Parasha Metzora describes the process by which a metzora removes his contamination and is allowed to resume full participation in the community. A rather interesting ritual involving two birds, some wood, thread, a lot of shaving and a bowl begins the process; or does it? The cleansing of the metzora is a description of the process of repentance and by understanding the process, we can gain insight into operation of our own reconciliation to G-d and the community.
Let us back up a moment. How did the metzora come to be in his position? It was a result of unconfessed sin, particularly the sins of the tongue that result from pride. The destructive nature of these sins in the community necessitated the expulsion of the offending individual from the camp, and the supernatural afflictions described in these last two parashot ensured that an unrepentant slanderer was removed. The key here is that the tzaria affliction was a physical manifestation resulting from sin. Therefore, recovery from it is not effected by physical medications but by repentance and character regeneration.
Our parasha begins with the kohen going outside the camp to see if the metzora has been healed and he finds he has. The metzora, during his time outside the camp has gone through the process of self examination that has resulted in confession and repentance. And since it was G-d who placed it there, it was a heartfelt repentance, because one cannot fool G-d. Now you would think that the metzora, since it is obvious to the kohen that he has been healed and the spiritual affliction is resolved, would be admitted to the camp immediately. This is not the case, however. There is a process that extends more than a week that includes sacrifice and waiting as the metzora is slowly readmitted to the camp.
I believe one the main reasons for this is the fact that because of the destructive nature of the sin required that he be reintroduced to the community slowly and he is required to gain a deeper understanding of the seriousness of his sin. Too often we think that repentance is just a short prayer we say and then everything is back the way is should be with G-d and man. A simple ‘I’m sorry’ and everything is ok. The Torah never gives us that picture of repentance. It always gives up a process which is designed to remind the individual of the seriousness of his offense. Outside the camp, or in a service where everyone has their ‘heads bowed and eyes closed’, it is easy to repent and confess and think it’s real. You may mean it and feel good about it at the moment. But it is only where the rubber meets the road that the reality of repentance is ascertained. When the metzora comes into the camp, will the feelings of pride and jealousy be rekindled, will the first words out of his mouth be holy or profane?
The items of the ritual for cleansing, the value of the offerings, the separation even within the camp, it to remind him of his fall, to keep him watchful lest something worse happen to him. And since he is still at a level of tamei, the rest of the camp is also aware of his condition. We need to be careful when we or one of our brothers or sisters falls that we restore them with our eyes open. They need love and encouragement, but they also need firm direction and watchfulness. Repentance begins with introspection and confession and continues with a demonstrated change of behavior that is obvious to the whole community. Once that evidence is in then the metzora is pure, then a penitent it clean.