Tzara’at – Appreciating Rules

By: Morah Esther Markel


This week’s parsha speaks about “Tzara’at,” the supernatural ailment that manifests itself in the physical.  It’s the strangest phenomenon—a “sickness” that displays itself on the body, but is really a malady of the soul. It’s a hard one to explain to our children who’ve never experienced the phenomenon. Is this a punishment Hashem is inflicting on those who do not heed his words?

An interesting thing happened to me this week in my school.  One of our wonderful second grade girls came to school armed with a binder.  Huddled around her were her classmates, peering intently over her shoulder.  She noticed my curious look and was eager to explain, as we walked to the morning davening. “It’s a petition,” she said. “Petition,” I repeated, impressed that she even knew the word.  “Yes,” she explained.  “We’d like to change some of the rules;  32 of them to be exact.”  I pondered that statement throughout the davening period, as I watched her and her classmates put their heart and soul into their prayers.  I wondered which of the rules she felt were so constricting that needed to be abolished. In my mind, I imagined her returning to me at the end of the day with 80 signatures, asking that we abolish tests, homework and uniforms, as well as extend recess and lunch.  I pictured her vision of the ideal school, where slurpies would be handed out daily by smiling teachers.

While I was extraordinarily impressed with the leadership role she was taking, I mulled over how I might address her concerns about the rules in our school and how I might help her understand the value in the structure we have in place.

I thought to myself about how I have no time for taking care of my car.  My husband reminds me consistently to change the oil and check the tires.  I just don’t have time for that stuff.  My car has been old and faithful for years now.  It’ll just keep on going. Or will it? And on that day that it may finally “decide” that it has had enough, will it be punishing me for my neglect?  Hardly.  It will be a natural result of my actions or lack thereof.

In our lives though, isn’t it the same? How many times do we feel, “This mitzvah makes no sense to me. I see no rational reason for doing things this way.  I just don’t have time for this stuff.”

And then there’s the trust.  The trust that even though we don’t understand, we know that Hashem, the Divine Architect of this world, has designed a system of what appears to be rules, to keep our souls running smoothly.  We may not understand them. They may make no sense to us. We know, however, that the actions we choose affect our souls- even in ways we cannot see or understand.

The two year old may not have the understanding as to why he’s not allowed to cross the street without an adult or turn on the stove by himself.  The parent, though, who has established these limits, has clarity as to the implications of the results of crossing these boundaries.

The wonderful thing about working with our beautiful children is that I know without a shadow of a doubt, that when I meet with these students later this afternoon and explain to them about mitzvos and rules and why we do things, even if they make no sense to us, they’ll get it.  Our children trust Hashem….and they trust us too.

Now all we have to do is work on ourselves.


Morah Esther Markel is an educator par excellence. Over the past 35 years of her teaching career she has taught the full educational gamut. She has served as an educator on all levels—beginning as a nursery school teacher and director, after which she continued on to teach every single grade of elementary school, from pre-K to eighth grade. She currently serves as the Judaic principal of the Conejo Jewish Day School (CJDS).Greatly loved by all who know her, she is affectionately referred to as “Morah Esther” by her thousands of students.  She is passionate about instilling strong Jewish values and a love for Torah in all her “children.”

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