Tag Archives: Metzora

Commentary for Tazria-Metzora

3 May

In both parts of this week’s double parshah we learn about the skin disease Tzara’at. Tzara’at is seen in Rabbinic literature as being a spiritual punishment more so than a naturally occurring disease. The sin with which Tzara’at is almost always identified is Lashon Hara (literally translated as the “evil tongue” but often taken to mean gossip and/or slander) due to the events of Numbers 12, where Miriam contracts the disease after engaging in Lashon Hara regarding Moses. Reish Lakish makes a further connection, noting that the term for someone who has contracted Tzara’at, a “metzora,” can be seen as an abbreviation for “motzi shem ra” (“one who brings a bad name [to someone/something]) (Arachin 15b).

 

The process by which one is declared cured of Tzara’at is rather complicated, involving temporary exile from the camp, the shaving of body hair, the washing or burning of affected objects, and finally, once a priest has declared the physical symptoms gone, a strange ceremony. In this ceremony, the priest gets a mixture of cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson dye. The priest then takes two healthy kosher birds and sacrifices one of them. Then the priest mixes the blood of the sacrificed bird together with the crimson dye, the hyssop, and the cedar, and dips the second bird in the mixture. The priest then sprinkles the mixture over the head of the metzora and then sets the second bird, covered in the mixture, free. Then the metzora must again shave off all of his or her hair, both head and body, wash his or her clothes, bathe, and then he or she is considered to be cured.

 

The reason for the shaving was a practical one: it was required before ritual bathing so that one could reenter God’s service. The rest of the ceremony, though, seems to be rather random. What do birds have to do with anything, and what is the purpose of the dipping, or setting one of the birds free?

 

The Gemara in Arachin 15b tells us of a saying: “gossip kills three people: the one who says it, the one who receives it, and the one about whom it is said.” Once something has been said, it can never be unsaid. There is no way to know who has heard it and who has repeated it. It spreads, insidious and untraceable, throughout the world, and just like the bird that has been set free cannot be caught again, there is no way to undo the harm that the gossip has caused. The words we speak have an almost unlimited amount of power, and it is our responsibility to use God’s gift of language responsibly.

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Commentary for Metzora

15 Apr

This week’s parshah deals with the affliction of tzara’at. Tzara’at is not a normal disease, but rather one that contains both physical and spiritual components. One is only officially declared to have Tzara’at when the physical component has been confirmed by an expert and then a declaration of ritual impurity is made by an investigating priest. Similarly, one of is only considered to be cured of the affliction once all physical symptoms have disappeared and has brought the required materials to a priest to perform the ritual for spiritual reparation and repurification. Treatment for tzara’at involved being exiled from the community until a check by a priest confirmed that the physical symptoms were no longer present, at which point the reparation ceremony would be performed to purify the afflicted person.

Tzara’at is also abnormal in that in can infect not just people but also houses, with physical symptoms appearing on the house just like they would on a person. In extreme cases, this can lead to some of the stones of the house needing to be replaced. If the diseases breaks out even after this happens, the entire house needs to be destroyed and rebuilt.

Strangely, God tells Moses that outbreaks of tzara’at on houses will only start after the Israelites have entered the Promised Land (Lev. 14:34). Rashi cites a midrash saying that this would ultimately lead to good news for those whose houses were afflicted to the point that they had to be destroyed and rebuilt because the Amorites would hide gold in the walls of their houses so that anyone who might take their houses would not be able to benefit from their treasures as well. If an Israelite lived in a house that used to belong to an Amorite and the house was struck with such severe tzara’at that it had to be torn down, the Israelite would discover the gold (which would help cover the costs of rebuilding the house).

Rashi’s comments seems quite startling as the fact that tzara’at has a spiritual component to it has always caused commentators to assume its presence must be connected to a sin of some kind, often considered to be an excess of pride. It was generally assumed that the affliction would disappear once, having been punished by removal from the community to create an environment that would force him or her to contemplate his or her actions, the sinner had identified his or her wrongdoing and was ready to repent, the lesson learned being symbolized by the combination of ezov (a very small plant) with cedar wood in the mixture for the reparation and purification ceremony, showing that one who had thought himself or herself so high has recognized how low he or she has really been. Thus, Rashi’s assertion that one being punished for a most severe form of this sin and having ignored the various spiritual warnings in the form of already having had to replace some stones in his or her house would, in the end, be monetarily rewarded for these misdeeds.

Chabad tradition holds that the mixture of ezov and cedar is not for the afflicted to focus on the idea that “I thought I was so high but now I realize I am so low,” but rather to teach that true humility is the ability to “be humble even as one stands straight and tall.” Exiling a person with tzara’at from the community is meant to cause an introspective investigation during which the person will discover what he or she has been doing wrong, but on the course of that journey, this will also cause the person to determine what he or she has been doing right. To discover the gold hidden in the afflicted house, as it were. Thus the person will not come out of the tzara’at experience feeling depressed and worthless, but will reenter the community equipped with the means to help rebuild him or herself.

