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I understand there's the type that actually makes a person Tamei, because the person did bad things (e.g. spoke Lashon Hara). But assuming tzaraas stems from a spiritual affliction, what purpose does a Tzaraas that's tahor (e.g. doesn't have all the simanim) have?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

A few possibilities off the top of my head:

  1. The "non-serious" tzaraas may be actual skin afflictions instead. (E.g. Sforno says that the detail described in tzaraas for clothing precludes it from being a bad reaction to faulty dyeing process.)
  2. "Non-serious" tzaraas would serve as a very strong warning sign for someone, before getting the real deal and needing isolation.
  3. By listing the types that need isolation and those that don't, the Torah is making very clear that this is a spiritual thing, not a physical disease (as Sforno, Hirsch, and many more explain).
  4. In the case of head-to-toe tzaraas, there's no need for a commandment to isolate the individual, as people are likely to naturally avoid the person.
  5. The details are given so we can learn spiritual lessons. I heard from Rabbi Breitowitz (quoting baalei mussar ... maybe R' Dessler?) that the symptoms given in the Torah indicate dangerous defense mechanisms that prevent a person from dealing with a problem: it's-so-bad-I'm-hopeless (tzaraas that spreads); it's-not-so-bad (white hairs inside); and okay-it's-bad-but-so-what-I'm-really-good-inside (healthy skin inside).
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To expand on your point 2, the "non-serious" type of tzaraas sometimes also requires a week or two of quarantine. This gives the sufferer a chance to be alone with themselves and their thoughts, to consider what they did, and to do teshuvah. –  Alex May 10 '10 at 17:03
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Right; thanks. Some types are "oh take a look at it, it's fine" (though the individual still had a scare); others require a week or two to check. –  Shalom May 10 '10 at 17:14
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Thanks for your thorough and insightful answer –  yydl May 10 '10 at 20:32
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