Friday, March 28, 2014

the "bracha" of the punishment of tzara'as

The kohein is the paradigm of the ish chessed, so we understand why it is the kohein goes out to the metzorah after his nega heals and declare him rehabilitated.  But it is also the kohein who examines the nega to begin with and if need be declares it tamei.  Why does this job fall to the kohein to perform?

Sefas Emes answers that not only is becoming healed a chessed of Hashem, but being afflicted is chasdei Hashem as well.  There is so much cooking inside a person that he/she sometimes doesn’t even realize all the negativity boiling inside.  The idea behind tzara’as is that what’s inside becomes apparent on the outside so that it can no longer be ignored – it’s a wakeup call to do teshuvah.  Imagine G-d forbid if a person had some sickness that he/she was unaware of.  If untreated, it could prove fatal, but with the proper care it could be cured. That individual would undoubtedly thank the doctor who discovered the problem and put them on the path to recovery!  Getting an opportunity to mend one’s ways and have a kapparah, even if it takes some work and is painful for a period of time, is something to be thankful for. 

The gemara (Brachos 5) writes that sometimes nega’im are yisurim shel ahavah, sometimes not, depending on whether you live in Eretz Yisrael or Bavel.  The Netziv learns (not like Rashi) that it is in Eretz Yisrael where the metzora is subjected to the greater yisurim of being kicked out of his home in a walled city that the punishment is one of ahavah, because it is by going through that bit of suffering that one can achieve kapparah.

The punishment of tzara’as is caused by the sin of lashon ha’ra.  Rashi comments on the pasuk of “Zachor es asher asah Hashem Elokecha l’Miriam b’derech b’tzeischem m’Mitzrayim that we are supposed to remember that Miriam was punished for this sin of speaking lashon ha’ra and learn from this episode to avoid evil gossip.  Why did the Torah not simply tell us directly “Don’t speak lashon ha’ra?”  And why does the Torah include not only what happened, but also when it happened, “b’derech b’tzeischem m’Mitzrayim,” right after we left Egypt?

What we are supposed to be remembering when we think about that episde with Miriam, explains the Sefas Emes, is not the issur of lashon ha’ra or the threat of punishment, but rather the “bracha” of tzara’as.  Even in our national infancy, right after we left Egypt, the Jewish people were blessed with an intolerance for sin.  It’s like we break out and have an allergic reaction to lashon ha’ra.  You can be the biggest tzadik like Miriam, but you can’t cover it up – to the contrary, the stronger your reaction will be.  A non-Jew will not get tzara’as because they lack that same level of holiness that we have and therefore don't have that adverse reation to sin.  The Torah is not reminding us that G-d gives us patches; the Torah is reminding us of how special we are.
V’hizartem es Bnei Yisrael m’tumasam” – the Sefas Emes writes that this word of “v’hizartem” may not only mean warn, but may come from the same root as “nezer,” a crown.  The fact that we can suffer tumah is a crown on our heads, a badge of honor. 

This week we will aso be reading parshas hachodesh.  Rashi writes in that parsha (12:6) that when it came time for the geulah, Hashem saw that Bnei Yisrael lacked the zechus of any mitzvos and so he gave them the mitzvos of milah and korban Pesach.  The Shem m’Shmuel asks: but the Navi Yirmiyahu praises Bnei Yisrael for the love of Hashem they exhibited at the time of yetzi’as Mitzrayim – “Lechteich acharay bamidbar b’eretz lo zeru’ah…”  How do we reconcile the picture of Bnei Yisrael as lacking any zechuyos with the picture of a people so filled with ahavhas Hashem and emunah that they walked into the desert with nothing? 

Midrashim offer two mashalim for this mitzvah of parshas hachodesh.  One Midrash compares G-d’s giving us control over the calendar to a king who waited for his son to mature and then bestowed his treasure on him.  Another Midrash compares the gift to a husband who gave an engagement gift to his bride.  What we have now is but a taste of the gifts we will receive in the days of Moshiach, when the marriage of Klal Yisrael to Hashem is completed.  What’s the difference between these two parables?  A son does not need to earn the right to that name – it is his by birth.  The person we choose as our spouse, on the other hand has earned their place at our side by virtue of shared interests, companionship, and love.  Klal Yisrael’s relationship with G-d operates on two levels.  On the one hand, “B’ni bechori Yisrael,” no matter what we do.  On the other hand, we are expected to earn that closeness to G-d through Torah and mitzvos.  (See this shiur by R' Yehoshua Shapira for a more complete analysis.) 

