While the details of the skin disease tzara’at are presented as theoretical law in Parashat Tazriah, they materialize as central features in other parts of the Bible, such as the interaction between the prophet Elisha, his apprentice, Gehazi, and the Aramean
Naaman, afflicted with tzara’at, finds his way to Elisha, who instructs him to wash himself seven times in the Jordan River. At first, Naaman refuses, taking umbrage at the insult to the waters of his homeland. The general’s aides prevail upon him, saying, “Is the demand of the prophet strenuous upon you?” Naaman relents, bathes himself seven times in the Jordan, which yields skin soft like a young child.
Naaman is grateful and wishes to discharge his debt to Elisha and God with material gifts. Elisha refuses, forcing Naaman to reconcile for the kindness of a cure without them. The only way for Naaman to find his dignity is in the service of ha-Shem. By refusing the gifts, Elisha requires Naaman to direct gratitude to the proper source, God, and consequently remain loyal to the God of Israel.
Yet defeat is to be drawn from the mouth of victory. Gehazi runs after Naaman to solicit silver coins and new clothes, attempting to elevate his own status and cash in on the miracle. In the process, Gehazi inadvertently absolves Naaman of his debt and subservience to ha-Shem. Gehazi’s punishment for this is that Naaman’s tzara’at will cling to him and his family forever.
One might think of tzara’at as the anti-matter of status. Those who attempt to advance their reputation, status or position at the expense of others are stricken. Naaman cleanses his affliction when he humbles himself before a simple prophet of a subjugated nation, but Gehazi is stricken when he diverts divine intervention from international peace for a few extra shekels and new suits.