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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Metzora

This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing. (14:2)

The phenomenon of the negaim, plagues, is a clear example of the cause and effect relationship between sin and punishment. Good deeds effect reward, and evil deeds bring retribution. Indeed, Chazal emphatically state that lashon hora, slanderous speech, directly causes tzaraas, leprosy. The metzora is relegated to living alone, away from people, as penance for his sins. He caused contention and rifts between people; therefore, he is separated from the community. Let him experience for himself the effect of his disparaging words. Let him see the hurt he has caused, the divisiveness and strife that his words have brought upon others.

The Torah implores us to "remember what Hashem did to Miriam on the way from Egypt." This is not simply good advice. According to the Ramban, in performing this mitzvah one recalls more than a unique historical experience. This commandment is an admonishment to acknowledge orally and to contemplate the tragic effect of lashon hora.

In the Talmud Arachin 15b, Chazal compare the sin of lashon hora to the three cardinal sins: murder, adultery and idol worship. They encourage us to give up our lives rather than transgress these sins. This represents but a shadow of the travesty of lashon hora.

Yirmiyahu ha'navi says: (9:7) "Their tongue is a deadly arrow, it speaks deceit." Chazal infer from the navi's words that the tongue's effect is like that of an arrow. Horav Moshe Reis, Shlita, explains the analogy in the following manner: First, an arrow can cause damage even from a distance. Similarly, the effect of lashon hora is far-reaching and long-lasting. It can hurt from even farther and the effects can last even longer than that of an arrow. Second, because the arrow is shot from afar, the hunter and his hapless victim never come face to face. The sting of lashon hora disparages without even permitting the victim the opportunity to respond to the allegations leveled against him. At least in the case of arrows, one can shoot back! Third, and probably the most compelling, just as one loses control over the arrow the instant he releases the bow, so does one lose control over the words he utters once they leave his mouth. One cannot "retract" his slander; the damage is immediate and uncontrollable. People do not seem to forget lashon hora. Slander has the uncanny ability to germinate and grow. Indeed, with time, people tend to be creative in interpreting the slander. Is it any wonder that Hashem says regarding the baal lashon hora, "I and he cannot live together in the world."

This shall be the law of the metzora on the day of his purification. (14:2)

The verbal form "vhv,", "shall be," denotes unlimited future. This implies that the laws regarding the metzora's purification process are not bound by time or the end of korbanos in the Bais Ha'mikdash. Indeed, the Rambam opines that the laws apply at all times. The absence of a Bais Ha'mikdash prevents us from offering sacrifices, but what about other aspects of the law? Are we to think that the "causes" of tzaraas have disappeared? We disregard any form of procedure regarding the tzaraas affliction, because we no longer have an authentic Kohen who can pronounce an individual tamei or tahor. Unless a Kohen renders the decision concerning tzaraas, the metzora does not become a metzora.

We may suggest that the Torah alludes to a timely problem. Quite often, if one experiences a problem in the home, a "nega ba'bayis," he will tend either to ignore the problem or go to everyone but the "Kohen," the spiritual mentor. The Torah is telling us that the causes of the tzaraas affliction are not constrained by time. It also communicates to us the need to consult with an individual who characterizes and embodies the qualities of Kehunah. He must be steeped in yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. He must be a Torah scholar and a caring individual whose devotion to his fellow man is exemplary. He will investigate the source of the plague, and he will guide us in the process of purification.

He shall be brought to the Kohen. The Kohen shall go forth to the outskirts of the camp. (14:2,3)

The text of the pasuk seems ambiguous. If the metzora is brought to the Kohen, why does the Kohen go out? Sforno explains that the metzora is brought to the outskirts of the city, and the Kohen comes out to meet him. Shem M'Shmuel interprets the pasuk homiletically. When the metzora is outside of the camp, he should make every effort to come closer to the Kohen, his lifestyle, his way of thinking, his total demeanor. By advancing towards the Kohen, the metzora purifies his heart and mind. When he has succeeded in motivating himself forward, the Kohen will now approach him. The sinner has to make the first move and demonstrate his true conviction. Only then will his teshuvah be accepted.

Siach Ha'sadeh takes a novel approach towards understanding this pasuk. The Kohen is the righteous leader of the generation. On his plateau of virtue, the most minor infraction is viewed as a grave sin. Hence, he might look at the average Jew with derision. He will abhor his sins, not realizing that he is simply not on the same spiritual level as the Kohen. He must learn to view the actions of the simple Jew in a positive light. The tzaddik/Kohen must recognize that if he were outside of the camp, away from the safety and shelter of the four cubits of Torah; if he were out in the market place dealing with people of adverse backgrounds and base character, he might not be so virtuous himself. Consequently, the Torah tells the Kohen: Imagine yourself out of the camp/Bais Ha'midrash. Remove yourself from your protective environment and look at what the man in front of you has to experience. Look at with whom he must come in contact; take into consideration the type of life to which he has been exposed. Now the Kohen is prepared to observe the plague and heal the metzora.

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

The root of lashon hora is arrogance. The arrogant person feels he can talk about others with disdain. Haughtiness breeds contempt for all people, other than the slanderer himself. During the process of purification, the metzora goes through a penance which entails his commitment to change his deeds. The three items that accompany his korban symbolize sin and its teshuvah. Cedarwood, which grows tall and wide, symbolizes haughtiness. The crimson thread is dyed with a dye that is derived from a lowly creature. The hyssop is a lowly bush. Both of these latter items allude to the metzora's newfound humility.

