Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
"Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying. Speak to the Children of Israel, saying - When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male, she shall be contaminated for a seven-day period, as during the days of her separation infirmity shall she be contaminated. On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised" (Vayikra 12:1-3).
According to the Torah, a woman who gives birth to a son is impure for only seven days. The Sages later extended this period.
In the Talmud, (Nidah 31b), the Rabbis offer a novel explanation of why the Torah commanded us to wait until the eighth day before circumcising our sons. "So that it should not be that everyone attending the celebration is happy, while his father and mother are sad" (because they are prohibited from being together due to her impurity).
We see from this how much the Torah is concerned about not hurting people's feelings (however, the Sages who extended the period of impurity had other considerations which overweighed the Torah's). Hashem expects us, too, to follow in his ways, and the Torah leaders of each generation show us how.
One Friday morning, returning from a walk with my mentor, Hagaon, Harav Ya'akov Kaminetsky, zt"l, he was approached by a Chassidic neighbor who announced happily that his wife had just given birth to a baby girl. Rabbi Kaminetsky smiled broadly and wished the young man a hearty mazel tov. The fellow invited the Rabbi to attend the kiddush he planned to give in shul the next morning. Reb Ya'akov was aghast. "How does it look," he asked, "that you are having a party with your friends when your wife is, nebech, in pain in the hospital?"
The father defended himself that it is customary to give a kiddush upon naming the girl and he is naming her tomorrow (Chassidim are careful to name a girl as soon as possible or, at the latest, the Shabbos after she was born). Reb Ya'akov was shocked to hear that he was giving the baby a name so soon and repeated his question. "How does it look that you are naming the child when your wife is, nebech, in pain in the hospital?"
Realizing that his neighbor was not about to change his Chassidic customs because of a Lithuanian Rabbi's concerns, Reb Ya'akov decided not to spoil his celebration and "reconsidered." "On the other hand," he said, "perhaps it is an act of kindness on your part to undertake to arrange the celebration all by yourself, while your wife rests in the hospital, rather than put her to work as soon as she gets home and is still weak."
MetzoraHashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon, saying. "When you arrive in the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I will place a tzara'as affliction upon a house in the land of your possession…Then the Kohen shall come and look, and behold! -- the affliction had spread in the house - It is a malignant tzara'as in the house, it is contaminated. He shall demolish the house -- its stones, its timber, and all the mortar of the house; they shall take it to the outside of the city, to a contaminated place" (Vayikra 14:33-34, 44-45).
Rashi brings the enlightening words of the Sages: "Because the Amorites concealed treasures of gold in the walls of their houses, during the whole forty years the Israelites were in the wilderness, in order that they might not possess them when they conquered the Land of Canaan, and in consequence of the plague they would pull down the house and discover them."
The Amorites anticipated losing the impending war with the Israelis, and wanted to at least prevent the victors from enjoying their spoils, so they hid their treasures in the walls of their houses, hoping that the new inhabitants would never find them, for who would destroy his own home? Therefore, Hashem afflicted the houses with tzara'as so that they would have to tear them down and discover the hidden wealth.
Several years ago we discussed the lesson that is to be learned from this that often things which seem to be catastrophes actually turn out to be blessings.
Imagine how upset a homeowner would be upon being informed by the Kohen that his house was condemned to be demolished. He would probably become very depressed, cursing his luck, and maybe even speak, or at least think, some strong words towards Hashem Who is so unfair to bring this catastrophe upon him and his family.
But imagine how thrilled he would be when the workers began removing more and more gold and gold items, making him rich beyond his wildest dreams. He would surely host a lavish kiddush and sing praises to Hashem Who is so kind and benevolent for having brought this bliss to him and his family.
We find a similar situation in the Gemara (Nidah 31a) where Rav Yosef offers the following interpretation for the passage, "Hashem, I will praise You for You were angry with me; Your anger was turned away, and You comforted me" (Yesha'ayahu 12:1): Two fellows were on the way to do business, probably each with his own dreams of amassing fortunes. Suddenly, one of them got a thorn in his foot and could not continue, but had to return home. He began to curse and swear. Some time later, he heard that his friend's ship sunk at sea. Then, he began to recite thanks and praises.
Like the fellow whose house was demolished and the one whose friend's ship sunk, we, too, often are privileged to see the good which comes from what we had considered bad. But even when we don't, we are expected to trust Hashem that everything which he does for us is for our benefit.
It is interesting that this rule does not only apply to human beings. Actually, even what Hashem does to animals is for their benefit, although this is really a bit of a mystical concept. The Kabbalists teach that animals have within them "sparks of holiness" which have to be "reclaimed" and restored to their sources. When this is achieved, the animal is "elevated" (see the first chapter of the Mesilas Yesharim, where this is discussed).
Slaughtering and eating an animal may seem to some to be barbaric, but if it is done with the proper intentions it is actually a blessing to the creature.
Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Neivener, shlita, told me a fantastic story which he himself witnessed. In Antwerp, there lived a very holy tzaddik, known as Reb Itzikel, ztvk"l. Many fantastic and supernatural stories are told about this very special and spiritual person.
It was the custom of Reb Itzikel's household to slaughter a chicken for him to eat on Mondays and Thursdays. One Monday, his daughter came in to tell him that she never experienced the problem she was having at the moment. She simply could not bring the chicken to be slaughtered since it was fighting her hysterically and kept jumping out of her hands. Try as hard as she might, she just could not overpower it.
Reb Itzikel said to those who were with him, "Come, let's go and see what the problem is." As soon as he looked at the bird, he declared, "Of course. This is a Shabbos chicken! Take a different hen for me to eat during the week and leave this one for the holy day."
On Thursday, the Rabbi said to those who were with him, "Come, let's go and see the situation today." Lo and behold, the chicken was calm and serene and practically gave itself over to the tzaddik's daughter to take it to be prepared to be eaten in holiness, by the holy saint, on the holiest day of the week.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network