“And if he loses his hair on the side toward his face, he is bald at the front. He is clean.
He is a man afflicted with tzara’ath; he is unclean. The kohen shall surely pronounce him unclean; his lesion is on his head.”
(Leviticus 13:41 & 13:44)
Chazal teach us that Tzara’as does not come merely as a physical ailment, rather as a way to show us a deficiency or omission in our service of Hashem. Nowadays, there are parallels to Tzara’as in our physical ailments, and we will use fever to illustrate this. When one has fever, it is actually a good sign because that means his body is fighting an infection. If he would not have fever, he would not know that he was infected with some ailment and would then not even take the proper precautions. When Klal Yisrael was on the right spiritual level, they were given this brocho of Tzara’as in order to keep them on track.
In general, we are familiar with the idea that Tzara’as comes due to Lashon Hara. However, it stands to reason that the various types of Tzara’as came as punishments for different Aveiros. The Netziv gives us an explanation about two of them. In general, people have two kinds of drives for things that they want. One is physical, and the other is emotional. Physical drives refers to the enjoyment of all kinds of physical pleasures. The pursuit of intellect and social pleasures are borne of a different drive. I think that this is encapsulated in the words of Chazal, “Just as a snake bites and does not derive pleasure, so too one who says Lashon Hara harms without having any pleasure.” (See Sefer Chofetz Chayim, Laviv 6).
However, I was always puzzled by this statement of Chazal, because if a person did not derive pleasure from speaking lashon hara, then he would not speak it. The answer is obvious: Chazal is telling us that speaking lashon hara is a different kind of pleasure.
The Netziv teaches us that in the special category of Tzara’as of the head, there are two kinds of Tzara’as. One in the front of the head and one in the back. He explains as follows: there are certain kinds of sins that happen through one’s thought processes. The Tzara’as is a signal of sins in those areas. Some people become heretics through delving into the world of philosophy (there are also those who delve into philosophy and become believers). There are others who just never thought about it and are heretics. I question if the average person who is brought up in an atheistic environment really believes that there is no G-d. I have discussed this with several people who grew up in such a situation, and it seems that they were just parroting back that which they were taught.
On the verse “But if there be in the bald head, or the bald forehead, a reddish-white plague, it is leprosy breaking out in his bald head, or his bald forehead” (Vaikra 13:42), the Netziv explains that the two halves – the front and the back – of the brain, each perform a different type of intellectual processing. The back is where a person comes to a decision that is not based on intellectual investigation, and that causes one type of affliction. The thought process from the front is where a person can come to heresy because of his mistaken impression of intellectual superiority. The Netziv explains that aside from the mistake of the heresy itself, a person can come to heresy just by thinking that he is better than everyone. These two kinds of apikorsus are discussed in Devarim (29:17) as “Rosh” and “La’ana”.
At this time, when on one hand we are struggling with the affairs of the world, and on the other hand we are in the period of counting the Omer, which is a period of growth, it seems to me that working on our thoughts through analyzing our thought processes would be appropriate. Perhaps this is symbolized by the custom of not cutting one’s hair at this time, rather letting the natural growth process continue. Meaning, we have to leave our hair alone and check out its roots. When Lag B’Omer arrives and the secrets of the Torah will be revealed to a degree, indeed our heads will be put back into proper shape and we will be able to cut our hair.
In short, during the counting of the omer and while we are all in bidud, let us try to use our heads properly.