Parshas Tazria/Metzora

Parshas Tazria

The Emperor's New Clothes

"The Cohen shall examine the lesion on the person's skin, and if the hair on it has turned white, and the lesion has penetrated the skin, then it is the plague of leprosy. As soon as the Cohen sees it, he shall declare it unclean.". (Lev. 13:3)

Parsha deals with matter of Tzaras, commonly but mistakenly identified as leprosy. It was in fact a plague that occurred as a result of foul language or gossip. It served as an immediate message to enable a person to change his ways on the spot. The rigorous process of purification insured that he would be as careful in the future about what came out of his mouth. The verse (Lev. 13:3) tells us that when a person would experience a "Tzaras", a lesion on his skin, he would show it to the Cohen Priest on duty in the Holy Temple who would decide if it was indeed Tzaras.

R' Asher of Karlin derived an important lesson from this. He once explained, "The Chassidim of this generation are made of straw (weakhearted), without real content! When they go to visit the Rebbe, they endeavor to show the Rebbe all the good they have within them, but they hide their faults. And still the Rebbe knows."

"When I used to go to my Rebbe, R' Shlomo Karliner, I would lay out all my faults in front of him and hide any good that I might have found in myself. I would beg him to show me a path of healing for my soul that I might better myself." "This I learned from the verse, ". . .and the Cohen would see the lesion. . .". (Vayikra 13:3) The Jew must show his true colors and reveal even his faults in order receive his path of healing."

Parshas Metzora

Eating Humble Pie

"Then the Cohen shall command to take two clean living birds and cedar wood, scarlet wool and hyssop, for the purification of the leper." (Lev. 14:4)

The plague, or leprosy came as a punishment for arrogance. What is the remedy? Let him relinquish his arrogance and consider himself as lowly as a worm (which was used to dye the scarlet wool) and the hyssop (a low scruffy shrub). (Rashi)

If the purpose of the Avodah of purification is to have the leper abandon his arrogance, then what is the purpose of cedar which is tall and stately and symbolizes pride?

Once the Ba'al Shem Tov went to spend Shabbos in Polnoye, the hometown of his student, the Toldos, R' Yaacov Yosef of Polnoye. The Ba'al Shem Tov was traveling in quite a fancy carriage and a resident of the town, a well known instigator, used the opportunity to disparage the Ba'al Shem Tov for his unwarranted opulence.

The Ba'al Shem Tov however, was unmoved by his taunts. "Let me relate to you a parable", he offered. "A King once searched the world over for the fountain of youth; an elixir that would guarantee him immortality. A wise man came before the King and offered him a remedy. He must absolutely remove from himself any trace of arrogance, and conduct himself with utter humility. The suggestion of the wise man found favor in the King's eyes and he immediately began it's implementation.

It wasn't long before the King stopped riding in his royal carriage, and instead walked behind it on foot. However, the more he took upon himself humble behavior, the more haughty he became. "Look at me", he would think as he pictured himself in his mind's eye. "I am a powerful King, yet see how I carry myself. No one is more humble than I!" The wise man however saw through the sham. "Your Majesty", he cajoled, "This is not what I intended. Your Majesty should indeed be riding in the Royal carriage. But in your heart you should feel contrite and humble. This kind of humility is acquired with much greater effort and sacrifice. It is however, genuine humility."

There is a humorous yet ominous story that is often told. It was late in the afternoon on
Yom Kippur, and the holy day was drawing to a close. In a sudden outpouring of emotion and inspiration, the Rabbi of the shul threw himself, prostate, on the floor and cried out, "I am nothing. Before You oh G-d, I am like the dust of the earth." The cantor, inspired by the Rabbi also threw himself on the floor and sobbed, "I am nothing. Before You oh G-d, I am like the dust of the earth."

Witnessing this scene, the town water carrier became filled with emotion and also threw himself on the floor moaning and groaning, "I am nothing. Before You oh G-d, I am like the dust of the earth." Seeing this the Rabbi poked the Cantor in the ribs and hissed, "Look at him. Look who thinks he's nothing!"

The cedar wood was needed to teach the leper the proper way of humility, a genuine correction of his arrogance. Humility and submission do not require that the body be bent over in the process. Of paramount importance is inner humility and acceptance.

The Ba'al Shem Tov explained this according to an idea found in the Nishmas Prayer of Shabbos morning. "And all that stand before You shall bow down. . ." (V'Kol komah lifanecha sish'ta'chavey) One can bow even while standing erect. The role of the cedar wood is to remind the leper that he doesn't need to go around bent over and miserable. He can stand straight and erect as a cedar, yet in spirit remain humble like the hyssop.

Another explanation for the role of the cedar is widely mentioned. When a person humbles himself in repentance, it is possible that the process can deprecate him so much that it is harmful. The addition of the cedar in the rite reminds the leper that the purpose of his acquired humility is to make him a mentch and not a pariah.

For this reason, the next verse (Lev. 14:5) tells us that the one of the birds of the sacrifice was to be slaughtered in an earthenware vessel, over live running water. The earthenware vessel reminds the leper of his humble lowly state. However the live waters serve to refresh and revive him, prevented him from becoming despondent. Living waters symbolize the Torah. Through Torah and mitzvos he will regain the strength that he lost.

The Chiddushei HaRim adds that this humility should not be false humility. There are times when a person must exhibit pride, like in the face of someone denouncing the Torah. Other times he must show initiative when his advice or assistance are required. At those times, if a person would insist on saying, "Who am I, and what am I to offer my advice, to get involved?", then his humility is false.

May we learn to walk humbly with every part of Creation and before its Creator.


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