Back to this week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Metzora

This is the law of one in whom there is a tzaraas affliction whose means are not sufficient - for his purification. (14:3)

Regarding the Korban Yoledes, the offering brought by a woman after childbirth, the Torah also mentions An adjustment in the value of the korban for a woman of little means. There is, however, a marked contrast between the "poor" metzora and the "poor" yoledos, woman in confinement. Regarding the yoledes, the Torah first states, "Zos Torah ha'yoledes," "This is the law of the woman who gives birth," and afterwards writes, "but if she cannot afford a sheep…" and the Kohen shall provide atonement for her, and she shall become purified" (12:8). This pasuk implies the notion that a poor yoledes receives atonement and is viewed in the same perspective as any other yoledes. The poverty of the woman is relevant only in her inability to purchase a sheep. In contrast, regarding the poor metzora, the Torah relates his poverty to the purification, "whose means are not sufficient for his purification." Furthermore, the Torah seems to emphasize the "toras metzora," law of metzora, as a specific application for the poor metzora. In summary, the poor metzora seems to stand out as different, while the poor yoledes is included in the toras yoledes, general rules of women after childbirth.

Horav Zev Weinberger, Shlita, distinguishes between these two people and their korbanos. The metzora brings his korban to atone for his slanderous speech, his disparaging remarks against others. While loshon hora, slanderous speech, is never acceptable, it is even more repugnant when its source is a poor man. One who has hit upon hard times should possess a little humility. What right does he have to disparage others? Why is he so arrogant? It is not as if he is so successful in life that he has the right to denigrate others. Do successful people have the right to denigrate others? One might think that an individual who is depressed due to his lack of success might be more bitter and, consequently, more disparaging of others. He must realize that his lack of success does not give him license to slander and belittle others. Bitterness, if anything, should sensitize one to be more caring, more humble. Hashem owes us nothing. We owe Him everything. Whatever we receive from Him is probably more than we deserve.

In other words, the poor metzora has chutzpah. He evinces a deficient character. The yoledes, on the other hand, demonstrates true conviction and resolve. She trusts in the Almighty, willingly bringing a child into the world. She courageously accedes to the tzivui, command, of Hashem. Regarding such an individual, the Torah concludes, "And the Kohen shall provide atonement for her, and she will be purified."

And there shall be taken for the person being purified…cedarwood, crimson thread, and hyssop. (14:4)

Rashi explains that the "eizov", hyssop, which is included in the metzora's purification ritual is a very low-growing plant. Hence, it symbolizes humility, a character trait in which the metzora seems to be deficient. Lashon hora, evil speech, disparaging others, is often the result of vanity. The need to denigrate others indicates a lack of humility. One who aggrandizes himself at the expense of others is on a low level of moral development. The metzora is taught during the purification ritual that his obsession with himself, his all-encompassing desire to inflate his ego by ridiculing others, does not represent a Torah orientation. He must humble himself to correct his character deficit.

We suggest that the hyssop denotes the metzora's low self-image. What other reason would he have for denigrating others? One who is secure in himself, who does not lack self-confidence, has no reason to put down others. He lives and lets live, realizing that his potential for success is not affected by anyone other than himself. He must come to his senses and desist in groveling in the dirt, searching for ways to denigrate others. Rather, he needs to work on elevating himself.

Interestingly, the Torah chooses to glean its lesson from the lowly hyssop. What ever happened to the mussar shmuess, ethical discourse, where the rav would lecture on the evils of negative character traits, inspiring his listeners to repent their ways? The Kohen who is carrying out the purification process could just as well deliver an inspiring lecture on the evils of vanity and the virtues of humility. Surely, that would make a greater impression than a little plant - or would it?

The Sefas Emes explains this phenomenon, giving us a profound lesson in human nature. One who attempts to be humble in response to a lecture will not likely achieve much more than a superficial, influenced humility, which has limited value. Sincere humility can be realized one way: insight, thinking, realizing both one's real self-worth and one's utter nothingness in relation to the Almighty. It is not going to happen from lectures, regardless of their profundity. In order to stimulate introspection, one must be availed a symbolic ritual - subtle, but thought provoking, which will bring out his best.

