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PARSHAS TAZRIAOn the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. (12:3)
Interestingly, the opening lines of Parshas Tazria relate to the Bris Milah that is to take place on a boy's eighth day of life. This is juxtaposed upon the previous parsha, Shemini, which concludes with the words, "to distinguish between the contaminated and the pure." The exhortation makes it incumbent upon us to learn how to distinguish between things that appear to be similar, such as between purity and the contamination. Horav Yehonasan Eibeshutz, zl, explains that specifically the mitzvah of Milah distinguishes between tamei, ritually impure, and tahar, ritually pure, and between the members of the gentile nations and the people of Klal Yisrael. As much as some of our assimilated coreligionists may attempt to emulate the nations of the world, a powerful distinction remains between us and them. Prominent among these differences is the mitzvah of Milah, which physically distinguishes us in appearance, as well as establishes our spiritual distinction. Thus, the Torah underscores the notion that our havdalah, separation, is the result of mitzvas Milah.
The Imrei Binyamin employs this idea to explain why at a Bris Milah we declare, K'sheim she'nichnas l'Bris kein yika'neis l'Torah, u'lechupah u'l'maasim tovim, "Just as he has been entered into the covenant (of Milah), so may he enter into (the study of) Torah, to chupah, marriage, and to (the performance of) good deeds." Specifically in this setting - and not at any other event celebrating a mitzvah - we make this public declaration. It is only through the performance of this mitzvah that one enters into Bris Olam, the eternal covenant, a bond that transcends time and place. No other mitzvah assures that the individual will fulfill the mitzvah throughout his entire life. Milah leaves an indelible mark on one's body - a mark that he takes with him to the grave. No other mitzvah guarantees this level of commitment, this inexorable bond.
Regrettably, we find individuals who, in later life for whatever reason, have rejected their original life of observance. They have turned their backs on the tradition in which they had been raised, the tradition for which their forebears had sacrificed their very lives. When it comes to the mitzvah of Milah, they are unable to turn back. It is the one mitzvah that once it has been performed - is here to stay for the duration of one's life. Thus, we pray that, as this mitzvah will endure forever, so, too, should the infant's commitment to Torah study, marriage and the performance of good deeds be his hallmark for life - never to be separated from them.
The Chasam Sofer focuses on the words yimol b'sar orlaso, "The flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised." In Sefer Shemos, the Torah addresses the requirement that everyone was circumcised prior to partaking of the Korban Pesach: "Every slave of a man, who was bought for money, you shall circumcise him; then he may eat of it" (Shemos 12:44). Likewise, the convert must be circumcised. "No uncircumcised male shall eat it" (Ibid. 12:48). The words b'sar orlaso, "the flesh of his foreskin," are not mentioned. Only with regard to the Jewish male does the Torah empathize that the flesh of his foreskin is to be circumcised. Why?
The Chasam Sofer derives from here that a Jew is only an aral basar, physically uncircumcised. An improvement must be made only in his physical essence. Spiritually, he is circumcised. A non-Jew, however, remains an aral lev, his heart uncircumcised. It is not merely the skin that must be "repaired"; his heart also continues to remain closed. Once he converts, he removes the innate impediments within him that preclude his ability to commit. Consequently, his acceptance into the congregation of Yisrael accompanies his lasting commitment.
A Jew is never isolated from Hashem. This inseparable bond has endured the test of time, and transcended the vicissitudes and travail to which we have been subjected throughout our tumultuous history. The Kaliver Rebbe, Shlita, writes that we must do everything within our power to bring Jews back to Hashem - to faith and Torah. This is the only guarantee of our continued existence. A moment's thought that we arouse within a Jew who has gone amiss of Torah observance can often, in due time, alter the course of all future generations. An acculturated Jew, who had been attending a class of mine for two years without exhibiting any semblance of change, recently did something that renewed my confidence in never giving up on anyone. He entered the room, reached into his coat for his white yarmulke and kissed it before putting it on! By this simple act of tendering a kiss to the yarmulke, he demonstrated a sense of reverence for kedushah, holiness.
The Kaliver Rebbe relates an incident which took place following the war. Arriving in Sweden straight from Bergen Belsen, the group of Jewish survivors, which included the Rebbe, was relegated to remain in a quarantine camp until it was safe to determine whether they had any contagious diseases. One night, the survivors noticed a group of Jewish women walking, in search of lost relatives. These women were at the mercy of the Swedish government, which treated them humanely, but placed them in jeopardy by "introducing" them to the local gentiles. Having lost everything, and seeking some form of economic and emotional stability, these women were on the verge of consenting to intermarriage.
