Parshat Tazria-Metzora 5773: Manifestations of Ta’amei/Tahara on a Contemporary National Level and Gauging Individual/National Sincerity in Teshuvah

by Moshe Burt

In learning about the laws of tzara’as, we find posukim which are a pelah, a wonderment.

Torah relates in our Parsha;

“If the tzara’as will erupt on the skin, and … will cover the entire skin of the afflicted from his head to his feet, wherever the eyes of the Kohen can see — the Kohen shall look, and behold! — the affliction has covered his entire flesh, then he shall declare the affliction to be pure; having turned completely white, it is pure. On the day healthy skin appears …, it (the affliction) shall be contaminated.” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 13, posukim 12 – 14)

In “Studies in the Weekly Parsha” (pages 726-727), Yehuda Nachshoni cited a quote from R’ Simchah Bunim of P’shischa which states:

“Loshen hora … utilizes man’s animalistic instinct only for evil purposes, simply to destroy and tear apart, just as a wild animal.”

R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, z’l provides commentary in the new Hirsch Chumash (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Daniel Haberman) on the posukim at the beginning of our Parsha regarding Negi’yim — spots, Tzoras (Sefer Vayikra, Parsha Tazria, pages 420-422):

…Every spot of tzoras that strikes a member of the Jewish nation is to remind him of the experience of Miriam. This will lead him to careful observance of relevant halachot. Every spot of tzoras, is to be regarded as punishment for social wrongdoing; and the confinement outside the camp — national area around the Sanctuary of the Torah — has no other purpose or reason than…. to instilll in man the awwareness of his unworthiness.

Metzora, … Motziya rah [transliteration of the 2 words which form Metzora], a slander.

Why just for the Metzora is it ordained, ‘…He shall dwell apart, outside the camp shall his dwelling be’ (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 13, posuk 46)? He induced a rift between a man and his wife, between a man and his neighbor; therefore he too, is to be seperated from everyone and remain alone outside the camp.

In a wider sense, seven social sins are cited (Arachin 16a) as causes of negi’yim [spots]…. “slander, the shedding of blood, perjury, sexual immorality, arrogance, robbery and stinginess.”

…These sins and faults are… attributed to the organs of the body which are misused in praacticing them…. Thus, the eyes, the mouth, the hands, the heart, the feet — in short, the whole person is despised by Hashem…. Instead of using his organs and faculties that have been granted to him to conduct himself with humility and truth, to practice lovingkindness, justice and good deeds, and to speak words of truth and peace, he has become the opposite of all these. Hence he is despised and abominated by Hashem, who sends a mark upon his body as a sign of his anger; thus He expels him from the social sphere…, so that he recognize his guilt and reflect on rectifying his character.

With all of this in mind, let’s return to the case of tzara’as erupting on the skin, and covering the entire skin of the afflicted from his head to his feet, everywhere visible to the Kohen.

“But someone whose entire skin has turned white is so morally corrupt that he’s too convinced of his rectitude to think of changing. There is no point in continuing to isolate him. By telling him … that all hope for his ability to improve is gone, Torah shows him dramatically how low he has sunk.” (Artscroll; The Stone Edition Chumash, page #613)

A number of years ago, this author saw a National Council of Young Israel weekly Parsha sheet (the parsha sheet subsequently misplaced by me) which spoke of how Israel, in the depths of it’s corruption and idolatry during the reign of King Achav, won all of it’s wars.

The Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities, by Yishai Chasidah, brings a quote from Mesechta Megillah 11a;

Three men ruled over the entire world — Achav, Nevuchadnezzar and Ahasuerus. The world was comprised of 252 provinces and Achav ruled over them all. (Esther Rabbah 1:5)

The Rav who prepared this Parsha HaShevua was indicating that, just as an individual whose affliction covered his own body because there seemed no hope for repentence, so too, when the spiritual level of a the nation seemed beyond rectification, they waged war successfully while being largely Ovdei Avodah Zorah. But yet, later on, when the Avodah Zora was more covert during a period of mass Teshuva, we lost Bayit Rishon.

One might follow-up on this equation by asking what the moral of this is for the Jewish people in contemporary times.

The contemporary Jewish State, largely unified, fought 3 wars, in 1948, 1956 and in 1967 winning each one convincingly, particularly 1956 and 1967 when they won overwhelmingly and completely. To recollect and understand how complete Six Day War victory was is to recall reports of relative hands full of Israel soldiers chasing hundreds or thousands of Arabs in confirmation of biblical prophesy, the Arab windows drapped in white sheets of surrender pleading for their lives and thousands of Egyptian combat boots found in Sinai when Arab soldiers shed them in order to run, for their lives faster, from the oncharging IDF.

A great T’shuvah movement took hold in Eretz Yisrael and throughout the Jewish world after the Six Day War. And so, as this author understands the essence of that National Council of Young Israel weekly Parsha sheet, just as a Melech (King) subsequent to Achav was dedicated to wiping out avodah zora such that its instances became more covert where they had previously been blatant, the great T’shuvah movement after the Six Day War may have caused what may be understood as a collective national tzara’as to recede from covering the entire national body. As a result, derision of the religious intensified among elitists and an increasingly leftist-controlled media, as well as among those few who held monopolistic control over national capital. Sectors in Israel, including amongst the religious, have become more openly polarized toward each other where previously animosity was beneathe the surface subserviant to a national unity of purpose.