Humility is one of the most fundamental positive character traits. It cannot be instructed. It must emerge from within, often after an external non-verbal catalyst. Life is full of opportunities for realizing our insignificance. Regrettably, this is one of the most difficult lessons to accept.

The Kohen shall command; and for the person being purified shall be taken two live birds…the Kohen shall command; and the one bird shall be slaughtered…and he shall set the live bird free upon the open field. (14:4,5,7)

Rashi explains why the korban, sacrifice, brought by the metzora as part of his penance consists of birds. His affliction came as punishment for the chatter of gossip and slander. Thus, birds -- which by nature chirp and twitter -- serve as his korban as a reminder of his sin. This would be understandable if both birds were slaughtered. Why, however, is only one slaughtered, while the other one is sent away? Horav Eliyahu Schlessinger, Shlita, in his sefer "Areshes Sefaseinu," cites Horav Yehoshua zl, M'Belz, who offers an explanation based upon the Zohar Hakadosh. A man does not receive punishment only for the evil speech that he has spoken. He will also have to answer for the correct manner of speech that he neglected to speak. In other words, Hashem gave us a special gift. Indeed, this gift distinguishes us, elevating us above the animal world. It is the power of speech, the ability to communicate intelligently, to articulate and convey our feelings that defines our humanness. The power of speech is holy. To speak lashon hara it is to take something has been given to us for the purpose of kedushah, holiness, and, instead, use it to defame and denigrate. We have to answer for the negative activity, as well as the lack of a positive use. We, therefore, slaughter one bird to atone for the poor use of the power of speech, for the idle chatter and ensuing slander. The second bird is sent away to the field in order to atone for the lack of proper use of our speech. The bird continues chirping, "spreading" the importance of positive speech.

The Gaon M'Vilna renders a similar exegesis regarding the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos, 3:1 that says, "Know from where you came, where you are going, and before Whom you are destined to give an account and reckoning." The words "din", account, and "cheshbon," reckoning, are seemingly redundant. The Gaon explains that when one sins, he actually performs two misdeeds. First, the existent sin is a transgression of the Almighty's dictate. Second, during the time that he expended for his sin, he could have been performing a mitzvah. The "din," account, is for the actual aveirah, sin, which he has perpetrated. The "cheshbon," reckoning, is an appraisal of the mitzvah that he could have performed during this time. One day, we will be called to task not merely for our misdeeds, but also for our lack of achievement in accordance with our opportunities and abilities. We will have to explain why we did not realize our potential. Likewise, we will be rewarded for our good, the wonderful kindness that we have performed. We will also be called to reckon for the unfullfilled opportunities that we allowed to slip by. The two birds signify din and cheshbon. The slaughtered bird atones for the din, the sin of lashon hora. The bird that lives continues to chirp and roam free, "spreading the word" of the importance of making proper use of the valuable time Hashem has allotted to us.

When you arrive in the land of Canaan…and I will place a tzaraas affliction upon a house in the land of your possession. (14:34)

Chazal tell us that the negaim, plagues, served as a warning, as a portent of what would occur to the person if he did not correct his ways. The plague would first "strike" his house. It would then happen in his bedding. Afterwards, he could expect a plague in his garments. If after all these warnings the individual still refuses to correct his evil speech, the affliction will strike his body and he will become a metzora. He can never say that he had no warning. Hashem admonished him through the "messages" He sent.

The purpose of punishment is to bring one to the realization that he is doing something wrong. His speech is defective. He disparages and slanders. The punishment for this is tzaraas. What will it take to get the sinner to realize that he has been sinning? What type of wake up-call does he need to catalyze him to think about his sinful ways?

Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, explains the progression of the tzaraas from house to person in a novel approach. When the affliction strikes his house or his garments, it is most certainly of a supernatural origin. There is no question that in the natural order of things houses do not become leprous; and garments do not develop afflictions. Obviously, he is receiving a message through miraculous means. Yet, he does not respond, choosing to ignore the Heavenly communiqu?. After being privy to miracles and dismissing them as "mikreh b'alma," just another incident; after repudiating an apparent supernatural event as natural, Hashem will not deal with him on a "natural" level. As the Torah says in Vayikra 26:21,24, "If you behave casually with Me…then I too will behave toward you with casualness." This is his midah k'neged midah, measure for measure. He has refused to respond to miracles; he has ignored Hashem's Heavenly message. He will now be afflicted "naturally" with tzaraas haguf, an affliction on his body. Now, how will he respond?