The Rebbe appealed to their good consciences not to turn their backs on their faith. He was unsuccessful in moving them. Finally, the Rebbe cried out to them, "My dear sisters! Please remember this one thing: Prior to entering the fire which would consume their bodies, your parents' last wish was that their surviving children resist temptation and not sell themselves to the devil for any benefit in the world." As he uttered these words, the women burst into tears. A few days elapsed, and the women traveled to the capital city to apply for visas to Eretz Yisrael.
As mentioned earlier, the mitzvah of Bris Milah is interwoven into the basic fiber of Judaism. It is our badge of honor, our symbol of commitment, regardless of the challenges and obstacles which we must overcome. During the Holocaust, individuals risked their lives to see to it that every Jewish child received a Bris. The Piaseczner Rebbe, zl, was the last Chassidishe Rebbe in Warsaw who still functioned as a Rebbe. At constant risk to his life, he held a public tisch, festive Shabbos gathering around the tisch, table. (This was, and continues to be, a setting for chassidic Jews to gather with their Rebbe to hear Torah thoughts, receive guidance and inspiration, and sing together, rejoicing in religious camaraderie.) Around the tisch, he taught Torah and prepared everyone to give up his life for the sanctification of Hashem's Name. He spared no effort to maintain the women's mikveh, and often risked his life to circumcise every Jewish male child.
In the winter of 1943, the Piaseczner performed a Bris on a baby that was already several months old. Everyone who participated in that clandestine minyan of men was placing himself in extreme danger, since, by this time, they had to worry equally about the Ghetto regime as they did about the Nazi guards. Any Jew who was caught on the street was likely to be shot and killed on the spot. No questions were asked, for no answers were acceptable. The child's mother, however, stood there sobbing uncontrollably. She could no longer continue seeing her son go uncircumcised. Originally, she had been too frightened to circumcise him, thinking she might leave him with a gentile family for the duration of the war. Now she understood that all she wanted was to keep the mitzvah and at least see her son circumcised and entered into the covenant - whatever the cost.
Streams of tears flowed from the eyes of all those assembled at the Bris. Their hearts were filled with pain and anguish. Prominently missing was the child's father, who had been taken away to a torture camp near Lublin. Now that his wife worried daily about her husband's fate, she no longer wanted to accept the responsibility of permitting her son to go one more day in his uncircumcised state. With her heart-rending sobs piercing the air, she poured out her plea to the Almighty, "Let my husband live. Wherever he is, allow the merit of this Bris to intercede on his behalf, that he be saved from death."
As those assembled heard the mother's bitter sobs, their own tears began to flow with greater urgency. When Rav Zushia Friedman started up a niggun, lively chassidic tune, however, they all joined in - one great song of Kiddush Hashem. Their bitter, somber mood was almost instantly transformed from mourning to joy. The death that reigned in the streets, the pall that hung over all of their lives, had no power to prevent these dedicated Jews from joyfully celebrating their Jewishness.
Upon the completion of the days of her purity for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring a sheep within its first year for an Elevation-offering, and a young dove or a turtledove for a Sin-offering. (12:6)
Upon completing her period of purification, the yoledes, woman who gave birth, brings two korbanos, offerings, because she seeks atonement for two types of sin. The Korban Olah, Elevation-offering, atones for any resentful thoughts she may have had against her husband or Hashem during the painful moments of childbirth. The Sin-offering atones for the possibility that, in her dire pain, she might have sworn never to have physical relations with her husband. The requisite of two atonements for one activity is rare. The following anecdote reinforces this idea, lending us insight into the character of one of this past century's most inspiring gedolim, Torah giants.
Fundraising is an art - and a difficult one - to master. I am not sure if anyone really enjoys it, regardless of the degree of his success. One is often subject to some form of demeaning behavior on the part of the would be benefactor. There are, of course, those unique individuals who actually enjoy giving tzedakah, charity. They are truly blessed, and so is the fundraiser who has the good fortune of soliciting them for funds. Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, was a master in so many areas. A prolific talmid chacham, Torah scholar, a brilliant speaker, and intellectual, he was the founder of not only the Daf Yomi, but also the great Yeshivah of Lublin. Unlike any other yeshivah, it catered to the best of the best, providing its students with excellent physical amenities, such as a beautiful bais ha'medrash, dormitory and real food. All of this cost money, which kept its Rosh Yeshivah quite busy, traveling the world to raise money for his beloved yeshivah.
