Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 10   No. 28

This issue is co-sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Hena Hitza bas Eliyahu (Anne Dodick, mother of Risa Rotman) z"l
on the occasion of her third yohrzeit


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with the wish that we witness
the fulfillment of Chazal
be'Nisan nig'alu, u've'Nisan asidin li'go'el

Parshas Metzora (Shabbos HaGadol)

The Fruits of Lashon ha'Ra

Nega'im, say Chazal, come as a result of speaking evil. And this is hinted in the very word 'Metzora', which is the acronym of 'Motzi ra' (one who emits evil [from his mouth]). We know of course, that this pertains specifically to the evil of Lashon ha'Ra. Yet the term 'motzi ra' applies equally to other forms of evil speech, such as lies and unclean talk, and one wonders to what extent it actually incorporates them. Particularly as many of the reasons given to explain the severity of Lashon ha'Ra apply to them too.

Lashon ha'ra is such a terrible sin, that not only may one not speak evil about others, but the Chachamim forbade speaking even good about them for fear that this will lead to somebody throwing in a negative comment (... 'But did you know ... ').

Similarly, they also extended the prohibition to saying about someone, something that is not detrimental per se, but that might be construed detrimentally, such as 'In Reuven's house, you can always find fire', implying that they are always merrymaking there, and so they are always cooking. This is called 'Avak lashon-ha'ra', and is forbidden, whether the speaker has those connotations in mind or not.

Based on these two points, the Alter from Kelm interpreted three Pesukim in Tehilim (39:2-4) in the following manner. "Omarti eshmeroh derochai me'chato bi'l'shoni" (David Hamelech describes how careful he had been to avoid sinning with his mouth). "Ne'elamti dumyah, hechesheisi mi'tov" (I kept my mouth shut, not only from speaking evil, but also from speaking good). "U'che'eivi ne'ekar" (so why was I made to suffer so many yisurin). "Cham libi be'kirbi" (then the realisation hit me) "ba'hagigi tiv'ar eish" (that I was prone to saying things like 'you can always find fire' [Chazal's analogy for avak Lashon-ha'ra] in so-and-so's house) "dibarti bi'l'shoni" (because that too, is considered Lashon-ha'ra, and explained adequately why I was made to suffer).


The Wise Pedlar

The Medrash tells the story of a pedlar who went from town to town, announcing that he was selling the elixir of life. When Rebbi Yanai heard him, he came to make his purchase, but the pedlar declined to sell it to him, explaining that his wares were not meant for people of his calibre.

When Rebbi Yanai persisted however, he took out a Seifer Tehilim and showed him the Pesukim (34:13/14) "Who is the person who wants life? Guard your tongue from evil ... ".

'My entire life', Rebbi Yanai exclaimed, 'I read this Pasuk, and I never realised how far it went, until this peddler came and showed me!'


It is not at first clear what the peddler showed Rebbi Yanai that he did not already know. The Kochav mi'Ya'akov explains however, that Rebbi Yanai had always assumed that the reward for Lashon ha'ra is payable in the World to Come. It never dawned on him that one can reap the dividends of avoiding this sin in this world too. By referring to the antidote to Lashon-ha'ra as an elixir of life, the pedlar indicated that guarding one's tongue against evil actually improves one's health and increases one's life expectancy in this world too. How is that?

It is an undisputable fact that holding one's tongue decreases Machlokes, hatred and anger, Midos that affect the heart adversely and curtail one's life. It stands to reason therefore, that the absence of these evils will have the opposite effect, granting a person a longer and healthier life, not to speak of upgrading its quality. And this is what Rebbi Yanai learned from the peddler. Perhaps this is what Shlomoh Hamelech meant when he wrote in Mishlei (8:21) "Death and life lie in the hand of the tongue", where presumably ''life", like "death", refers to life here, in this world.

Another important lesson that Rebbi Yanai learned from the pedlar is that it is not enough for a person to guard himself against Lashon-hara, but that one is obligated to pass on the lesson to others, too.

If you feel the urge to speak evil about someone, the Besht was wont to say, then speak about yourself. Whereas if you feel you want to speak good about someone, then best speak about Hashem.


The Power of a Word

People generally speak Lashon-ha'ra: a. because they think that having said what they have to say, nothing remains of what was said, and so, it will quickly be forgotten; and b. because they assume that being intangible, speech is basically harmless. To be sure, many people who will speak freely about their friends, would never dream of striking them. In answer to the first argument, the Medrash cites G-d Himself, who warns that He sends an angel to record every word that one speaks against one's fellow-Jew. And in answer to the second, the Ohel Ya'akov points to the Kohen, whose word decides the fate of the Metzora. Until he declares him tamei, the Metzora remains tahor (in spite of the white mark which is there for all to see); and until he declares him Tahor, he remains tamei (even though there is nothing on his body to suggest that he is).


Parshah Pearls

(Adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)

Why the Korban

"This will be the law of the Metzora on the day that he becomes pure" (14:1).

The question arises as to why the Metzora needs to bring a Korban. After all, we do have a principle 'Yisurin memarkin kol avonosav shel adam' (suffering atones for all man's sins). So why do the yisurin that a Metzora suffers not suffice to atone for his sins - without the additional Korbanos?

The Maharam Eish cites Chazal, who derive the power of Yisurin from 'the eye and the tooth of a slave'. If, they say, the knocking out of either the eye or the tooth frees a slave from the shackles of bondage, then suffering, which affects the entire body, will certainly free a person from further punishment.

Now the slave in question only goes free, if his master knocked out a limb that will not re-grow, in other words if the wound is a permanent one. In that case, the 'Kal va'Chomer' will only work in respect of suffering that is permanent. The Torah here, on the other hand, is speaking about a Metzora who is declared Tahor, whose Tzara'as has come to an end. Consequently, the 'Kal va'Chomer' falls away, as we explained. It is not surprising therefore , if the Metzora is now obliged to bring a Korban as well.

And that is what the Torah hints at when it writes "This will be the law of the Metzora" (and just in case you wonder why he needs additional laws, and the Yisurin do not suffice, the Torah continues) "on the day that he becomes pure" (thereby breaking the 'Kal va'Chomer'', and necessitating an additional atonement). The spoken word it seems, is far more powerful than one tends to believe.


A Producer of Evil

Our sages have taught that Tzara'as is the result of the sin of Lashon-ha'Ra.

The commentaries all stress the severity of Lashon ha'Ra. They not only place it on a par with the three cardinal sins (adultery, idolatry and murder), but they also point out that it defiles the mouth that speaks it, so that even the Torah and Tefilah that one subsequently utters become defiled and fall into the hands of the powers of Tum'ah.

That is why we say in the Amidah, 'Guard your tongue from evil ... depart from evil and do good '. As long as one speaks evil, even the good that one performs ('There is no good other than Torah' [Avos 6:3]) is valueless, as we just explained. It is only when one guards one's tongue, that one's good deeds attain their full value.

If on the other hand, one does Teshuvah on the Lashon-ha'Ra that one spoke, then his Torah is reinstated retroactively, says the Kometz ha'Minchah. And this too, is hinted here when the Torah writes "This will be the Torah of the Metzora on the day that he becomes Tahor".

And that, says the Or ha'Chayim, is what Chazal mean when they say (in connection with someone who constantly speaks Lashon ha'Ra) 'What should he do? He should study Torah and become cured". Torah-study on its own will not suffice, because, as we explained, as long as he is still speaking Lashon ha'Ra, any Torah that he learns does not reach its destination. It is only when 'he also becomes cured' (by doing Teshuvah) that his Torah-learning will achieve its purpose.


Getting His Own Back

The Chovas ha'Levavos writes that when someone speaks Lashon ha'Ra against his friend, they take away his Mitzvos and give them to the person about whom he spoke.

When the Torah writes "And this is the Torah of the Metzora on the day that he becomes Tahor", it means, inter alia, that it is only after he is purified from his sin that the Torah of the Metzora (the Motzi Ra) becomes his own. Up until that time, it belonged to the fellow Jew about whom he spoke Lashon ha'Ra.


Double Humility

"And ... he shall take for the one who is becoming Tahor, a piece of cedar wood, a crimson thread and a twig of hyssop" (14:4).

Tzara'as comes as a result of haughtiness. How does one rectify it? By making oneself small like a worm (a play on the word "tola'as", which also means a worm) and a hyssop' (Rashi).

Seeing as we are talking here about a Metzora who has been cured, he must have already done Teshuvah and humbled himself before G-d, asks the Avnei Neizer, so why does the Torah suggest that he humiliates himself again?

However, he explains, there are two types of humility. True humility entails realising one's own insignificance by reflecting upon G-d's greatness. But one can also attain humility through illness or poverty, which breaks a person and brings him down a peg or two. This latter type of humility is neither genuine, nor is it long-lasting, for in all likelihood, the moment the suffering departs, the humility departs with it, and one's conceit returns.

It is true that the Metzora suffered, and that this suffering humbled him, and brought him to Teshuvah. says the Avnei Nezer. However, there is a grave danger that now that he is cured from his Tzara'as, he will revert to his old ways and that his pride will return. Therefore the Torah warns him not to make do with this inferior-type humility, but to humble himself still further, to reflect upon G-d's superiority and thereby to acquire a true humility that will last.


The Torah Wants the Heart

A story is told of the Ba'al-Shem-Tov, who once arrived in Polna'ah to spend Shabbos there. When a local troublemaker saw the splendid carriage in which he had traveled, he complained about the Besht's pompousness. To which the latter replied with the following parable.

A king was once searching for an elixir that would grant everlasting life. Along came a wise man who advised him to distance himself from pride and to adopt the mantle of humility.

The King immediately began to put on an air of humility, to the point where he took to running behind the royal carriage instead of sitting inside it.