The Chidushei Ha'Rim comments that the crimson thread and hyssop allude to sin which is the result of humility. Yes, a person can sin by being too humble or humble at an inappropriate time: When people turn to someone for help; if the community needs leadership or someone to take action; if a travesty is taking place and one apathetically shies away. In such cases he sins by being too humble. Would he be so filled with humility if it was his own honor that was at stake? All too often, we tend to become humble out of a sense of insecurity and indifference. That does not constitute humility; rather it is cowardice.

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)

Rashi comments that actually this plague was beneficial, for the Amoriim had hidden treasures of gold in the walls of their houses for the entire forty years that Bnei Yisrael were in the desert. As a result of the leprous plague, the Jews were compelled to demolish the houses, exposing the hidden treasures. The question is obvious: Is there not an easier way to grant the Jews treasures other than requiring them to demolish their houses? Surely Hashem could have shined His beneficence upon them through another, less trying, avenue. What makes this more puzzling is that the Talmud in Arachin 16a states that afflictions comprise retribution for one's stinginess. Finding buried treasure in one's home does not seem like punishment!

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, explains that punishment is relative. Had the owner of the house been a charitable man, he would have discovered this same treasure in a painless manner. Only because of his stinginess does he receive his due in such a way. While he deserves a reward for his good deeds, it is apparent that he was remiss in some area which warranted punishment. He must learn from the way he received his treasure that Hashem was displeased with some aspect of his behavior.

The Aruch Ha'shulchan and other commentators view this form of reward and punishment as indicative of the nature of all of Hashem's actions, regardless of what they may seem to be. The sufferings we undergo at times are for a purpose--to bring us closer to Hashem via teshuvah. Nothing that Hashem does is inappropriate. Even that which appears to be cruel and painful, is -- in reality -- for the good. When we suffer, we cry out to Hashem in anger or frustration. We demand to know why good people suffer affliction. What we do not realize is that good is hidden in every decree from Hashem. It might take some time till we recognize it, but it is definitely there. Nothing is bad--even the destruction of one's home. After awhile, we will all discover Hashem's hidden treasure beneath what seems to be destruction. May we merit that the day will arrive--soon.

The Zohar Ha'kadosh contends that the Torah's intention was not merely to benefit the Jewish people in a circuitous way. Indeed, if the underlying purpose was to discover the treasures, why does the Torah require us to obtain new stones and put them in place of the old ones in the process of rebuilding? Ostensibly, the intention is not merely to demolish the house, but rather, to eradicate any vestige of the old house, to abandon any element of its prior construction.

The Zohar Ha'kadosh, therefore, explains that in order to transform the tumah, impurity, of Canaan into the kedushah of Eretz Yisrael, it was essential to eliminate every area, even the innermost secret places, where tumah could have been harbored. A house which is permeated with a spiritual contaminant cannot simply be cleaned. It must be destroyed, and a new one built in its place. Tumah penetrates everywhere, contaminating everything in which it comes in contact. If one wants to build an Eretz Yisrael that reflects kedushah and taharah, he must clear away any semblance of tumah, beginning over again on a foundation of sanctity and purity.

We may be so bold as to suggest that this applies to people as well. One who is prepared to change his lifestyle and adopt a Torah way of life must be prepared to abnegate his past behavior. In order for the sanctity of Torah to permeate a person, he must expunge himself of all impurity. Teshuvah is not simply a process of return; it is a complete process of rebirth and renewal.

Something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house. (14:35)

In Meseches Negaim 12:5, Chazal state that one should not assert that he definitely saw a plague. Rather, he should say that he saw what appears to be a plague. A number of reasons are given for this halachah. The Torah Temimah suggests a somewhat novel interpretation. The Kohen is the one who renders decisions regarding negaim, plagues. It would, therefore, be brazen on the part of anyone else to issue a decision in the presence of the Kohen. By saying that he has a plague, the metzora seems to be rendering a decision concerning himself in the presence of the Kohen. This concept applies also to the Rav/spiritual leader of a community.

Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, elaborates concerning the respect due to the rav of a community, regardless of its size or the rav's stature. He relates that during a visit to a small town, the Yeshuos Yaakov was questioned in regard to a certain halachah. He responded by permitting it. After awhile, he reminded himself that the Taz clearly forbade it. The Yeshuos Yaakov said that the fact that he had made a mistake did not surprise him. He should have been cognizant that in a community that has a rav, no one else has the siyata dishmaya, Divine assistance, to render a correct decision. Hashem supports the rav of a community, intervening on his behalf when necessary.


1. What does the metzora who is being cleansed of his tzaraas do on the seventh day?

2. In what way do the Korban Asham and Korban Chatas of the metzora differ from all other such korbanos?

3. Which type of tzaraas has the longest quarantine period?

4. If the owner of the house is a talmid chacham who is proficient in negaim, may he render a decision regarding a plague?

5. When does a person who enters a house that has tzaraas become tamei, together with his clothes?

6. What is the difference in halachah between a chair that a zav has touched and one upon which a zav has sat?


1. He shaves his hair and immerses himself in the mikveh. His clothes are also immersed.

2. Along with each korban, he must bring an isaron of flour mixed with oil. The Asham's blood is also sprinkled on the metzora.

3. Tzaraas ha'bayis, plague of the house, which may be quarantined up to three weeks.

4. No. Only a Kohen may render a decision of tumah.

5. If he remains in the house long enough to eat an achilas pras.

6. If a zav sits upon a chair, it becomes tamei to the point that anyone who touches it also becomes tamei, along with his clothes. A chair that has simply touched a zav does not have the power to transfer tumah to a person, only to food and liquids.

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