"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."
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
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
May we learn to walk humbly with every part of Creation and before
A GUTEN SHABBOS