Thursday, April 14, 2016

tiferes shlomo on parshas metzorah

It’s very hard to devote the needed time and energy to learn Parshas Metzora when Pesach is rapidly approaching and you are either busy cleaning your house or packing your bags to go to some resort.

The Radomsker in Tiferes Shlomo sees the kohen who is charged with being metaheir the metzorah as an archetype representing the tzadik, the talmid chacham, the rebbe, who can bring redemption and healing to the individual who is outside the camp, afflicted, conflicted, lost.

Our parsha opens with a seeming contradiction: on the one hand, “v’huva el ha’kohen,” (14:2) the metzorah has to be brought to the kohen, yet on the other hand, “v’yatzah ha’kohen el m’chutz lamachaneh,” (14:3) the kohen has to go out to the metzorah. Which is it? See Netziv for a pshat approach, but in line with the Tif Shlomo perhaps the Torah is alluding to the idea that rehabilitating those outside our camp involves meeting them halfway.  The metzorah has to do his/her part to rejoin the community, but the community needs to go out and encourage and welcome the metzorah’s return as well.

Tif Shlomo reads “v’shav ha’kohen…” (14:39) as meaning more than just a return checkup by the kohen.  He reads it as an allusion to teshuvah. This shifts responsibility from the metzorah to the kohen.  Rather than the burden of repentance resting exclusively on the sinner, it also rests on the one who wants to bring the metzorah back.  Whether by means of serving as an example or by generating energy in higher olamos that affect this world, the kohen’s own return is what precipitates the metzorah’s teshuvah. 

The Tiferes Shlomo goes one step further.  “V’yatzah ha’kohen… v’hinei nirpah negah tzara’as min ha’tzaru’ah” (14:3): 1) Why add the words, “min hatzaru’ah” -- obviously it is the person who had tzara’as who has been healed?  (Again, see Netziv) 2) Why “nirpah,” in the passive voice, as if the healing just happened on its own? The Rishonim explain that the suffering of the metzorah is a punishment for sin; therefore, shouldn’t the healing be a function of his teshuvah, not something that just happens? 

Tif Shlomo inverts means and end. Instead of seeing the metzorah's suffering as a means to elicit his teshuvah and the kohen's visit as a spot-check, the Tif Shlomo sees the suffering of the metzorah as a means to bring the kohen out, to draw the kohen to him.  "V'yatzah ha'kohen" is the goal.  M'meila, "nirpah nega tzara'as" once the kohen's mercy and rehabilitative power is elicited.  "Min hatza'ruah," from this tragic situation of tzara'as comes an opportunity for goodness and growth.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

no pain, no gain

The Midrash (15:4) opens the parsha of tzara’as with a mashal. A visitor to the king's palace notices that the king has a dungeon filled with all kinds of torture equipment.  The visitor is terrified, but the king reassures his friend that the dungeon is not meant for him – it’s meant for the disobedient slaves. What’s in store for him is eating and drinking and rejoicing. The nimshal: when Klal Yisrael heard the parsha of nega’im, they were terrified. Hashem reassures us that the punishment is meant for the umos ha’olam, but for us, there is only enjoyment and happiness.

What is the Midrash taking about? The halacha is that the dinim of tzara’as only apply to a yisrael, not to a nochri -- exactly the reverse of the mashal!

A Sefas Emes from a 2014 post may help us. The kohein is the paradigm of the ish chessed, so we understand why it is the kohein who goes out to the metzorah after his nega heals and declares him rehabilitated. But the kohein also the one who declares the metzora tamei to begin with. How is that in line with his role of chessed?

Sefas Emes answers that not only is becoming healed a chessed of Hashem, but being afflicted is a chessed as well. Imagine a person who doesn’t feel well and goes to visit the doctor. The doctor runs some tests and tells the person that X or Y is wrong, but it can be treated and cured. That person may think not feeling well and having to go to the doctor is terrible, but imagine if the same person never knew he was sick and never went to the doctor -- an infection or some other problem could just fester inside until it did far more damage and caused far bigger problems than could otherwise be taken care of. The wakeup call that something is wrong may be painful, may be inconvenient, may cause stress, but chasdei Hashem, without a wakeup call to correct problems, we would be far worse off.

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. “V’haya b’or besaro nega tzara’as…” Chazal (Meg 5) tell us that “haya” usually connotes simcha. Even though we are talking about a person who comes down with a terrible affliction of tzara’as, the Torah looks at it through the lens of simcha since this is the path to improvement.

Coming back to the mashal in the Midrash, when the person sees the painful instruments the king has at his disposal and shirks in fear, the king’s reassurance that for him there is only simcha doesn’t mean those instruments will never be used on him. What it means is that when the king has to use those instruments, they will be used only for the sake of rehabilitating the person, stopping him from self-destructive behavior, preventing him from suffering worse in the long run. They will never be used, as the king must sometimes use them against others, simply for punishment or vengeance.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

the chassidah that does not know how to do chessed

One of the non-kosher birds mentioned in the parsha is the “chassidah.” (11:19)  Rashi explains that it is called chassidah because it does chessed with its friends and brings them food.  Why should such a nice bird be not-kosher?  The Chiddushei haRI”M famously explains that it does chessed only with its friends, but not those who are not friends.  Others explain that it gets the food it distributes by taking from other birds.  It’s great to do chessed by giving your own things away, but not so great when you seize others' property to give away (I will refrain from making a political comment here).  Daughter #3, who asked me to mention that she is only 14 and has red hair [I am not sure what the latter detail has to do with anything], thought of her own answer that I said I would quote in her name.  Chessed is wonderful, but a person also needs to care of him/herself.  The flaw of the chassidah is that it gives away all its food away to friends at the expense of its own nest.  That is not a proper exercise of charity. 