The story goes that, on one of his trips, Rav Meir had occasion to visit a city in Eastern Europe, which was home to a very wealthy Jewish industrialist. There was one problem: This man wrote the book on tightfistedness. He lived well, but he refused to share his wealth with anyone. The Lubliner Rav visited him. The man not only refused to give him anything, he even kept him waiting before he would see him. This was tremendous zilzul b'kavod ha'rav, humiliation of the honor becoming such a distinguished Torah personage.
Rav Meir refused to ignore the man's snub. He said, "I am not a yoledes; I did not recently give birth that I require two kaparos." He turned his face to the door and was about to leave, when the man who he was soliciting blocked his exit. "You may not leave until you explain to me the meaning of your statement," the man said.
Rav Meir replied, "My intentions were simple. There are times when I visit a wealthy man and, while I do not receive my desired sum or sometimes anything at all, at least I am treated royally and given the respect that a man of my position demands. When this occurs, I say 'A kaparah, the money! The money is an atonement.' At least I received a little honor. I was not mistreated. In other instances, I meet a philanthropist who gives me a nice check, but does not assuage my ego. I then say 'A kaparah the kavod. At least I received a nice check.'
"In your case, however, I was mistreated, allowed to cool my heels for one hour in the hall, and - to add insult to injury - I received no check for all my troubles. That is why I declared that I was no yoledes, because only a woman who recently gave birth brings two kaparos."
When the man heard this explanation, he realized that he was speaking to no ordinary person. He immediately wrote out a nice check to Chachmei Lublin, and he continued to do so every year for quite some time.
He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (13:46)
The metzora is called this because the name is an acronym for motzi ra, (he) brings forth evil (speech). In the Talmud Arachin 16b, Chazal explain why the metzora is the only one of the tameiim, individuals who are subject to ritual contamination, who is isolated from the community. He was the cause of divisiveness between man and his fellowman; thus, he should also be separated from the society which he slandered. This presents a question. The first person to speak lashon hora, slanderous speech, was Chavah, who repeated the serpent's critique of the Almighty. Exploiting a ploy favored by the usurpers of Torah to rationalize their errant behavior, the serpent said that G-d did not prohibit the Eitz Hadaas, Tree of Knowledge, out of any concern for their lives, but out of concern that, if they ate from the tree, their wisdom would expand and they would become omniscient like Him. The last thing Hashem wants is for us to become independent of Him. This ludicrous statement has been repeated by those who are alienated from the Torah way of life. After all, the Torah's laws as conveyed by the rabbis who interpret them, are motivated by a selfish desire to centralize and solidify their power base. Chavah repeated this foolishness, which makes her a slanderer. If so, why was she not struck with tzaraas?
Horav David Chanania Pinto, Shlita, begins by explaining the metzora's punishment. In the Talmud Nedarim 64b, Chazal state that four individuals are classified halachically as being similar to a corpse: one who is poverty stricken, a metzora, a blind person, and one who has no children. Clearly, this statement requires an explanation, which is not the focus of this paper. The metzora's inclusion in this group is questionable. He really lacks nothing. Why is he considered like a dead person? He has it all. Seclusion is not the end of the world - or is it?
Rav Pinto explains that the metzora has received what we might term as a "Divine snub." Hashem says to him, "Separate yourself from everyone. I also want nothing to do with you. Whatever you possess is of no value to Me. You are a persona non grata. This teaches us that one who is nechshav k'meis, considered like a dead person, has nothing of value. Anyone who speaks lashon hora becomes distanced from Hashem. One really cannot get much worse than that.
The Midrash teaches us that, while the Jewish people in Egypt had descended to the forty-ninth level of spiritual impurity, they still maintained one z'chus, merit, for being redeemed from Egypt: They had made a pact among themselves to maintain achdus, harmony, among one another. We now understand why Hashem did not want to visit tzaraas upon Chavah. As the only female in the world, to separate her from the only other human being would have created a rift in the world. If shalom, peace, did not reign in the world, Hashem would be "compelled" to distance Himself from it. Thus, Hashem diminished her punishment from tzaraas, to niddah, menstruant, which also mandates a separation between herself and her husband - but one with which people can live, since it is only for a set period of time and not as reclusive.
