APRIL 24-25, 2009 1 IYAR 5769
"If a sara'at affliction will be in a person" (Vayikra 13:9)
A large portion of both of the perashiot this week, Tazria-Mesora, deals with the affliction of sara'at. Rashi (14:4) explains that this affliction comes about because of malicious talk. A year ago the New York Times carried the following story titled "Weaning Teenagers off Gossip, For One Hour at a Time." I will quote some excerpts from the article. "It would seem an odd, perhaps even absurd, announcement to make over a high school's public address system. But at 11:15 every morning at the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls on Long Island, the voice of Emi Renov, a 17 year old junior buzzes over the intercom, gently reminding her fellow students to refrain from gossiping for the next 60 minutes. What was that? Was she kidding? Telling teenagers that they should not talk about other students behind their backs is like telling them not to try to get a driver's license. Yet for one hour after Ms. Renov's announcement, her schoolmates make an honest attempt to avoid mocking one another's outfit, or whispering the latest shocking rumor. The effort at Abraham is part of a national campaign at Jewish high schools to use religious teachings to raise awareness about the power of speech for good and for ill. According to the Torah, G-d forbids gossip, which is known as 'lashon hara,' or 'evil speech.' In the Talmud some Rabbis viewed the sin of gossip to be as grievous as murder. Helen Spirn, the principal at Abraham, said the anti-gossip program has bred a more harmonious school environment and helped promote religious devotion. 'These kids want to embrace what they learn and integrate it into their own lives,' she said. 'By working on ourselves we are enhancing our relationship with G-d.'"
For the N.Y. Times to carry such a story is truly amazing. Maybe we should adopt this program in all our community schools. The Gemara says, "Baderech she'adam roseh lelech bah molichin oto," which means, in the way that a person wants to go, in that very way Hashem leads him. Avi Shulman comments that there are two key words in this statement. The first word is baderech, on the way or on the road. When you're driving north on the N.Y. State Thruway, there are two things that are clear: 1) which road you are on, and 2) the direction you're headed. So too if a person wants Hashem to lead him the person has to have clarity of which road he is on. You can't want several contradictory objectives. The second word which will help us tap into the incredible power of Hashem leading us is roseh - want or desire. The Gemara teaches us that we can have Hashem lead us by clearly defining what we want and develop a burning desire for it. What an incredible tool! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"When the affliction has turned white, the Kohen shall declare him tahor." (Vayikra 13:17)
The Torah stresses a number of times that if the plague of leprosy turns into white, it will become tahor, that is, no more impurity. The word "nehepach" means transforms or turns around, and the Rabbis say that if the letters of the word ?nega" which means plague, are turned around, it will spell out the word "oneg" which means pleasure.
The lesson here is that even something so difficult as leprosy can be turned around into something constructive which will be a source of pleasure. If a person understands that the reason he has leprosy is because he spoke "lashon hara" (gossip) or some other sin, and resolves not to repeat it, he has "turned around" his life and become a new person. Even today, when we don't have leprosy, whatever happens to us should be viewed as Hashem communicating to us to improve. When we do, we then are transformed into greater people. The "nega" becomes a source of "oneg". May we always merit to see the good in everything that happens. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"And the Kohen shall look at the plague in the skin of the flesh" (Vayikra 13:3)
Sara'at, which is inappropriately translated as leprosy, was actually a spiritual affliction. One who had transgressed certain sins, such as speaking lashon hara was inflicted with sara'at. This affliction appeared on one's body, his clothes, even the walls of his home. One who suspected himself of being a victim of this disease would go to the Kohen in order to be examined. Only after the Kohen declared him a mesora would he be considered tameh and consequently subject to all of the laws of sara'at.
Rabbi A.H. Lebovitz cites the Midrash which relates a story about an impoverished Koehn who chose to leave Eress Yisrael in order to seek a livelihood. After telling his wife about his intentions, he began teaching her the laws regarding sara'at, so that she could substitute for him during his absence. He told her to check the hairs of the afflicted person. Each hair on a person's body is nurtured by its own follicle, which is created particularly by Hashem to sustain the individual hair. If the hair has withered, it indicates that the source beneath has dried up. Upon hearing this, his wife exclaimed, "If Hashem sustains each and every hair of the human body, surely He will provide sustenance for you." This na?ve, but profound, admonishment caused the Kohen to reconsider and remain in Eress Yisrael.
Rav Lebovitz questions this Midrash. Obviously, the Kohen was aware of Hashem's omnipotence. Nonetheless, he chose to abandon Eress Yisrael to seek a livelihood elsewhere. What did his wife tell him that precipitated his change of mind?
He explains that one can be aware of a certain truth and even teach it to others, yet still neglect to follow his own teaching. People can acknowledge a reality for others, but fail to apply this knowledge to themselves. The Kohen was aware of Hashem's constant providence, yet he did not integrate this reality fully into his life. Had he done so, he would have practiced what he taught.
Why is this? How can someone who is a mentor to others, a ceaseless fountain of knowledge, who is empowered to transmit Torah to others fail to reflect upon his own teachings? How often do we inspire others to perform deeds and activities, while we personally are lax in their performance? How do we implore others to behave, trust, and hope for sustenance and salvation, while we are personally diffident?
Perhaps the solution lies in the manner in which one views the vocation and responsibility of teacher. An individual who devotes himself to transmitting the ideals of Hashem's Torah to others is a conduit to bring these truths to His people. One can be a vehicle for transmission in one of two ways. He can be like a hollow pipe through which the liquid flows effecting no change upon the conduit; alternatively, he can be like a sponge, into which the liquid is absorbed and subsequently squeezed out. The Torah one teaches must be completely infused into the teacher. In order to inspire others, he must be a paradigm for his own teachings. His teachings must be reflected in his demeanor, so that they can be properly transmitted to others. (Peninim on the Torah)
A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.
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