Commentary for Tazria-Metzora

24 Apr

In both parts of this week’s double parshah we learn about the skin disease Tzara’at. Tzara’at is seen in Rabbinic literature as being a spiritual punishment more so than a naturally occurring disease. The sin which Tzara’at is almost always identified with is Lashon Hara (literally translated as the “evil tongue” but often taken to mean gossip and/or slander) due to the events of Numbers 12, where Miriam contracts the disease after engaging in Lashon Hara regarding Moses. Reish Lakish makes a further connection, noting that the term for someone who has contracted Tzara’at, a “metzora,” can be seen as an abbreviation for “motzi shem ra” (“one who brings a bad name [to someone/something]) (Arachin 15b).

 

The process by which one is declared cured of Tzara’at is rather complicated, involving temporary exile from the camp, the shaving of body hair, the washing or burning of affected objects, and finally, once a priest has declared the physical symptoms gone, a strange ceremony. In this ceremony, the priest gets a mixture of cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson dye. The priest then takes two healthy kosher birds and sacrifices one of them. Then the priest mixes the blood of the sacrificed bird together with the crimson dye, the hyssop, and the cedar, and dips the second bird in the mixture. The priest then sprinkles the mixture over the head of the metzora and then sets the second bird, covered in the mixture, free. Then the metzora must again shave off all of his/her hair, both head and body, wash his/her clothes, bathe, and then he/she is considered to be cured.

 

The reason for the shaving was a practical one: it was required before ritual bathing so that one could reenter God’s service. The rest of the ceremony, though, seems to be rather random. What do birds have to do with anything, and what is the purpose of the dipping, or setting one of the birds free?

 

The Gemara in Arachin 15b tells us of a saying: “gossip kills three people: the one who says it, the one who receives it, and the one about whom it is said.” Once something has been said, it can never be unsaid. There is no way to know who has heard it and who has repeated it. It spreads, insidious an untraceable, throughout the world, and just like the bird that has been set free cannot be caught again, there is no way to undo the harm that the gossip has caused. The words we speak have an almost unlimited amount of power, and it is our responsibility to use God’s gift of language responsibly.

Commentary for Metzora

4 Apr

Like last week’s parshah, this week’s parshah also mostly deals with the disease Tzara’at. While this week’s parshah deals more with curing the disease (and its resulting ritual impurity) than diagnosing it, it does add a third form of the disease to the pre-existing two: Tzara’at that infects a house.

There are several differences between Tzara’at of a house and the other two forms (Tzara’at that infects clothing and Tzara’at that infects a person). One of the most interesting is in the way the subject is brought up in the Torah. For the first two types of Tzara’at, the section starts with phrases like “When a person has (Lev. 13:2)” or “when a garment has (Lev. 13:47),” making Tzara’at seem like any other infection that someone might contract, except that Tzara’at happens to cause ritual impurity. With Tzara’at of a house, on the other hand, God is very clear about why a house becomes infected: “and I put a plague of Tzara’at on a house (Lev. 14:34).”  The Gemara teaches that plagues come about because of various sinful behaviors (Arakhin 16a), and many stories in the Bible back this idea up, whether with a literal plague of sickness or a metaphorical plague of famine or foreign oppression, as often happens in the Prophets, (usually after warning to “cease sinning or else” were ignored).

Tzara’at is this same type of plague brought on by moral corruption, but on an individual level. First, the Tzara’at would only manifest itself in small are of the house. In preparation for the official diagnosis by the kohen (priest), everything was emptied out of the house. Then, for seven days, the house would be left empty and uninhabited. After that seven days was up, the kohen would return and see if the Tzara’at was still spreading. If it was, the kohen would proscribe that the infected areas be torn out and replaced and that entire inner surface of the house be scraped off and replaced, with the infected, impure materials dumped outside the city. If the plague did not return, then all was good, but if he plague broke out a second time, the entire house needed to be torn down and rebuilt with new materials.

Just like the prophet telling the people to repent, the first appearance of Tzara’at is a warning. If the person understands the warning and ceases his or her wrongdoing, then he or she only needs to suffer the loss of part of the house. If the warning is not heeded, though, the person will lose the entire house. And if her or she still refuses, the next house as well, and the even the next until the immoral action is ceased.

In our modern world, the idea of God speaking to us on an individual level like the stories in the Bible is often seen as somewhat silly. Most people assume that God has more important things to worry about than micromanaging every little decision they make. The truth, though, is that God does care about everyone, and sometimes God might send us a message in some form or another to help us make decisions. Our job is to make sure we can see it if it comes.

 

 

 

In memory of Mickee Lublang (Manya bat Yakov Leib haLevi v’Ester Feiga) z”l- a true eshet chayil, who set an amazing example of Yiddishkeit for  over 90 years.   Mickee’s passion and commitment to her family, her friends, and her synagogue were an inspiration to all who knew her and a standard that all should aspire to.  May her memory be a blessing.