This, adds Rav Pinto, is the reason for the juxtaposition of tzaraas upon ishah ki sazria, childbirth, and the ensuing period of ritual impurity. As explained, the reason there is a tumah of niddah is that tzaraas would have been an encroachment that would undermine the future of the world. Thus, the Torah places these two tumos, forms of contamination, side by side, so that the woman will have a formidable reminder of the severity of lashon hora.
This shall be the law of the metzora. (14:2)
Tzaraas, spiritual leprosy, is not visited upon a person in a vacuum. There is a profound reason that this Heavenly punishment just happens to show up one day on a person's body, clothing, or home. In fact, there are a number of reasons, which all have one common thread coursing between them: interpersonal relationships. The metzora is a motzi ra, brings forth slander, evil speech, arrogance - all these and much more - in their various forms. Everyone has excuses to justify their slanderous talk, whether they feel they are only telling the truth, protecting the public, calling it the way they see it. They cloak their conceit in a veil of righteousness, as they attempt to get away with their character assassination.
After all is said and done, however, we all do it, and often it is actually true! So, what is to motivate a person to keep his mouth shut? I recently came across the Leket Amarim from the tzaddik Horav Yaakov Meir Shechter, Shlita. This small sefer is a veritable treasure house of practical insight and inspiration. In one of his maamarim, Rav Yaakov Meir distinguishes between two terms that are often used in tandem, when they are actually opposite in nature: Hischazkus, to strengthen, embolden oneself; Hisorerus, to arouse, inspire oneself. When we analyze the definitions of these terms, we note that they actually work in opposition to one another.
Hisorerus, arousement, inspiration, is the force which makes demands on a person, which calls on him to present an accounting of his actions. Hisorerus tells a person like it is: "You are doing poorly! You have made many egregious mistakes; you must get your act together." Hisorerus admonishes the person to return to Hashem. If the individual possesses a brain, he will respond to his call of inspiration.
Hischazkus emboldens and encourages the individual not to give up hope. True, he "messed up," but all is not lost. We still have hope. One can always repent and once again be embraced by Hashem. These appear to be two distinct approaches in one's relationship with Hashem.
Rav Yaakov Meir explains that these approaches actually complement one another. Indeed, the greatest form of hisorerus is Hischazkus. It would be a mistake to suggest that hischaskus belittles that which is wrong or covers up sin. Absolutely not! Hischazkus reveals the sin and uncovers the errors that we all seek to hide. Embedded deep within every individual there is a burning desire to be close to his Divine Source, the Almighty. The yetzer hora, evil-inclination, inevitably worms its way in and convinces us that it is too late. We have sinned too much. Give up hope of ever returning to Hashem. Therefore, you might as well continue with your "good time." The resulting depression and hopelessness are the clinchers, such that one is left out in the cold. With time, he becomes increasingly estranged and more and more distant. The worst aspect of this estrangement is that he believes that there is no turning back!
When one hears words of Hischazkus, however, and he listens intently to their message, he realizes that there is always hope. This arouses him to do teshuvah, repentance, inspiring him to return to Hashem. The good is hidden within, beneath layers of evil. It is waiting for that special moment when it will be discovered and revealed. Rav Yaakov Meir supports this idea with the words of Chazal in Meseches Bava Metzia 85. The Talmud relates how Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi was able to return Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Elazar, grandson of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who had strayed from the path of observance. Asmechi, He gave him semichah, ordained him. He announced from now on "Yosi" should be referred to as Rabbi Yosi. His goal was simple: By calling him Rabbi, he would strengthen and encourage him that it was not over. He could return and be accepted. It worked, because concealed beneath layers of evil and neglect were the middos, character traits, of a truly refined person, an individual that was righteous. This process revealed the inherent good that existed within Rabbi Yosi.
People are surprising. A fellow, who for years had presented himself as evil, suddenly acts atypically and demonstrates a covert sense of righteousness to which we had been clueless, and, under different circumstances, would never have believed. The Chafetz Chaim related the following story: The government in one of the Eastern European cities issued a decree demanding that every home in the city sport a large cross on the front door to their home. The punishment for ignoring this decree was death. There was no room for negotiation. One either had the cross, or he died. It was that simple.