So we learn that as long as the tzara’as covers the entire, visible body, the afflicted is deemed pure, but when affliction recedes and no longer covers the entire visible body, the afflicted is deemed ta’amei (contaminated) and most be quarantined.

That may possibly be the message behind our current national travails as we mark 92 months since Jew evicted Jew from Jewish land in Gush Katif and 4 Shomron towns, since the results of the Lebanon conflict almost 7 years ago, and since Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in January, 2009. And one would be remiss to omit Amona, Hevron’s Beit HaShalom, the trashing of Federman’s farm, the expulsion from the outpost at Shvut Ami and the government’s “10 month” building freeze in Yesha a few years ago — all of which carry the shadow of corrupt political, judicial, bureaucratic, academia and media plans jeopardizing 100,000 or more Jews living in Yehuda and the Shomron.

Now let us deal with the sincerity of an individual’s rectification of the aveirah of loshen hora — Motziya rah, which R’ Hirsch, z’l defined above as “a slander”, and how this author views such rectification when it would seem required on a national scope.

We learn in Parsha Tazria, as well as in upcoming Parshiyot that unity is the very essence of the Kohen.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in “Growth Through Torah” (page 253) cites the Rabbi of Alexander who cites as the reason why, when one suspected an affliction with tzara’as, that he must go to… the Kohen and not to a scholar, a Talmud Chacham;

“One of the traits of Aharon was that he did everything he could to make peace between people.”

The Sefer relates how Aharon “exaggerated and told untruths in order to bring about peaceful relationships between people.” When people quarreled, he would tell each side how highly thought of they were to the other. “When someone was told that the other person was speaking positively about him, he automatically felt positive about the other person and this greatly improved their relationship.”

This trait of Aharon, his sons, of Pinchas; of conveying and facilitating unity was to be an inherent trait in Kohanim (priesthood) throughout the generations — with the Mishkan (Tabernacle), with both the Beit Hamikdash Rishon and Sheini (both the 1st and 2nd Temple) and down through the Galut to comtemporary times. It seems axiomatic; with peace, there is unity — between a Jew and his brother and on a national level amongst all groups and sectors of B’nai Yisrael.

In “Studies in the Weekly Parsha” (pages 726-727), Yehuda Nachshoni cited a quote from the S’fas Emes on our Parsha Metzora;

“In everything, there is a mixture of evil and good. And so with man. In general, good overcomes the evil, for there is more good. But one must be careful not to exclude evil from the community… ‘Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit … seek peace and pursue it,’ which means that (the evil) is to be engulfed by the common good, as indicated in the act of taharah of metzora…’ The emphasis is to return to the source and to cleave to the root, and when one is within the common good he can be rectified.”

This explanation seems to add meaning to the words of the third and final section of Birkat Kohanim (Artscroll Mesorah Series Birkat Kohanim, pages 80-81);

“V’Yaseim L’cha Shalom” — “and may He grant you peace.”

In light of the above, the message of the 2nd posuk of Parshat Metzora seems profound (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 14, posukim 2-4):

“This shall be the law concerning the Metzora when he is purified: he shall be brought to the Kohen. The Kohen shall go outside the camp, where he shall examine the Metzora to determine that the tzara’as has healed. The Kohen shall then order that for the person undergoing purification there be taken two live kosher birds, a piece of cedar, some crimson wool, and a hyssop branch.”

And, R’ Pliskin in “Growth Through Torah” (page 259) cites and explains an Ibn Ezra on why the purified former metzora is brought by another person to the Kohen:

…After the tzara’as clears up, he will not want to bring the offerings that he is responsible to bring.

When a person has tzara’as, he will definitely claim that of course he will bring the necessary offerings when the tzara’as clears up. But once he is cured, he can easily forget his obligations. Now that nothing is pressing him, he will focus on other things and not on meeting his obligations.

Some people find it difficult to meet their responsibilities. When they need favors from someone or want to impress someone, the might make many promises. But when the time comes to keep their obligations, they do all they can to avoid meeting them. A person with integrity will derive pleasure from meeting his responsibilities and not need others to coerce him to keep them.

This author finds R’ Pliskin’s explanation of Ibn Ezra a bit hard to understand in the context of the metzora; i.e. that it would be possible that one who was afflicted with tzara’as due to his loshen hora — slander, and did genuine teshuvah for his aveirah resulting in his purification, that such a person would avoid bringing the atonement offering to complete the teshuvah/purification process, thus continuing his slander.

But one can easily see the Ibn Ezra’s point that “teshuvah” followed by avoidance of obligations and responsibilities seems part of general human nature, as does loshen hora, and as does slander by way of complacent complicity, i.e. turning away from one’s fellow Jew’s matzav (difficulties) either on a one-to-one level, or on a national sectorial level. Whether it is the Jew who was cheated by a disreputable Jewish merchant or businessman, or the Jew who received committment for work – for a job under false pretenses, the aggrieved and battered spouse, or those who pled teshuvah for their lack of support and actions regarding the evicted former residents of Gush Katif, but who remain equally silent regarding the possible media-publicized machinations of the government, or who would actively support a repetition of Gush Katif on a wider, larger scale — to make biblical Jewish land Yudenrein, Ibn Ezra’s point and R’ Pliskin’s explanation seem mostly well-taken. It seems to this author that to bring real peace and unity among B’nai Yisrael, we Jews need to rise above common human nature and care for our fellows — V’Ahavtah L’re’icha Komocha. Only then will our collective contrition for the previous aveirot be sincere and complete.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.