Vol. 6 No. 26
Last in Deed, First in Mind
(Based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)
"A man derives joy from the words that he utters, and how good is a word in its right time" (Mishlei 15:23).
In this possuk, Shlomoh is informing us how much pleasure a person feels when he has spoken wisely, because speech stems from intelligence - it is the end result of the soul of intelligence, with which man is endowed and which makes him superior to all living creatures. This is why the prophet Yeshayah (57:19) ascribes the creation of speech to G-d, in the same way as he ascribes the creation of the (spiritual) heaven to Him (42:5).
For although the words that man actually utters do not lie in his control, but are a Heaven-sent gift, the arranging of those words in his heart do, and it is that which causes man tremendous sAatisfaction, when he has spoken wisely.
However correct one's speech may be, one should take great care to speak only at the appropriate time - how misplaced are even the most wonderful tunes when they are sung in the house of a mourner, or the most beautiful dirges when they are sung at a wedding! However intrinsically correct spoken or sung words might be, when they are spoken at the wrong time they lose their meaning, as Chazal have said 'At the time of joy, be joyous, and at the time of mourning, mourn'. And it is exactly with that in mind that Chazal instructed us to learn the laws of Pesach on Pesach, those of Shavu'os on Shavu'os, etc. There too, someone who learns the laws of Sukah on Pesach or vice-versa, would certainly not be uttering 'a word in its right time'. That is why Shlomoh said "A man derives joy from his words" etc. to teach us that a person must exercise control over his speech, not to say whatever his desires fancy, but only 'a thing in its right time'.
According to the Medrash however, "A man derives joy from his words" refers to Hashem (who is also referred to as "a man" - Sh'mos 15:3), who was happy when He said "Let there be light", and "a word in its right time", to when the Torah writes "And Hashem saw that the light was good". The Torah uses the expression "Ki-tov" on each day of the creation, because what Hashem created on each day was 'a thing in its right time'.
Nor does this contradict the fact that Hashem created everything (in both the upper and the lower worlds) at one and the same moment, as our sages have explained by way of a parable - it is like a farmer who scattered six seeds with one throw, but each one sprouted in its own time. That is why Shlomoh wrote in Koheles (3:11) "Hashem made everything beautifully in its time". And that also explains why he said here "How good is a thing in its time", because each and every one of Hashem's creations came at the right moment, and everything was good, from the light, the first of the upper creations, till man, the last of the lower ones; they were all created in the suitable time (and order). One should not think that the latter creations were of lesser significance than the former. On the contrary, Odom, the very purpose of the entire creation, was the one to be created last. 'The last in deed, but the first in thought.' And so it is with Shabbos, the last day of the week, whose sanctity supercedes that of all the other days.
Olom ha'Bo, for which this world is no more than an entr?, the means to merit eternal bliss by means of one's good deeds, is the grand finale.
Yisroel too, was the last nation to be formed - the first in Hashem's mind when He created the world, as Yirmiyah wrote "Yisroel is holy to Hashem, the first of His produce": "Kodesh", which has a connotation of greater sanctity than 'Kodosh' or 'Kedoshim'; "to Hashem", and not 'to the stars and the Mazolos' which have jurisdiction over the other nations; "the first of His produce", meaning the choice of His produce, as in the possuk in Amos (6:6) "And they will anoint with the first of the oils". "Tevu'osoh" (His produce), with a 'hey', because Yisroel, who received the five Books of the Torah - the choice of all the laws - are the choice of all the nations, like wheat, which is the choice of the five types of grain.
That is why the Medrash, based on the possuk in Hoshei'a "And I betrothed you forever ... with righteousness, with justice, with kindness and mercy ... I betrothed you with faith, and you will know Hashem", compares Hashem's choice of Yisroel to a king who betrothes a woman with five rings.
The expression "first of His produce" in fact, incorporates both first in importance, as we just explained, and first in time, since they were the first in Hashem's mind, as we explained earlier. And this can be compared to someone who wanted to study Torah, but who had first to lay the foundations of the Beis ha'Medrash and then to construct the building, before he could achieve what he first set out to do.
