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Parshas Tazria-Metzora - Vol. 2, Issue 23
L’havdil bein hatamei uvein hatahor uvein hachaya hane’echeles uvein hachaya asher lo seiachel ... Isha ki sazria v’yalda zachar (11:47-12:2)
When he was six years old, the Vilna Gaon was asked if he could explain the juxtaposition of the end of Parshas Shemini with the beginning of Parshas Tazria, two parshios with no immediately apparent connection. He immediately walked to the bookshelf, brought a Gemora Yoma to the table, and proceeded to open to folio 82a.
The Gemora there discusses an episode in which two women were pregnant on Yom Kippur. Both smelled a pungent aroma which caused them to be seized with an overwhelming need to eat immediately. The Rabbis suggested to whisper in the ear of each a reminder that “Today is Yom Kippur.” One woman was able to regain her senses and successfully completed the fast, while the other continued to demand food, and because it was a question of saving her life, she was permitted to eat. The Gemora concludes that the first woman gave birth to the righteous Rav Yochanan, while the latter gave birth to the wicked Shab’sai Otzar Peiri, who used to hoard fruits in order to drive up the prices, thus causing untold suffering to the poor.
The Vilna Gaon suggested that the juxtaposition may be read as hinting to this episode. A differentiation between the pure and the impure will be caused by the difference between the pregnant woman (often referred to in the Talmud as chaya) who eats (on Yom Kippur) and the one who doesn’t, and the difference in purity will be manifested in the sons they will bear!
Adam ki yih’yeh b’or b’saro s’eis o sapachas o baheres v’haya b’or b’saro l’nega tzara’as v’huva el Aharon HaKohen o el echad mibanav haKohanim (13:2)
The Torah discusses the laws regarding an ŕăí (person) who has tzara’as on his skin. The Zohar HaKadosh teaches that of the many Hebrew words to describe a person, the word adam is used to connote a respected individual. Why is a person who has sinned and brought tzara’as on himself referred to with an expression signifying importance?
Rav Nissan Alpert explains that a person isn’t measured by his mistakes. All people are human and are prone to err from time to time. Rather, a person’s worth is measured by whether he learns from his mistakes. A Torah scholar who is content with the level he has reached and has no ambitions to continue improving himself can hardly be said to be a great person. On the other hand, a person who works to grow so as not to repeat his sins is certainly to be respected. In our case, although the person was stricken with tzara’as, if he comes to a Kohen in order to understand what he did wrong and learn how to correct his ways, the Torah teaches us that nobody could be more important and deserving of our respect!
V’ra’ah HaKohen es hanega b’or habasar v’seiar b’nega hafach lavan umareh hanega amok me’or b’saro nega tzara’as hee v’ra’ahu HaKohen v’timei oso (13:3)
It is interesting to note that all impurities in the Torah are physical realities which immediately take effect upon contact with the impure item (e.g. a dead body, an impure person). On the other hand, the determination of the status of tzara’as isn’t dependent on the onset of the skin affliction or even upon the evaluation of the Kohen, but upon the verbal proclamation of the Kohen, “Tamei,” which causes the commencement of the impurity. Why is this type of impurity determined in this unique manner?
The following powerful story will help us appreciate the answer to our question. One day in Jerusalem, two old friends encountered one another on the bus. Excited at the opportunity to catch up with one another, they sat down together and began talking. In the middle of their conversation, one of them casually mentioned the name of an old friend. The other replied, “You didn’t hear? She just got engaged last week to so-and-so!”
Hearing this news left her friend both elated and shocked. “That’s so wonderful that she finally got engaged, but to him!? Who would have ever thought that she would settle for a person with so many problems?” Taking the bait, the one who had shared the news agreed and proceeded to list problems not only with the boy, but also with his family’s reputation. The conversation went back-and-forth, with each of them heaping more and more question-marks on the match.
After five minutes, a woman who was sitting behind them noticed her stop approaching and started to get up. Turning to the two young gossipers, she remarked, “I know you didn’t realize this, but I’m the aunt of the girl you’ve been discussing. We obviously didn’t know about these serious allegations against the boy and his family. As soon as I get home, I’m going to call my niece to convince her to break the engagement.”
Aghast at the unexpected turn of events, the friends begged her not to do so. They explained, “We were just innocently chatting about recent events. We didn’t mean many of the things we said, and most of them were exaggerated. Please don’t break-up this match because of our poor judgment.”
As the bus reached her stop, the wise woman paused before exiting and taught them an invaluable lesson. “You have nothing to worry about. I’m not really her aunt … but I could have been!”
The Chofetz Chaim answers our original question by explaining that one of the primary causes of tzara’as is the speaking of lashon hara. Measure-for-measure, the status of his impurity is dependent upon the speech of the Kohen who rules upon it. Many times a gossiper justifies his actions by claiming that mere words can’t harm another person. Therefore, just as the two friends learned on the bus, we hint to him how much damage a person’s words can cause by showing him that his status hinges upon the verbal proclamation of the Kohen.