Obviously, the city's Jewish citizens had a problem acquiescing to this decree. What could they do? Their lives hung in the balance. One particular Jew in the community, a pharmacist by profession, was an apostate. He had years earlier reneged his affiliation with Judaism and had continued living in the community as a gentile. In recent years, no one had seen him manifest any affinity toward the religion of his parents. It was, thus, shocking to hear that, of all people, this renegade Jew refused to have a cross on his door. "I am a Jew and Jews do not have crosses," he said. His response shocked everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike. Indeed, his gentile maid begged him to hang a cross on his door. He ignored her plea and waited patiently for the police to come and arrest him. Come what may be - he was prepared for the worst. His fears were sadly realized, as he was mekadesh Shem Shomayim, publicly sanctified Hashem's Name. From where did he derive the fortitude to make this move? His entire adult life was spent running from Judaism, eschewing religious observance, and, now, in a moment of lucidity he transformed himself into a kadosh, holy person! How did it happen?
We all have it within us. Some have concealed it better, while others are fortunate to have the good near the "top." One should never give up hope. Just keep on "digging." The good will eventually materialize.
And for the person being purified there shall be taken two live, clean birds, cedar wood, crimson thread and hyssop. (14:4)
The erstwhile sinner must purge himself of the character flaw that led to his sinful behavior. One who slanders, who speaks ill of others, thinks that he is better, smarter, stronger, etc. than they are, can blame his haughtiness. Arrogance breeds contempt for those whom one considers to be beneath him. Thus, the metzora's process of purification, which entails repentance to atone for his misdeeds, must address the moral turpitude which brought him here in the first place. The cedar tree, which grows tall above other forms of vegetation, symbolizes haughtiness. The crimson thread is prepared with a dye from a pigment extracted from a lowly creature. The hyssop is a lowly bush. These two symbolize the opposite of arrogance: humility - a character trait that the metzora must now acquire.
We find these three articles also used in connection with the Parah Adumah, Red Heifer. They are thrown into the pyre of the burning cow. There is a distinction, however, between the two processes in the manner in which these symbolic ingredients are recorded in the Torah. Concerning the purification of the metzora, the Torah first lists cedar wood, followed by crimson thread and hyssop. In listing the ingredients to be thrown into the burning cow, the Torah lists cedar wood first, followed by the hyssop, with the crimson wool last. Why the change? Also, concerning the metzora, why does the Torah not list the ingredients according to the sequence of their height, with the hyssop preceding the crimson thread? The bush may be low, but it does grow a few inches off the ground. The worm, snail, or whatever creature supplies the red dye crawls along the ground. Sequentially, it should be last.
Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, resolves this anomaly with a principle quoted from the Rambam Hilchos Deios 2:2. In order to succeed in correcting a middah raah, deficient/faulty character trait, one must go to the opposite extreme and then work his way back to the center. Likewise, the metzora has fallen prey to the sins associated with haughtiness. He has arrogated himself above others, much like the tall and imposing cedar tree. He must now revert to the extreme antithesis and lower himself to the stature of the worm. Then, he can slowly return to center court and be like the hyssop. In the case of the Parah Adumah, however, the Torah lists the ingredients sequentially, according to their height and significance.
Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. Hear O' Yisrael Hashem is Our G-d. Hashem is One.
The quintessential seminal verse of Judaism is: Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad. The actual verse is the last four words. Shema Yisrael is a declaration, an announcement which affirms our faith in Hashem and proclaims His Unity. Emunah, faith in Hashem, is a personal thing. It is an emotion connected to the heart. Why is it necessary to call out to Yisrael to listen? One should simply express his personal emunah with Ani Maamin, "I believe that Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One."
Horav Leib Chasman, zl, explains that a Jew's obligation extends far beyond his personal faith. It is a Jew's responsibility to "sing Hashem's praises" to all Jews. He must strive to let it be known to all of his brothers and sisters that Hashem is Our G-d. Shema Yisrael! I want all of you to hear! Judaism does not belong to one individual or one group. It belongs to all of us; thus, it is our collective responsibility to see to it that the clarion call of Shema Yisrael reaches everywhere and penetrates everyone's heart.
The Mashgiach emphasizes this idea further by admonishing those who, upon establishing organizations and institutions for the purpose of disseminating Torah and for the spiritual betterment of Klal Yisrael, refuse to include anyone who either does not exactly conform to his myopic perception of Torah and mitzvos or does not fit into his selective clique. In such instances, it is not about Torah, but rather, it is about them. These organizations and establishments are nothing more than the products of overactive egos. Shema Yisrael teaches us to be inclusive - not restrictive.
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