceptable ways, the inmate is placed in solitary confinement. To be separate and alone is the worst sentence for a human being.

In days of old, one who committed certain sins was stricken with a physical manifestation of the wrongdoing, called tzaraat. The discoloration of the walls of one’s house, clothing or skin would be examined by a Kohen and its status as tamei — impure — declared by the priestly inspector.

Our Torah deals more strictly with the metzora than with other forms of spiritual impurity by requiring the impure one to dwell outside the camp. Even others inflicted with the same condition could not share the exile. Rashi explains: “Others who are impure are not to stay with him. Our Rabbis have said: ‘Why is the one who suffers from tzaraat different from others who are impure that he should stay in isolation? Since he caused a parting through lashon hara between a man and his wife and between man and his colleague, he, too, shall be set apart.’”

Why is it that this form of impurity is more severe than others?

There are times when misfortune befalls a person, the reason for which the victim cannot comprehend. One accepts that all Hashem does is perfect and just — which obligates one to seek an answer to the question “Why me?”

The above-quoted Rashi provides an answer. “Since he caused a parting … he too shall be set apart” indicates that his punishment is measure for measure in keeping with his crime.

The severity of the impurity is not the real reason for isolation — it is not contagious. Rather, the result of his misbehavior — “he caused a parting” — is the source of his confinement.

This case is a lesson about all Heavenly-inflicted discipline. One who suffers misfortune should be prompted to undertake introspection to figure out what behavior could have caused the problem. If one truly investigates, one should find the answer to “Why me?” Whatever the circumstances, they are definitely fair and in perfect measure with the transgression. Middah k’negged middah — measure for measure — is a perfect Divine system of discipline designed to arouse remorse and the resolve to avoid repetition of wrongdoing.

Our Rabbis have clearly stated that although we currently live in a time when revelation of Hashem’s ways is very limited and his concealment from human recognition is great, the rule of measure for measure still applies in full force. Even if one cannot pinpoint a specific cause, one must accept that all we experience is Heaven-sent and fair.

The proper way to react is to accept responsibility and begin the process of self-improvement. It’s “me” because “I” did something and it’s what “I” deserve. There may not be a clear connection, but acknowledgement of responsibility will result in improvement for the future.

Shabbat shalom.