Parashat Tazria-Metzora

Outside the Camp – Paying attention to your faults

בדד‭ ‬ישב‭ ‬מחוץ‭ ‬למחנה‭ ‬מושבו

“He shall dwell alone, outside the camp should be his dwelling place” (Vayikra 13:46).(Vayikra 11:4)

Our sages teach that an individual contracted tzara’at (a skin disease in some ways similar to leprosy) as a punishment for the sin of lashon hara — speaking negatively about others.  As a result, the afflicted individual had to be removed from the rest of the people, to sit in solitude until he was healed.

Rashi tells us that the person could not even stay together with others who were ritually impure, but rather had to be kept in total, absolute isolation.  The goal was to root out the inherent, core “affliction” of this person.  Instead of being focused on other people and all their faults, he should have been paying attention to himself, concentrating on how he could grow and improve.

Though there was great celebration among Jews at the time of the creation of the State of Israel, there was also great fear.  Surrounded by enemies on all sides, Israel and her people were under immediate and constant attack.  During this period, one of the students of Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik (known as the Brisker Rav) went to his venerable teacher and said, “I know why all this bloodshed has befallen us; it is because of the desecration of the holy Sabbath in the Land.  If only more people would observe the Sabbath, our troubles would disappear.”

The great rabbi turned to his student and reminded him of the story of Jonah. Tasked with warning the wicked people of Nineveh to change their ways, Jonah instead fled to the sea from before G-d. When Jonah stood on the ship as it was being tossed and turned in the stormy sea, he looked around and realized that he was standing among a band of idol worshipers; not good people, not even neutral ones, but idol worshipers!  It would have been so easy for Jonah to ignore his own faults and responsibilities and point at the company in which he found himself as the reason for the devastating tempest.  Instead, he ultimately admitted that, “It is because of me that this storm has befallen you.” Though his companions were steeped in idolatry — arguably the worst of all sins — Jonah was able to look at himself and claim responsibility.

This is the invaluable lesson that Rabbi Soloveitchik taught his student.  It’s always easy to look at others and judge them; indeed, we oftentimes feel better about ourselves when we do.  But our “healing” and redemption will not be brought any closer by whispering into our friends’ ears all the things that they or others need to do to fix themselves.  Instead, we need to look inward, to take stock of our own deeds and, ultimately, our misdeeds.  Just as the person suffering from tzara’at is freed from his own personal exile, so, too, we can hope to look toward our national redemption when we can reflect on our own service of G-d, while encouraging others to join along.

By Rabbi Ami Neuman

facts of life: twitter

‮…‬ולקח‭ ‬למטהר‭ ‬שתי‭ ‬צפרים‮…‬‭ ‬ושחט‭ ‬את‭ ‬הצפור‭ ‬האחת‮…‬‭ ‬ואת‭ ‬הצפר‭ ‬החיה‮…‬‭ ‬ושלח‭ ‬את‭ ‬הצפר‭ ‬על‭ ‬פני‭ ‬השדה

…And for the person being purified there shall be taken two birds…and the one bird shall be slaughtered…and he shall set the live bird free … (Vayikra 14:4-8)

Metzora begins by recounting the purification process necessary for a person stricken with tzara’at.  After the Kohen, the Priest, declares that the blemish has been cured, he gets hold of two birds, cedar wood, crimson thread and hyssop.  One of the birds is ritually slaughtered.  The other, along with the cedar wood, crimson thread and hyssop, is dipped in the blood of the first bird and set free.

As explained by Rashi, the birds (and the other elements required for this ritual) serve as a mirror of the the metzora’s actions.   After all, Rashi points out, the afflictions struck this individual because of his inclination for “twittering” (yes, that is the language Rashi uses!)  loshon horah (slander, gossip and derogatory speech) about others.  Therefore, the ritual requires birds, which are “constantly twittering with a chirping sound.” (Vayikra 14:4)

The author of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, asks a basic question regarding this ritual:  Granted, the birds send a message about the metzora’s behavior, but why does the Torah require two birds rather than just one?  Furthermore, why is one bird slaughtered and the other free?

As with other offerings, the bird-offering of the metzora was more than simply a “sacrifice.”  Its purpose was to inspire him to engage in serious introspection regarding his actions and commit himself to improving his ways.   Ideally, a metzora would walk away from this scene with a powerful conviction never to speak loshon horah again.  This explains why two birds were used, and why one bird was set free.  Had the metzora been required to slaughter only one bird, it would be quite understandable for him to conclude that the best course of action would be to refrain from speech altogether.  Better to keep his mouth closed – permanently – than fall back into the patterns that brought him such difficulties in the first place.

