All the days that the affliction is upon him he shall remain contaminated; he is contaminated. He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Lev. 13:46)

The Rabbis (1) tell us that the punishment of the metzora (a person struck with leprosy) is equivalent to death. What is so awful about his predicament?

The biggest pleasure one can have comes from what he does for others. The pleasures one seeks for himself are short-lived and usually do not live up to expectations, sometimes causing him more misery than pleasure. When one helps another the pleasure is deeper and longer lasting. It is life giving.

The metzora is prohibited from associating with the rest of Israel as the verse states, "He shall dwell in isolation." One who is disqualified from being with fellow human beings is unable to lend a helping hand to a friend and is 'considered as if he were dead.' His existence ceases to be meaningful.

There are three others whom the Sages also consider dead: a pauper, a blind man and one who is childless. The pauper doesn't have enough to give to others. The blind man doesn't see someone else's pain and therefore can't have sympathy and help him. One who is childless is considered dead since a person's instincts of kindness and giving are directed towards his children.

All of these four have one common denominator: they are crippled in their ability to relate to others and share in their suffering, so they are unable to give and bestow kindness upon others. They all suffer from the curse of "he shall dwell in isolation." The only life worth living is a life of sharing and giving.(2)

NOTES

1. Four people are considered as if they are dead: a pauper, a metzora (leper), a blind man and one who is childless. (Nedarim 64b)

2. R' Chaim Shmulevitz.