'The end in deed, but the first in thought; - much in the same way as Hashem commanded Moshe not to besiege, or to wage war with Amon and Mo'ov, because Rus would later emerge from Mo'ov, and Na'amah from Amon. So we see how it is the conclusion that counts, and the extent that Hashem takes into account right at the beginning, what will happen at the end. This has also been likened to someone who lost a pearl in the sand. He will sift the sand, throwing out the sand and the pebbles that he does not want, until he finds the pearl. (See the opening Rashi in 'Vayeshev'").
You will find this too by a seed, which you will plant, and watch how it takes root; its roots will spread out in all directions until it grows into a large tree which will eventually produce fruit. It is of course, the fruit that you had in mind when you planted the seed. And this is how Hashem created the world: first the plants and the trees, then the animals and the beasts, and finally Odom, man - the first and the last creation, first in importance and last to be formed, as Dovid wrote in Tehillim "Last and first you formed me".
The moment Hashem created Odom, He instructed him one mitzvas asei (to eat from the fruit of the Garden) and one mitzvas lo sa'asei (not to eat from the tree of Knowledge). Similarly, the Torah arranged three consecutive Parshiyos at the end of Sh'mini: prohibiting the consumption of animals (which were created mainly from the element of earth); of fish (... from water); and birds (... from wind).
And finally, this week's Parshah deals with the creation of man (whose Soul is part of Hashem, who in turn, one might add, is described as 'Fire that consumes Fire'). The moment he is born, the mitzvah of milah is performed on him, to demonstrate to him that the main purpose of man in this world is the performing of mitzvos, as it is written in Iyov "Because man is born to work" - on Torah and mitzvos. That is why the Torah mentions his birth in the middle of the mitzvos, placing the prohibition of forbidden food before it and the mitzvah of milah after it.
Tazri'a - Metzoro
Where Has All the Tum'oh Gone?
Why is it, asks the Chofetz Chayim, that if a person is covered from head to foot with tzora'as, he is declared tohor. If, as Rashi explains, two white hairs are a sign of tum'ah, then there seems to be no logical reason to declare him tohor just because the mark of tzora'as has spread over his entire body?
1) It's All On the Outside
The Ibn Ezra assumes that all tzora'as is really no more than an external sign that there is something wrong with him internally.
Consequently, he explains, if the entire external part of his body becomes stricken, it is a sign that the disease has moved out of his body completely, and that no part of it remains inside, as is the case with various modern diseases. Consequently, he is tohor.
2) No Jew is Totally Evil
The Oznayim la'Torah explains that there are two categories of tzora'as: the one is a natural one, the result of an internal illness - which is not subject to tum'ah at all; the other, a Heaven-sent plague that comes as a warning to repent for one's sins - this category is the one of which the Torah speaks, and which renders the stricken man tomei.
When we speak of Heaven-sent punishments such as tzora'as, it stands to reason, he maintains, that the condition of the limbs reflect one's inner level of righteousness. In that case, a person whose entire body is covered with tzora'as, must be totally devoid of mitzvos. But this is impossible, since the Gemoro informs us in Chagigah that even the greatest sinner is full of mitzvos, like a pomegranate. It can only be, the Oznayim la'Torah concludes, that this person has been stricken with the other category of tzora'as - it is a natural illness, which is not subject to tzora'as. That is why the Kohen declares him tohor!
3) Humbling the Proud
The Chofetz Chayim cites the story of Ach'ov, whose family was destined to have been exterminated for the murder of Navos, but was given one generation grace, because he took it very much to heart and humbled himself before G-d. The decree would only be carried out in his son's days.
We see, says the Chofetz Chayim, that breaking oneself before G-d can avert evil decrees. And so it is with tzora'as: tzora'as comes to atone for the sin of loshon ho'ra, murder etc. It culminates in his being sent outside the camp, where he must remain alone, to reflect on his sin and to humble himself before G-d. This is necessary, because when the initial plague strikes him on only certain parts of his body, the nature of a person is to play it down, ascribing it to this factor or to that.
But when it covers his entire body, that is a different matter. He feels totally humiliated and broken-hearted before G-d. In that case, the tzora'as is tohor. No further measures are needed to break his pride. He is already tohor!
The Gemoro in Erchin (15b) writes that the antidote for loshon ho'ra (which is punishable by tzora'as - the acronym of 'metzora' is 'motzi ra') is Torah-study (speaking good instead of evil).
