Parshiyot Tazria, Metzora 5778: Why the Kohen as Determinant Between Tumah and Tahara?

Shalom Friends;

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Moshe Burt
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Parshiyot Tazria, Metzora 5778: Why the Kohen as Determinant Between Tumah and Tahara?

by Moshe Burt

In learning about the laws of tzara’as, we learn of the Kohen’s role in differentiating between Ta’amei and Tahara on an individual’s skin.

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, Tzara’as (Sefer Vayikra, Parsha Tazria, pages 420-422):

…Every spot of tzara’as 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 tzara’as, 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 instill in man the awareness 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.”

Torah relates in our Parsha (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 13; posukim 3-5 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash):

“The Kohen shall look at the affliction on the skin of his [the individual’s] flesh: if the hair in the affliction has changed to white, and the affliction appearance is deeper than the skin of the flesh — it is a tzara’as affliction; the Kohen shall look at it and declare him contaminated [tamei].” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 13; posuk 3)

“If it is a white baheres [spot] on the skin of his flesh, and its appearance is not deeper than the skin, and its hair has not changed to white, then the Kohen shall quarantine the affliction for a seven-day period. The Kohen shall look at it on the seventh day, and behold! — the affliction retained its color, and the affliction did not spread on the skin, then the Kohen shall quarantine it for a second seven-day period.” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 13; posukim 4-5)

Finally Torah relates (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 13; posuk 6 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash):

“The Kohen shall look at it again on the seventh day, and behold! — if the affliction has dimmed and… has not spread on the skin, then the Kohen shall delare him pure, it is a mispachas [“a scab” as rendered in “Torah Gems” volume 2, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, page 286]; he shall immerse his garments and become pure.”

“Torah Gems” volume 2, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg (page 286-287) provides a citing explaining Perek 13; posuk 6:

If a patient’s condition has not become worse, a friend will say that he is getting better. Inn the circumstances, an enemy will say… there is no improvement… a sign that the patient is deteriorating. Neither is lying or exaggerating, but each reads into the situation what he wishes to. The Kohen, on the other hand, must be merciful. If the condition has not deteriorated, he must deduce that conditions are improving, and must pronounce the person clean. (source of citing: P.Y.)

Torah then explains:

“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 [tamei].” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 13, posukim 12 – 14 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash)

In previous years, this Pashat HaShevua has discussed the individual and national equation of these latter posukim for the Jews in contemporary times.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his sefer, “Growth Through Torah” (page 256), cites Sforno in explaining why the Kohen determines Tumah or Tahara:

The Torah requires a Kohen to be the one to make the decision about whether a person is afflicted with tzara’as. This is because the Kohanim are spiritual people who taught wisdom to others. They would be able to advise those afflicted to check through their behavior and to correct their faults. They would also teach the person how to pray to the Almighty for help. Moreover, the Kohanim themselves would pray for the welfare of the person.

Sefer Shem Mishmuel (by R’ Shmuel Bornstein, as translated by R’ Zvi Belovski, page 247-248) provides further explanation as to the spiritual attribute of the Kohen as determinant of Tumah and Tahara:

His [the Kohen’s] focus in life is on the concealed, internal aspects of spiritual development. Although in comparison with the other nations of the world, Klal Yisrael is very much focused away from the external trappings of life and toward the private aspects of existence, the Kohanim are even more directed toward this mind-set. One could say that if Yisrael are world experts in this field, then the Kohanim are the experts among the experts.

….The essential difference between the Kohanim and the rest of Klal Yisrael was… that the focus of the Kohanim was more inward.

Since we don’t have the Beit HaMikdash and, thus there is no Kohanic service therein and, therefore no tzara’as affliction of skin, clothes, homes, etc., R’ Pliskin, in his sefer, “Growth Through Torah” (page 256) provides advice for an individual to whom Hashem has sent an affliction — physical or otherwise:

Find a spiritual guide who will be able to point out areas in which… [one] can improve…, ask him for advice on what to pray for and ask him to pray for you. Those who follow this procedure will gain much from their suffering.

Undoubtedly, this formula works for the Kol Klal Yisrael, as well as for the indivdual.

May we, the B’nei 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 and that the expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of three and a half years ago. 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 prevent Chas V’Challila 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 Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — 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.