The one to whom the house belongs shall come and declare to the Kohen, saying, "Something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house." (14:35)

The Mesorah cites one other place in Tanach where the phrase "nireh li", "has appeared to me," is written. In Yirmiyahu 31, the Navi says, "From the distance, Hashem appeared to me." What is the relationship between these two texts? The Bobover Rebbe, zl, in his sefer, Kedushas Tzion, gives the following explanation: Rashi cites the Mishnah in Meseches Negaim that states, "Even if the afflicted person is a Torah scholar who knows for certain that this is an affliction, he should not render judgement with a definite statement by saying, 'An affliction has appeared to me.' Rather, he should say, 'Something like an affliction has appeared to me.'" We wonder what difference it would make if he renders judgement. It really carries no weight, since it is only up to the Kohen to have the final word. What harm can come with his definite statement?

In his commentary, Rashi explains that when Hashem told Klal Yisrael that there would be negaim, plagues, striking their homes, they considered this to be good news. The Emoriim who preceded the Jewish People in Eretz Yisrael hid their treasures in the walls of their houses all forty years that the Jews were in the wilderness. As a result of the affliction, he must break down the walls of his house and in order to find the hidden treasure. Now, let us ask ourselves, is this Hashem's only method for granting His People material gifts? Is it essential to break down a house in order to locate hidden treasure? Certainly there must be an easier, less destructive method for uncovering this gold.

The Bobover Rebbe explains that this is Hashem's way of conveying to us the notion that nothing bad originates from Hashem. While it may appear to be of a negative nature, this is only because we are not privy to the entire script. When we become aware of the "rest of the story," our attitude will change. We will then realize that everything Hashem does is for the good. We are not able to perceive the depth of every situation and comprehend how Hashem sees to it that everything works out well for His People. This is especially true when one is confronted with an affliction on his house and it appears to him that he is the object of a dreadful decree. As time progresses, he realizes with the dismantling of his home that what he thought was bad was really a sign of Hashem's beneficence. This will teach him that everything in his life that appears to be of a negative nature is really good. We just have to wait for the rest of the story.

This is the underlying meaning of the pasuk in Tehillim 92:3, "

The concept of night alludes to the darkness of the galus, exile; while day refers to the geulah, redemption, we are all awaiting. During the darkness of galus, we believe with complete faith that everything Hashem does is for the good, although we do not actually see this good. During the redemption, however, we will be able to see with clarity of vision that everything was for our benefit. Indeed, what we had thought was bad was actually good. This is why the afflicted person, regardless of his level of erudition, may only say that what he sees appears to be a nega, because nothing is really bad - it only appears that way. Yirmiyahu Hanavi implies this idea when he says, "From the distance Hashem appears to me." Later on in a distant time, I can look back and realize that even in the beginning Hashem was with me. Let us hope that the clarity of vision that is endemic to the Final Redemption will "appear" in the near future.



1. May the purification of the metzora be performed at night?

2. Why does the metzora bring cedarwood during his purification process?

3. How is the Korban Asham - Guilt Offering - of the metzora different from other ashamos?

4. What is matan behonos?

5. If a talmid chacham is certain of a nega on the walls of his house that it is tamei, may he make a definite statement to this fact?

6. Which type of vessel cannot be purificatied in a mikveh if it becomes tamei?


1. No.

2. The affliction of tzaraas comes as a result of haughtiness.

3. It is the only guilt-offering in which some of its blood is applied to the body of the one who brings it.

4. It is the application of oil to the thumb and big toe of the metzora.

5. No. He may only say to the Kohen, "Something like an affliction has appeared to me."

6. Klei cheres, earthenware vessels.

Sponsored by
Robert & Chaya Schottenstein
in honor of the Bar Mitzvah
of our dear son
Avi h"b
May he continue to be a source of nachas to our family and all Klal Yisrael


Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first five years have been published in book form.

The fifth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588.

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel