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Parshas Tazria - Vol. 11, Issue 27
Compiled by Oizer Alport
In Parshas Vayishlach, Sh'chem abducted and defiled Yaakov's daughter Dina (Bereishis 34:2). Dina's brothers Shimon and Levi were appalled by this immoral behavior, and as part of their plan to avenge their sister's honor, they convinced all of the men in Sh'chem's town to circumcise themselves. On the third day after the circumcision, Shimon and Levi approached the city with confidence, knowing that the townsmen were weakened by their circumcisions and unable to defend themselves, and succeeded in killing all of the men in the town (34:13-26).
Why does circumcision cause so much pain specifically on the third day? The Mishnah in Taanis (26a) teaches that the Anshei Ma'amad - representatives of the nation whose role was to stand by and observe while the communal sacrifices were being offered - would fast every day of the week, except for Erev Shabbos, Shabbos, and Sunday. The Gemora (27b) elucidates that they did not fast on Friday or Shabbos because it would be disrespectful to Shabbos, while on Sunday they were unable to fast because it is the third day after mankind was created, as Adam was created on Erev Shabbos.
What is the problem with fasting on the third day after we were created? Rashi explains that the third day of creation isn't conducive to fasting because it is inherently a weak day. As a source for this idea, Rashi cites the aforementioned episode involving the townsmen killed by Shimon and Levi. Rav Yehuda Wagschal of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim points out that Rashi is teaching us that the pain experienced on the third day is not due to the natural healing process as one might have assumed, but rather because bris mila (circumcision) is considered a form of creation, and somebody who has been circumcised is therefore weakest at that time.
The Gemora in Kiddushin (38a) teaches that Hashem completes the days of the righteous. This is traditionally understood to mean that He allows them to live complete years by dying on the date on which they were born. However, at the funeral of Rav Chaim Volozhiner, one of the eulogizers, Rav Dovid of Novhardok, noted that while Rav Chaim was born on the second day of Shavuos (7 Sivan), he died on 14 Sivan. Why didn't such a righteous person merit to complete his years?
Rav Dovid suggested that a person's true birthday is not the day on which he is born physically, but rather the day of his bris mila, at which time he is born spiritually. Although the Gemora's source for this teaching is Moshe, who died on the day of his birth (7 Adar), this can be explained by the fact that Moshe was born already circumcised. Rav Dovid concluded that with this new interpretation, it's not surprising to note that Rav Chaim Volozhiner died one week after his birthday, precisely on the day of his bris.
We see from here that bris mila isn't just a mitzvah, but as Rashi writes, it's considered the creation and birth of the person. This is a fascinating concept, but it needs further explanation. Why in fact should such a relatively minor procedure be considered so significant? Dovid HaMelech writes in Tehillim (115:17) Lo ha'meisim yehalelu K-ah - the dead do not praise K-ah (Hashem). Citing this verse, Rashi (Yeshaya 38:11) explains that K-ah is a Divine name which may only be invoked by the living to praise Hashem. What is so unique about this name, and why can it specifically only be used by those who are still alive?
The Gemora (Menachos 29b) teaches that the name K-ah represents the creation of two worlds - Olam HaZeh (this world) and Olam HaBa (the World to Come) - as Yeshaya writes (26:4) Ki b'K-ah Hashem tzur olamim - with the name K-ah, Hashem created the worlds. The Gemora explains that the é in this name corresponds to the World to Come, while the ä signifies the creation of the physical world in which we presently live.
As such, Rav Wagschal explains that the Divine name K-ah represents the synthesis of these two seemingly incompatible worlds. How indeed is it possible to synthesize the spiritual and the physical? When somebody uses his physical assets and resources in this world to serve Hashem, He uplifts the ephemeral by connecting it to the eternal. However, only somebody who is still alive is capable of doing this. Because a dead person is no longer part of this world, he is unable to elevate it and bridge the two worlds, and as a result, he cannot praise Hashem using the name K-ah which embodies this idea. The deeper lesson this teaches us is that the definition of life is the ability to fuse and unite the two worlds. As long as a person's physical body is connected to a spiritual neshama (soul), the person is alive, and the moment they separate, the person dies.
