Someone who is tamei and has been kicked out of the machaneh feels like he doesn’t have a place anymore; he feels burdened by aveiros and distant from G-d. We all sometimes feel that way. Therefore, explains the Sefas Emes, the Torah stresses that it speaks to us not only when we feel connected, but there is a “toras hametzorah” as well -- even periods of seeming disconnectedness also fall within the framework of Torah. You never fall outside the borders; there never is true disconnectedness from G-d. There is a torah of “Mah lecha l’sapeir chuki” when instead of learning a person needs to work on himself and his tikun hanefesh until he is re-energized.
As we mentioned last week, tzara’as is a punishment for lashon ha’ra. There is a view in Chazal (Archin 15) that the sin of lashon ha’ra is so severe that a ba’al lashon ha’ra cannot even mend his mistakes through teshuvah. If so, asks the Shem m’Shmuel, what is our parsha all about? How can we speak of the metzorah getting a kapparah and being healed if he cannot fix the mistake of lashon ha’ra?
The Midrash tells the story of a peddler who came to town hawking an elixir for life, a sam hachaim. Rav Yanai followed him around to see what he was selling. Finally, the peddler revealed his “wares” – he quoted the pasuk, “Mi ha’ish he’chofetz chaim… netzor leshoncha mei’ra u’sefasecha midabeir mirma sur mei’ra v’asei tov…” Rav Yanai exclaimed that he had never understood the pasuk until he heard it from that peddler. Surely Rav Yanai knew this pasuk beforehand. What new insight did he gain from this episode?
The key word in the story, explains the Shem m’Shmuel, is “sam.” Avoiding lashon ha’ra is like a vitamin. Combined with doing other right things, “… sur mei’ra v’aseh tov,” it can give a person a long and healthy life. But a person cannot walk in front of a bullet or a speeding train and then take a “sam,” a vitamin or some other medicine, and get better! It’s a “sam hachaim” – but it’s not life itself. That was the chiddush Rav Yanai learned. “Metzora chashuv k’meis,” a metzorah is like a dead person, Chazal tell us. A ba’al lashon ha’ra is not in intensive care – he’s c”v in the morgue already. What he needs is new chiyus, not just a bandaid or an antibiotic.
Two people bring their smashed up cars into the dealer and leave with cars that have no dents. In one case, the repairmen banged out the dents, did the repairs, and fixed the car so it drives again. That’s teshuvah – it’s a tikun for the dents in the neshoma. However, sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes the car is so broken that repair is impossible. The damage from lashon ha’ra can be so great that teshuvah alone can’t fix it. But that’s not the end of the story. When you can’t fix the car, you don’t stop driving – you get a new car. Our parsha teaches that even when teshuvah won’t work, you can still recover and find new chiyus, you can become a new person. It’s not a cure for the past – it’s a new beginning with no record of the past. Obviously, this type of renewal is a difficult avodah, but the important point is that it is possible.
Where does this new chiyus come from? I think the answer goes back to the first chapter of the Torah. You open the Chumash and the first things you learn about G-d are 1) He speaks; 2) His words create things. “Vayomer….” followed by “Vayehi…” I take the pasuk of “Vayipach b’apav nishmas chaim,” which the targum translates as a “ruch m’malela,” a soul that can speak, in that context. Man being created in G-d’s image means that man is endowed with that same capacity to create and to destroy through words (see Nefesh haChaim in the first few chapters who discusses the idea of “tzelem Elokim” as being the capacity to create worlds). Yosef tells his brothers that their redeemer from Egypt will use the words “pakod pakadti.” Why wasn’t Yosef afraid that any charlatan would use that formula and pass himself off as a false messiah? R’ Tzadok explains that it’s not saying the words alone that counted – the words were the vehicle which created the geulah. Words, when used properly, create new worlds. (Galus hadibur probably has something to do with that capacity being lost, but that’s another story.) The metzorah is somewho who has used words to destroy, who by doing so has severed his connection to that “nishmas chaim” within, and therefore is left for dead. Rediscovering how to use words properly means regaining that nishmas chaim, that capacity to be like G-d, that cpacity to build and create with one's words, starting, of course, with rebuilding and recreating oneself.