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    Your clothes tell the tale – Tazria

    The leper sent outside of the camp, by Gustave Dore

    All those laws about leprosy… how can they have any meaning for the modern age?

    The question was anticipated by centuries of Bible commentary. An instance is the rules about leprosy in one’s garments (Lev.13:47). Medical science has no difficulty with the notion that a patient’s clothing often reveals the presence and nature of a disease.

    Nachmanides and others think the leprosy-in-clothing laws can be seen in allegorical fashion as marks of one’s spiritual and ethical health. They suggest that if a person is a sinner, the garments they wear will tell the tale. We can of course read guilt in a person’s face or their body language, but their clothes?

    To Nachmanides the question is made easier by a concept that this notion applies only to a person wearing white clothes. An example of how sin can soil one’s white garments can be found in the first chapter of Isaiah, the haftarah for the Shabbat before Tishah B’Av.

    Whether the clothes are or were white need, however, not be a limitation. The sages are critical of a talmid chacham who has a speck of dirt on his clothing – of whatever colour – which suggests that there are spots on his learning too.

    Whatever your sin, it is always going to be hard to hide it. Halachah has a phrase for such things, “A matter that is bound to be found out”. If not your clothing, something will inevitably give you away.

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