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Parshas Tazria/ Healing Ourselves
“If [one’s] flesh has an inflammation on its skin, and it heals…. Or if [one’s] flesh has a fire burn on its skin….” (Vayikra 13:18, 24).
Inflammation and burns are two manifestations of tzara’as, the skin disease that dominates this week’s parshah and is caused by sinful speech. One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Rashi (ibid. 13:24) comments that the burns and inflammations of tzara’as look the same, yet the Torah differentiates them to teach us that they don’t combine with each other to constitute a critical mass of tzara’as. That is, if the inflammation and the burn each produce a lesion half the size required to declare the “patient” impure, we don’t pool those two half lesions; as a result, the person remains pure.
The halachic distinction between inflammation and burns extends to their causes as well. Inflammation is a deep affliction and therefore signifies profound moral corruption. A burn isn’t so deep, yet it consumes without mercy, suggesting that it’s rooted in anger. The two afflictions don’t merge, because each character flaw requires its own treatment. We must attack each trait with the appropriate tactics. Only then can we purify ourselves physically and spiritually.(Ta’am VeDa’as, Tazria, p. 71)
Climbing the Ladder
One role model in the painstaking work of self-improvement was the great Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. Just as he was never satisfied with his achievements in Torah, Reb Moshe never ceased to work on his middos, though they seemed angelic to others even in his youth. In both Torah study and righteousness, the climb up the ladder is endless. The righteous live with the ever-present thought that their piety is lacking. This too was undoubtedly a prime source of Reb Moshe’s humility.
Reb Moshe was extremely mild-mannered; even in the most tense and provocative situations, he showed nary a trace of anger. He once remarked, “Do you think I was always like this? By nature I have a fierce temper, but I have worked to overcome it.”
Part of that work involved learning from other’s successful struggles. One erev Yom Kippur, Reb Moshe was seen studying HaMeoros HaGedolim, a collection of anecdotes about the great figures of the Musar movement. In preparation for the Day of Atonement, he sought to better himself by learning from these righteous people. (adapted from Reb Moshe, pp. 435–6)
Tzara’as may no longer be with us today, but anger, arrogance, and countless other undesirable traits remain a challenge. May the ideal of purity in this week’s parshah, and Reb Moshe’s humble example, inspire us to rededicate ourselves to the lifelong task of refining our character. May we zero in our our various shortcomings, giving each the attention it needs.
Question for Discussion:
What trait have you or someone you know worked on improving? How have you gone about this process?
Parshas Metzora/ Staying Safe
“[Regarding] the person with tzara’as, in whom there is the lesion, his garments shall be torn, his head shall be unshorn, [and] he shall cover himself down to his mustache and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” (Vayikra 13:45).
Parshas Metzora continues the discussion begun in last week’s parshah regarding tzara’as, a disease that generates ritual impurity and necessitates quarantine.
Rashi clarifies the announcement prescribed in our pasuk: The metzora – the person afflicted with tzara’as – must publicize his impurity, so everyone pure will avoid him.
Danger: Metzora Ahead!
“He shall dwell in isolation,” stipulates the following verse. People mustn’t get within four amos of a metzora, explains the Tzeror HaMor (Vayikra 4), even if they themselves are impure; it’s as if he’s been excommunicated. Indeed, “his dwelling shall be outside the camp,” meaning outside all three of the concentric camps in which B’nei Yisrael traversed the desert: the Camp of the Shechinah (the innermost area, including the Mishkan and the courtyard); the Levite Camp (surrounding the Mishkan); and the Israelite Camp. For if a metzora enters a house, it and its contents immediately become impure.
Yet the metzora must be brought to a Kohen for diagnosis. How can the Kohen risk contact with such a contagious disease? The Meshech Chochmah (Vayikra 13:2) answers that the holy Kohanim enjoy special protection. Hashem watches over every one, miraculously “immunizing” him as needed. That’s why the Torah directs the metzora to a Kohen rather than a doctor.
Despite this special hashgachah, we must do our part to help Kohanim remain pure. Chazal tell us that every year on 15 Adar we must re-mark all graves (since last year’s markings have been washed away by the winter rains), so Kohanim will know where not to go (Yerushalmi, Shekalim 1:1, and Korban HaEidah there). The source of this practice is our pasuk: From the words “he shall call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” we learn that “the impurity itself should call out to you and say, ‘Separate yourself!’”
Though Chazal here seem to be employing a figure of speech, the Alei Tamar takes it literally, based on two Midrashim: “In the future, if one picks figs on Shabbos, they’ll cry out, ‘It’s Shabbos!’” (Yalkut
Yirmeyahu 315). And “If one attempts to fulfill the mitzvah of the four species with a stolen lulav, this palm branch cries out to Hashem, ‘I’ve been stolen!’” (Vayikra Rabbah 30).
Rambam too extends the scope of our pasuk: “Not just those afflicted with tzara’as but all those capable of defiling a person must announce their impurity, so others will separate from them. As it is written, he shall call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” (Hilchos Tumas Tzara’as 10).
Unfortunately, in the absence of the Beis HaMikdash, ritual impurity is largely irrelevant to us. Yet we still strive for purity in serving Hashem. In the spirit of “not placing a stumbling block before the blind” (Vayikra 19:14), may we all provide each other with whatever information we need to remain pure and holy.
Question for Discussion:
Nowadays we’re used to warning labels on products, “Danger” signs, etc. What do you think is harmful to people and should be labeled as such?