(This week I did a few shorter posts instead of lumping them together.  Not sure which way works better.)

standing lifnei Hashem

There are what looks like three sections to the opening of Shemini:

A) Moshe’s instructions to Aharon and Bnei Yisrael as to what korbanos they need (9:1-5).

B) Moshe’s declaration, “Zeh ha’davar asher tzivah Hashem ta’asu v’yeirah Aleichem kvod Hashem.” (9:6)

C) A new round of instructions, “Vayomer Moshe el Aharon…” as to how to bring the korbanos. (9:7-on)

The meforshim struggle with step B. What is the “zeh ha’davar” that Moshe is referring to? Is it getting the korbanos? That’s step A. Is it offering the korbanos? That’s step C. What does this pasuk add? Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Netziv all offer answers, but it’s the Ohr haChaim’s fantastic diyuk that I want to focus on. O.C. explains that the “zeh ha’davar” that Moshe is referring to connected to the phrase that ends the previous pasuk: “va’ya’amdu lifnei Hashem” -- not “lifnei Ohel Mo’ed” but “lifnei Hashem.” That’s what Moshe complimented the people on as being exactly what Hashem commanded.

Here’s what I think that means: sometimes you come into shul to daven and it’s very hard to orient yourself. Sometimes there are a lot of children running around and it seems that you are in a playground. Sometimes it may seem like you are in a social hall, a baseball game, a bazaar. Sometimes the shat”z may even make you feel like you are in an auction house. For one reason or another, it sometimes can be very hard to feel that the place you are gathering to worship in is actually a place where you are standing “lifnei Hashem.

When the Mishkan was opened for business, “va’yikrivi kol ha’eidah va’ya’amdu lifnei Hashem.” The people got it -– it was not a playground, a bazaar, the trading floor of a bank or a newsroom. It was a place where they came to stand together “lifnei Hashem.” It’s such an obvious thing, yet it seems so hard to actually accomplish. 

why Aharon needed kapparah for the cheit ha'eigel

The eigel brought by Aharon on opening day of the Mishkan was a kaparah for cheit ha’eigel.  The gemara (Sanhedrin 7) writes that Chur tried to dissuade people from making the eigel and they killed   him.  Aharon figured that if he also gives tochacha, they will do the same to him.  We have a mesorah that if a kohen and navi are killed   together, then it’s all over for us.  Aharon feared that “lo havya le’hu takantah l’olam.”  Therefore, under the circumstances he figured it would be better to go along with the eigel.  Sounds like an excellent justification -- so why did he need a kaparah? 

R’ Shaul Yisraeli answers that it was not making the eigel that Aharon needed the kapparah for.  What he needed kaparah for was entertaining the thought of “lo havya le’hu takanah l’olam.”  No Jewish  leader should ever think that the people can reach rock bottom and strike out; no leader should ever think that Klal Yisrael’s situation can ever reach the point of hopelessness. 

getting the sevara right

או ירצה וישמע משה פירוש התורה מעידה שחילוק זה שמעו משה מפי הקב''ה, וייטב בעיניו הדבר אשר עשה אהרן.
ואם תאמר אם שמע כן מפי הקב''ה מה מקום להקפדתו? אולי לצד שלא אמרו עדיין לאהרן, חש שדן בו טעם אחר שאינו צודק ושרפו
The Ohr haChaim here has an amazing chiddush.  He writes that Moshe knew there was a chiluk between kodshei sha’ah and kodshei doros and that’s why one of the three korbanos was burnt and the others eaten (parenthetically, the Targum Yonasan writes that all three were burnt!)  Moshe had heard this chiluk directly from Hashem.  So why was Moshe upset at what Aharon had done?  O.C. answers that Moshe had yet to tell Aharon this chiddush din, and therefore, he had no idea why Aharon had distinguished between the korbanos.  Was it because Aharon had intuited the chiluk Moshe had learned, or was it because of some other sevara?
The sefer Nesivei Chaim points out that it seems from here that just fulfilling the mitzvah correctly was not sufficient -– Aharon had to get the “why,” the sevara, right as well.  
(It could be, as he suggests, that this was only true because Aharon had not been given these dinim as a mitzvah yet.  Once something is given as a mitzvah, just doing the correct actions even without the correct sevara is enough.)
2) The simple pshat in “vayitav b’einav” is that Moshe was satisfied with Aharon’s response and glad that no wrong had been committed, i.e. he breathed a sigh of relief.  The Seforno, however, says it means much more than that.  He explains that Moshe was happy to hear such great lomdus from his family; “vayitav b’einav” that his brother and nephews were such talmidei chachamim.  Divrei Torah are always m’samchei lev, but it’s especially m’samchei lev if it’s your brother, nephew, or especially son or daughter who is the one saying over that Torah.