Lechteich acharai bamidbar…” The love of G-d was already present within the hearts of Bnei Yisrael.  The love of a parent for a child is always there, no matter how distant the relationship.  However, like the love of a husband and wife that grows and develops as they invest in their relationship, the zechus of mitzvos was necessary for us to allow that love to flourish and express itself.

At the beginning of Sefer Shmos, when Moshe heard that word was being spread that he killed a Mitzri guard, he said to himself (Rashi Shmos 2:14) that he now knows why the Jewish people were suffering in exile.  The sin of speaking lashon ha’ra, thought Moshe, is part of the Jewish character; therefore, they deserve galus. 
Moshe got it backwards.  The Jewish character is innately holy and pure.  We are "B'ni bechori."  It’s only because we are stuck in galus, because our true character cannot express itself, that we sink to sinning.  Lashon ha'ra is not the cause of our galus; galus is the cause of our lashon ha'ra.  “Zachor es asher asah Hashem… l’Miriam b’derech b’tzeischem m’Mitzrayim.” Once Mitzrayim is left behind, once we use the tools of Torah and mitzvos to bring out who we truly are, then the Jewish character shines and our souls no longer tolerare those sins. 

(Side note: R' Micha Berger commented to a post earlier in the week that it would be a nice idea to compile links to the websites that have torah from the chardal/dati-leumi world.  I've started putting together a list in the side bar.  Suggestions for sites to list are welcome.  I don't think I need to cover the ones everyone knows about, e.g. the Gush VBM.  Some of the sites I listed (e.g. Yeshivat Birkat Moshe) have vast libraries of shiurim, others (e.g. Har HaMor) don't have a lot and are updated very infrequently, but I included them anyway.  Consider this a work in progress.)


  1. Yes you do. I never heard about the Gush VBM.

  2. I think that both VBM and YUTorah should get a listing each. Not only doesn't every MO Jew live on the net enough to know the more famous sites (like Great Unknown), but there are also fence straddlers living in yeshivish communities who have been seeking other opinions than the ever more strident declarations the media carry from the Israeli chareidi gedolim. In my hometown of Passaic, I was approached by several such people. I showed one of them Torah Musings' take on the Rav's thought on "all can return but Acheir" (I had it in hand when he asked) and he presented it -- with citation -- at a Partners in Torah breakfast, and is now making his way through the Rav's oeuvre.

  3. I deny the implied classification of myself as an MO. I like to think I am an OFTY [old-fashioned Torah Yid] who antedates the political schisms that corrupt today's Torah world.

    When I was teaching at Aish and Ohr Somayach in Yerushalaim, one of my classes included my switching from black to knitted to black velvet to Bucharian kippot, and discussing how the ba'al tshuva talmidim reacted. Some of the most honest, dedicated, hard-working bnei Torah I ever met were Merkaz-niks, while, sadly, some of the most corrupt human beings I ever knew with were significant figures in the "chareidi" olam.

    About the only schism I ever recognized was the Misnaged-Chassid one - and if you think about it, that was just as vicious and polarizing as what is going on today, if not more so. Eventually I started learning Chassidishe torah, just so that at least somebody would understand it. Once I did, the "schism" disappeared into the fog of eliu v'eilu.

    And that, I think, is the ultimate solution. Rav Wolbe, zt"l, writes that in any dispute, the one who is most probably correct is the one who considers the other side's opinion as well as his own [e.g., Bais Hillel]. Demonizing the other is a classic tactic of Stalinists, Nazis, and Alinsky Democrats. To the extent that we do that to our own, I fear the midah k'neged...

    Ultimately, I think Reb Micha's point is correct. What is needed is kiruv among those who are intellectually honest enough to think for themselves and seek their truth. Kiruv k'rovim, if you would. I am afraid, however, that there are large segments where it would be kiruv r'chokim, and for that, I see no solution.

    And with that, I conclude my data dump for today.