The trouble was that the more he acted out the trait of humility, the more conceited he became. 'Come and see how humble I have become', he would announce, 'Me, the great king!'.

When the wise man heard about this, he approached the king and explained to him that that was not what he had intended. What he really meant was that the king should sit in the royal carriage and feel humble in his heart. That might not be so easy, but it would constitute true humility (Tzofnas Pa'anei'ach).


In the same vein, Rebbi Bunim from P'shischa explained what we say in Emes ve'yatziv 'He humbles those are who haughty, and elevates those who are lowly'.

Why does Hashem elevate those who are lowly, he asks? Surely, lowliness is a good Midah, whereas haughtiness is not. Would it not therefore be better to leave the lowly man where he is?

And he explains that G-d knows that a man who is truly humble, will not be adversely affected by greatness. He knows that even after he has been elevated, he will remain lowly and humble.


Why the Snake is Tahor

In Parshas Shemini, we discussed a number of reasons as to why the snake is listed among the Tahor 'rodents'.

Rabeinu Bachye asks this question too. This is how he answers it.

The Pasuk in question (11:42), he explains, lists three creatures among the forbidden species of rodents: the snake, the scorpion and the centipede (see Rashi). All of these contain species that are dangerous. Based on people's deep awe of Tum'ah, G-d therefore suspected that if he were to include these species among those that are Tamei, they would hesitate to kill them, to avoid becoming Tamei. So, in order to encourage a person to kill them, should they threaten him, G-d in His compassion, declared them Tahor.

Note, that all the eight species of Tamei insects are indeed non-threatening.


(Adapted from the B'nei Yisoschor)

The Day Yisrael became 'a Gadol'

Based on the Gemara in Kidushin (31a), the B'nei Yisoschor quoting the Olelos Ephrayim, explains why the Shabbos before Pesach is called 'Shabbos ha'Gadol'. The Gemara there teaches us that someone who is commanded to perform a Mitzvah is on a higher level than someone who merely volunteers to do so ('Gadol ha'metzuveh ve'oseh, mi'mi she'eino metzuveh ve 'oseh'). Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov kept the Taryag Mitzvos. But, with the notable exception of the Mitzvah of B'ris Milah, they volunteered to do so, without having been commanded. They were 'einan metzuvin ve'osin'. To whatever extent Yisrael in Egypt followed in their footsteps and kept some of the Mitzvos, they too, were 'einan metzuvin ve'osin'. Effectively then, all the good deeds that Yisrael had performed up until this time, were not a 'Mitzvos' at all.

When G-d commanded Yisrael ''And each man shall take a lamb ... '', this was the first time that Yisrael became 'metzuvin ve'osin'. That is why Rashi (in Bereishis) explains that the Torah ought to have begun with this Parshah. A new era had begun. Like a child who becomes a gadol when he turns bar-mitzvah and becomes 'metzuveh ve'oseh', so too, did Yisrael become a gadol on the Shabbos that they performed their first Mitzvah - when they took the lamb for the Korban Pesach. They had become G-d's nation, because they were performing His Mitzvos.

And what an appropriate beginning that was! G-d could not have chosen a better Mitzvah than the Korban Pesach, to initiate K'lal Yisrael in their new role. For this Korban was a declaration that they had relinquished their attachment to the gods that they worshipped up to that time, and now undertook to worship the One and only G-d. In fact, it was a practical demonstration of what would later be the first Mitzvah that they heard at Har Sinai, the Mitzvah of - "Onochi", which serves as the basis for the entire Torah. And not only that, but they jumped in at the deep end, performing the Mitzvah with mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice), risking their lives in doing what they must have known would invite the fiercest Egyptian opposition, as they abused the Egyptian gods, slaughtered them and ate them.

The ideal Mitzvah performed under ideal circumstances!


The Day G-d (kevayachol) Became 'Gadol' ...

In another explanation, the B'nei Yisoschor explains that the Egyptians worshipped the lamb, because it represented the Mazel Aires (Lamb), the first of the Mazolos. They believed that the Mazolos were the highest form of power and that they governed the world.

When, at the command of Hashem, Yisrael tied the lambs to their bed-posts, in order to Shecht it and sprinkle its blood, they demonstrated that the G-d of Yisrael was superior to the Mazolos. Moreover, the capture of the lamb for the sake of Hashem reflected their belief that the G-d of Yisrael had created the Mazalos and continued to rule over them. This act of faith would reach its climax, when they slaughtered and ate the lamb, even as Hashem confirmed their faith by negating its power and killing the Egyptian firstborn in the middle of the month of Nisan - when Aires was at its zenith.

And this took place on Shabbos, which in itself, serves as a testimony that G-d created the world, as the Torah writes with regard to the Shabbos "because in six days Hashem created the heaven and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested ... ". In short, this was a demonstration that 'G-d is greater than all the gods' ("ki Gadol Hashem mi'kol elohim"), and that it is why it is called 'Shabbos Hagadol'. Because Yisrael became great on that day, whereas G-d's greatness was acknowledged.


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