Ki savo’u el eretz Canaan asher ani nosein lachem l’achuza v’nasati nega tzara’as b’veis eretz achuzaschem (14:34)
Rashi writes that in warning the people about the possibility of tzara’as striking their homes, Hashem was actually conveying good news. Because the previous inhabitants had hidden their treasures in the walls of their houses, the process of scraping a house with tzara’as would actually reveal to them valuable items. Although discovering the hidden treasures would certainly lessen their pain, why did Hashem choose to give the reward in this peculiar manner?
Rav Mordechai Kamenetzky derives a beautiful answer to our question from a powerful story. After the conclusion of World War 2, Rav Eliezer Silver was active in visiting DP camps to give physical and emotional support to the survivors. One day he was organizing a minyan for the afternoon prayers in one of the camps, but one man refused to join.
The man explained that when he was in a concentration camp, there was a religious Jew who managed to smuggle in a siddur. He “rented out” the siddur for use in exchange for a person’s food rations. When this man saw how a religious Jew could take advantage of his siddur at such a time, he resolved that he would never pray again. Rav Silver suggested that instead of focusing on the actions of the man with the siddur, perhaps it would be more appropriate to recognize how many Jews were willing to give up precious food in order to be able to pour out their hearts to Hashem in prayer.
Rav Kamenetzky notes that one of the primary causes of tzara’as is lashon hara, which comes from focusing on the shortcomings of our fellow Jews. To this gossiper, the Torah hints to the importance of digging beneath the surface and not focusing on superficial deficiencies. Although the house may appear at first glance to be stricken with tzara’as, a deeper view will uncover the presence of gems waiting to be discovered beneath the surface. Upon contemplating this, he will come to understand that his fellow Jews are just the same. If he only takes the time to alter his perspectives, he will be able to dig deeper and discover the beauty which lies beneath the surface!
Ki savo’u el eretz Canaan asher ani nosein lachem l’achuza v’nasati nega tzara’as b’veis eretz achuzaschem (14:34)
Upon their return from examining the land of Israel, the spies gave a negative report, full of details intended to scare the Jewish people and incite them to rebel against the idea of entering and conquering Israel. One of the facts that they related is that the cities were heavily fortified (Bamidbar 13:28). Rashi there, however, understands that their intention was to stress the fact that the walls of the cities were round. Why was the shape of the walls relevant, and what could have been their negative intention in relating such a seemingly trivial detail?
Rashi writes that in warning the people about the possibility of tzara’as striking their houses, Hashem was actually conveying good news. Because the previous inhabitants had hidden their treasures in the walls of their houses during the 40 years that the Jews were in the wilderness, the process of scraping a house with tzara’as would actually reveal to them valuable items. However, Rav Moshe Yitzchok Segal notes that the Mishnah in Negaim (12:1) derives from the twofold repetition (14:37, 39) of the phrase kiros habayis – walls of the house – that the laws of tzara’as are only applicable in houses which have four walls, as each phrase refers to a minimum of two walls and the phrase is repeated twice.
The spies feared that upon hearing their negative report, the Jews would respond with inspired faith that although the inhabitants of Israel may be strong and the battle will be difficult, it will be well worth it, as they will subsequently be able to discover the valuable treasures which were left behind in the walls. The spies therefore dashed their hopes by emphasizing that the walls are round and therefore not subject to the laws governing tzara’as in houses, which will mean that the people will never know where to look in order to uncover any hidden treasures!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Why does giving birth to a child, usually thought of as a beautiful and incomparable act of bringing new life into the world, render the mother ritually impure (12:1-5)? (Rav Chaim Vital, Kotzker Rebbe quoted in Mishmeres Ariel)
2) The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 223) that when a woman gives birth to a son (12:2), the parents are obligated to recite the blessing HaTov v’HaMeitiv. Is any blessing recited over the birth of a daughter? (Meromei Sadeh Berachos 54, Aruch HaShulchan 223:1, Mishnah Berurah 223 and 225:5, Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 9:49, Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 13:20, Bishvilei HaParsha)
3) Why is circumcision performed on the 8th day of a boy’s life (12:3) instead of delaying it until the baby is stronger? (Moreh Nevuchim 3:49)
4) Why is a woman impure for a longer period of time after given birth to a daughter than after giving birth to a son (12:2, 5)? (Chizkuni, Rav Chaim Vital, Tz’ror HaMor)
5) The Gemora in Arachin (16a) lists seven sins which can cause tzara’as. How many can you name?
6) Is tzara’as contagious? (Ibn Ezra 13:2, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Meshech Chochmah, Derech Sicha)
7) The Daas Z’keinim writes that Hashem punishes in a light manner first by afflicting a person’s home. If he doesn’t get the message and repent, his clothes are stricken, and only if he continues to sin does tzara’as strike his body. Why are these sections written in the Torah in the reverse of the chronological order? (Kli Yakar, Chida)
8) If a person is afflicted with tzara’as on his entire body, from his head to his feet, this would seem to indicate that he has sinned terribly. Why does the Torah rule (13:12-13) that such an individual is pure and need not go through any process of healing or repentance? (Chofetz Chaim, Rav Reuven Zelig Bengis quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha, Torah L’Daas Vol. 2)
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