In Tehillim (115:17-18) Dovid continues Lo ha'meisim yehalelu K-ah v'lo kol yordei dumah, v'anachnu nevarech K-ah - the dead and those who have descended into silence do not praise K-ah, but we will bless K-ah. Who are the "we" to whom Dovid is referring? The Medrash (Pirkei D'Rav Elizer 28) explains that it refers to the Jewish people who are circumcised. Chazal are teaching us that the opposite of the dead who are unable to praise Hashem are Jews who are circumcised and considered alive, but this requires clarification.
Rav Wagschal explains that the purpose of the mitzvah of bris mila is to sanctify the part of a person which is the most connected to the world of physicality. By elevating our basest desires and connecting them to mitzvos, we become alive, and in this sense, a person's bris is considered the time when he is created. Even though he is physically alive and breathing for seven days prior, it is only when he is given the ability to channel the physical world and utilize it for spirituality that he is truly alive. This also explains why the Gemora (Berachos 18b) teaches that the wicked are considered dead even while they are physically alive. Because they insist on enjoying the material world as an ends unto itself and are unwilling to infuse it with spirituality, they lack the definition of life and are therefore considered like they are already dead.
As we find ourselves surrounded by a society that promotes and emphasizes the physical, it is essential to remain cognizant of this fundamental lesson, which is particularly relevant as we prepare for the upcoming Yom Tov of Pesach, during which we eat only matzah, the most basic of foods, and reorient our values and priorities. A person who gets caught up in the pursuit of temporal pleasures not only forfeits his spiritual lot in the next world, but he isn't even actually living during his time in this world. Only those who integrate the two worlds by utilizing Olam HaZeh for the pursuit of spirituality can truly be considered alive.
The Torah requires a metzora to dwell in isolation outside of the Jewish camp. The Gemora in Arachin (16b) explains that although other ritually impure individuals are not required to separate themselves from the community, the metzora receives the unique punishment of being divided from his family and friends due to the fact that his lashon hara and gossip split spouses and friends apart.
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin suggests that in addition to the punishment aspects of the metzora's sentence, there is also a therapeutic component to the Torah's treatment of him. The reason that this individual spoke lashon hara is that he has a psychological chip on his shoulder and views other people as out to get him, such as by not treating him with the appropriate respect or stealing business from him. Because he views society through this distorted lens, he comes to hate all of mankind and narcissistically wishes that they would leave him alone and stop taking what is rightfully his.
In order to remedy this warped worldview, the Torah commands us to give him what he wished for by sending him outside of the camp to live alone, free from interaction with others. Under such conditions of isolation, it will be only a matter of time before feelings of loneliness overwhelm him and he will yearn for human contact. This will cure him of his antisocial illness and will teach him the value of human contact and friendships. As he is forced to call out "Tamei, tamei" to beseech the very same people whom he used to gossip about to pray on his behalf, he will internalize the importance of appreciating others and focusing on their positive qualities, and he will be permanently healed of the underlying illness with caused him to become a metzora in the first place.
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Gemora in Shabbos (132a) derives from 12:3 that the mitzvah of circumcision is performed even on Shabbos. However, the Shulchan Aruch rules (Yoreh Deah 266:2) that this is only the case for a circumcision being performed on an 8-day-old boy. If somebody transgressed and circumcised a boy who was older than eight days on Shabbos, does he fulfill his obligation? (Shu"t Rav Akiva Eiger Kesavim 174, Pischei Teshuvah Yoreh Deah 266:1, Shu"t K'sav Sofer Orach Chaim 35, Shu"t Toras Chesed Orach Chaim 58)
2) The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 143:4) rules that if a mistake is found in a Sefer Torah while it is being read, a second Torah scroll should be taken out and used to complete the reading. Under what circumstances would the Torah reading be completed using the invalid Sefer Torah, even though another kosher one is available? (Shu"t B'tzeil HaChochmah 3:14)
3) If a person is afflicted with tzara'as on his entire body, 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 repentance? (Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha, Torah L'Daas Vol. 2)
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