The Kli Yokor in Parshas Tzav explains that the five books of the Torah correspond to the five categories of tzora'as - tzora'as of the house, of the clothes, of the person's flesh, of the hair and tzora'as on the place of a boil or a burn.
The same Gemoro in Erchin gives a different prescription to someone who is ignorant and unable to study Torah - his remedy, says the Gemoro, is to make himself humble.
But why should a person whose sin is speaking evil about others, make himself humble? What is the connection between the two?
The answer is that someone who is humble, percieves his own faults more blatantly than those of others. Conversely, if someone is able to relate other people's faults, it is because he is vain and lacks humility. That is why the possuk in Tehillim (12:4) refers to loshon ho'ra as "loshon medaberes gedolos" - "the tongue that speaks big things" (i.e. haughtily).
And that is why the Torah writes at the beginning of Parshas Metzora that to atone for his sin, the Metzora must bring two birds (whose constant twittering he emulated), a piece of cedar-wood, a red thread and a twig of hissop. Why the latter three? Because, explains Rashi, he was haughty like a cedar, and the antidote to that is to be humble like a worm (which shares the same word as a thread - the colour is reminiscent of sin) and the lowly hissop.
When he does this he will begin to notice his own faults, rather than the faults of others.
Beware in Case You Go Astray
"Beware ("Hishomru"), implies a la'av, and so does "in case" ("pen"), issuing us with two la'avin, not to stray from our G-d and worship other deities.
Rashi points out that this possuk follows the abundance and the statisfaction contained in the previous pesukim. When you have eaten to satisfaction, he explains, take care that you do not go on to lash out at G-d, because, generally speaking, rebellion is the atermath of satisfaction, as the Torah wrote above (8:12) "In case you will eat and be satisfied ... you will amass much silver and gold ... and you will become proud and forget Hashem your G-d.
Indeed, Chazal have said 'Watch the poor, because it is from them that Torah will emerge. They may suffer in their poverty, but they do not have to endure the temptations of prosperity.
And Worship Other gods
Once one strays from Torah one worships other gods, says Rashi, explaining the sequence of the pesukim. Yisroel, Torah and G-d are one. Torah is our link - our only link - with G-d. Once we sever connections with it, there is nothing to prevent us from adopting other gods, and severing our connections with Hashem too. And this echoes the words of Dovid ha'Melech who, when forced to leave the Beis ha'Medrash (which, we are told elsewhere, he would frequent regularly) complained that he was, in effect, being told to go and worship other gods. More than that, man's soul craves a Divine Master! Consequently, the moment he forsakes the one and only G-d, he needs to seek a replacement.
And once we relinquish our direct connection with Hashem, then we relinquish our right to live in Eretz Yisroel, over which Hashem alone has jurisdiction. And we are therefore forced to go and live in foreign countries, which are governed by the same alien gods that we have now chosen to adopt.
The Ramban interprets Dovid ha'Melech's complaint as referring directly to Eretz Yisroel. He was being forced to leave Eretz Yisroel, he explains, which is the equivalent of being ordered to worship other gods, because anyone who lives in Chutz lo'Oretz is under the jurisdiction of the deities that govern them, and it is therefore as if he was being made to serve idols!
You will Perish Quickly ...
In addition, we will be exiled from the land which caused us to sin. It follows logically that if we abuse the bountiful produce which the land yields, and what's more, we allow that wealth to turn us away from G-d, we will have to leave it, to go and live in other countries and live off inferior pastures.
Rashi illustrates this with a parable of a king, who sent his son to a feast, warning him not to overeat or overdrink, so as to arrive home in a respectable state. But the son paid no heed to his father's warning; he ate and drank excessively, until he began vomiting over the guests. So they picked him up by his hands and feet and tossed him outside, behind the palace.
... From the Good Land
It is interesting to note that the Torah speaks only of perishing from the good land, but not of total destruction. G-d has promised us that, come what may, He will never destroy us, just as the Medrash says 'Hashem poured out His wrath on the wood and the stones, and He spared us'. He even brought forward the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdosh by two years for this to happen (Rashi vo'Eschanan 4:25).
If we behave as we should, we earn the right to reside in Hashem's palace (Eretz Yisroel); if we do not, then we will suffer the ultimate punishment - exile, as the Torah warns us in numerous places, but we will survive! Because Klal Yisroel is eternal.
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