By requiring two birds, one of which is kept alive, the Torah sends a powerful message about the nature of speech and its role in a person’s life. Humans are not meant to keep silent. We were given the power of speech, and we are required to use it – as long as we use it properly.  Speech should be used to increase wisdom, to study Torah, to comfort the downtrodden, to express our aspirations, to help others.  The lesson for the metzora is not to stop speaking.  Rather, it is to redirect his power of speech in positive ways that enhance life. This is the reason the second bird is kept alive and allowed to go free.

There is a legend about an elderly grandfather who related a dream to his young grandchildren. “I dreamt of a terrible fight going on inside me, between two wolves,” the grandfather said. “One wolf was full of anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego.  “The other was good,” the grandfather continued.  “He was full of peace, sharing, humility, kindness, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, and compassion.  In my dream, I saw the same fight going inside of all of you and of every other person, too.”

Hearing the story, one of the children asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?” The grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.”

In our times, we do not have guidance of tza’arat to help us improve the way we interact with others.  Yet, the detrimental effects of negative attitudes and speech are everywhere to be seen – in the media, among friends and family, in business and elsewhere.  Moreover, there are times our words or actions come back to haunt us, separating us from our social circles, harming our livelihood, distancing us from the people we care about most.

At such times, a person may be tempted to deal with his remorse by withdrawing even further from society.  However, the lesson of the metzora teaches us that withdrawal is not an option.  Rather, the lesson of the metzora is to learn from our mistakes and re-engage the world in ways that inspire both ourselves and the people around us to achieve our fullest potential.

Source: Torah Partners 

torah thoughts and pearls of wisdom from PIRKEI AVOt

‭”‬מרבה‭ ‬צדקה‭ ‬מרבה‭ ‬שלום‭”‬

“Increasing charity increases peace.” (2:7)

The QUESTION what peace is made by giving charity?

Midrash Shmouel Explains  On the pasuk, “Do not glorify a poor person in his complaint” (Shemot 23:3), the Or Hachaim asks, “What is the complaint of the poor man?” He answers; often the poor man feels sad about his economic situation and may express his frustration and anger against Hashem: “Why does He take care of everyone and forsake me?”

When one extends tzedakah to the needy, he disproves the disagreement of the poor man. Now that his situation is improved, his complaining will cease and he will be at peace with Hashem.

Alternatively, in our prayers we request, “He who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace for us.” What is the similarity?

Hashem called the heavens “shamayim” because they consist of two components: eish — fire — and mayim — water. These are two rivals, since water extinguishes fire and fire can evaporate water, and Hashem made peace between them (Chagigah 12a).

The physical body consists of four elements: fire, water, air, and earth. A healthy person’s body must have a specific amount of heat, and the water cools the body. If the body temperature is too high, one can expire due to hyperthermia, and if it is too low, one can expire due to hypothermia. Our prayer to Hashem is that just as He makes peace in the heights — between fire and water so that the heavens can exist, likewise — may He make peace for us so that there will be an equilibrium between the fire and water in our body.

King Shlomo says, “Tzedakah tatzil mimavet” — “Charity saves from death” (Proverbs 10:12). Thus, through tzedakah the peace between the fire and the water in the body is maintained.

Parsha Summary 

First Aliyah: The laws of purity and impurity as they pertain to child-birth are discussed. The basic laws of Tzara’at involving the diagnosis of the Kohen and possible quarantine, as well as the laws of Tzarrat as it relates to healthy skin and infection are stated.

secong/third Aliya: The laws of Tzara’at  as it relates to burns, a bald patch, dull white spots, and the presence of a blemish on clothing is discussed.

fourth Aliya: The purification process of the Metzora involving two Kosher birds, a piece of cedar, some crimson wool, a hyssop branch, fresh spring water, s clay bowl, a Kohen, the Mikveh, seven days, a haircut and a Korban with its Mincha offering is detailed.

fifth Aliya: The Korban of a Metzora who is poor is discussed.

sixth/seventh Aliya: The laws dealing with blemishes that appear on a house are detailed. Following the laws of Tzara’at , the Torah turns its attention to various laws dealing with bodily discharges that render the individual Tameh. Male discharges, seminal discharges, menstruation, and other female discharges are detailed. Note that the basic laws of Family Purity are stated in verses 15:19-26.

simcha corner

A wealthy man was going for his evening walk when he saw two men eating grass by the roadside. He stopped by and asked them, ‘Why are you eating grass?’ ‘We don’t have any money for food,’ the men replied. ‘Oh, well, you can come with me to my house,’ instructed the man. But, sir, I have a wife and two children with me!’ ‘Bring them along!’ he replied. Suddenly the other man asked, ‘Sir, I have a wife and six children.’ ‘Bring them as well’ replied the rich man. As they were walking to the rich man’s house one of the poor guys said: ‘Sir you are so kind and merciful. Thank you for taking all of us with you.’ The wealthy man looked at them and replied: ‘I’m glad to do it. You’ll love my place where the grass is almost a foot tall.