Parshas Tazria 5759
Happy is the One Who Knows His Place
"Speak to B'nei Yisroel and say to them, 'When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male. . .'" (Vayikra 12:2)R' Simlai pointed out that in the creation of the world, the creation of Man was last, coming after the birds, insects, fish and animals. When it comes to the laws (zos Toras...) of purity and impurity, the laws which apply to humans (the leper and his purification process) also are found in the Torah after those of the birds, insects, fish and animals (kashrus). "This is the law of the animals and the birds, of all living creatures that swarm in the seas and that crawl on the ground. In order to differentiate between the impure and the pure and between the creature that may be eaten and the one which shall not be eaten." (Vayikra 11:46-47) (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 14:1-end of section)
Nevertheless, a question remains to be answered. Why was the human being, the crown of Hashem's creation, created last, after all the other creatures?
The system of creation comprises four distinct types, inanimate (mineral), vegetable, animal and human (referred to as m'daber, capable of speech). Parallel to these are four levels of Avodas Hashem. The first level, which is the foundation of all Avodas Hashem correlates to the inanimate, is emunah peshuta, pure and simple faith. Shlomo HaMelech alludes to this fact. "Generations come and generation go, but the earth abides forever." (Megillas Koheles [Ecclesiastes] 1:4) A Jew may progress from level to level, but must never leave his emunah peshuta behind. It is constant as is the earth, even as one is spiritually upwardly mobile.
As one begins to advance in Avodas Hashem, it takes on the aspect of vegetable; growing or developing. After this one starts to feel a certain amount of delight in his divine service and this enlivens him, which is parallel to animal (chaya, related to chayim-life). Every level after this is included in m'daber, speaking and reasoning. This is when a Jew is able to consciously work at his Avodah, choosing and developing positive qualities, and rejecting the negative.
The principal Avodah of a Jew in this physical work is to raise up the holy fallen sparks that are in every part of creation; inanimate (mineral), vegetable, animal and human. Whenever man interacts with any of these aspects of creation, he has the opportunity and the responsibility to elevate and restore the sparks contained within to their rightful place in unity with Hashem. This is the meaning of, "This is the law of the animals and the birds, of all living creatures that swarm in the seas and that crawl on the ground. In order to differentiate between the impure and the pure and between the creature that may be eaten and the one which shall not be eaten." This is our special Avodah in this world; to pick out and elevate the pure holy sparks from every object, while at the same time casting away it's impure and unnecessary husks.
Therefore humankind was created at the conclusion of the creation, since he is the purpose for all the creation, the one to repair and heal the world. As we say in the Lecha Dodi prayer, "sof ma'aseh, b'machshovo t'chilo" (last in deed, but first in thought). Humankind, like the Shabbos, is the pinnacle of Hashem's creation. The Torah, concerning the laws of purity and impurity, mentions man last; not as an afterthought, but to remind us of this holy Avodah. (R' Avraham of Slonim, Sefer Toras Avos, p.88)
The Tiferes Tzion on the Midrash of R' Simlai above, comments that laws pertaining to the purity and impurity of man come after that of the animal in order to teach us that we must include all the qualities that they possess. The indicators of purity (kashrus) for animals are external; the cloven hoof and chewing of the cud. For fish as well, the signs are external; scales and fins. The kashrus indicators for birds are both internal and external; the extra toe on the outside and the peel-able crop or stomach on the inside.
Therefore we are to learn that we must have "kashrus indicators" on the inside and on the outside as well. On the inside, we require a faithful and contrite heart, open to the path of Hashem. On the outside we need to look Jewish, just as our ancestors merited to leave Egypt since they preserved their Jewish clothes, language, and names. Man is mentioned after the fish, animals and birds to remind us that a Jew must preserve both indicators of his "kashrus". One must be Jewish inside as well as out. And the alliance of the two is the key to climbing the ladder of Avodas Hashem which is firmly rooted in the earth and reaches upwards endlessly to the heavens.
By a Hair's BreadthOnce R' Avraham, of Slonim told the story how a simple tailor, an unlearned but pious man came to speak to the holy grandfather of Slonim, R' Mordechai of Lekovitch. When the unpretentious man came in, the Rebbe R' Mordechai stood up to his full height in a sign of respect to the tailor. When the tailor left, R' Mordechai explained, "I stood up for him because I saw that his beard was glowing with light".
Immediately, the Chassidim set out after the tailor to find out who he was and what was the story of his beard. (It goes without saying that only R' Mordechai noticed the light.)
The tailor received the unexpected visitors, confused and uncomfortable over the tumult they were making. "Everyday when I wake up", he began haltingly and with more than a trace of sadness, "I take stock of myself and try to think of what good I have been to Hashem in this world. I hardly ever discover anything that would give me a reason to rejoice. Then, almost every time, I catch a glimpse of my long beard, and I grab hold of it and feel rejuvenated." "Baruch Hashem!", I yell out. "Thank G-d that I have such a mitzvoh!"
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.". (Vayikra 13:3)Parshas Tazria discusses 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 dramatically change his ways. The rigorous process of purification insured that he would be as careful in the future about what came out of his mouth as what went into it. (the laws of kashrus in Parshas Shemini last week). 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. (Vayikra. 13:3)
R' Asher of Karlin derived an important lesson from this. He decried the so-called Chassidim of his generation, "These Chassidim are made of straw (weak hearted), 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 to receive a 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." (Vayikra 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 what he deemed 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 humble behavior upon himself, 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 like the man walking behind the carriage. 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 overwhelmed 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.
There is another well known explanation for the role of the cedar wood. When a person humbles himself in repentance, it is possible that the process can humiliate 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 mentsch and not a pariah.
For this reason, the next verse (Vayikra 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. Yet the live waters serve to refresh and revive him, preventing him from becoming despondent. Living waters symbolize the Torah. Through Torah and mitzvohs he will regain the stature that he lost.
The Chiddushei HaRim adds that this humility should not be false humility. There are times when a person must exhibit pride; for example in the face of someone denouncing the Torah or disparaging the sages. 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 or to get involved?", then his humility is false. May we learn to walk humbly with every part of Creation and before its Creator.
Sefiras HaOmer - Taking FlightThe period of Sefiras HaOmer is named after the Omer, a unit of measurement for grain (a capacity of 5.2 American pints or 2.5 litres). Why is this period of intense self-reflection called after the Omer, and what is it's connection to this Biblical measurement?
Pesach was a time of an incredible Issarusa d'l'ailah, an undeserved outpouring of kindness and beneficence from Hashem. The Jews had descended to the 49th level of impurity and had almost no merits with which to beseech Hashem for salvation. Nevertheless, Hashem initiated a great deliverance for B'nei Yisroel.
The period of the Omer (which begins the day after the first seder) began with this tremendous flow of chesed and divine favor. Yet, chesed left unchecked can overflow it's boundaries becoming wild, unforgiving and even obscene. To be of benefit, chesed must be guided and directed. Chesed (kindness) must always be tempered with gevurah (restraint, might).
A measurement limits, defines and restrains. The Omer, a defined measurement, is an expression of gevurah, represents constraint of the flow of chesed and renders it accessible. One's divine service must be a balance of love and fear (great awe) of Hashem. This love and fear of Hashem are referred to by the sages as trey gadfin, two wings with which one can elevate oneself to higher and higher levels of divine service. One cannot fly with only one wing. Therefore this period of self reflection and spiritual growth is called after the Omer. It represents gevurah or fear of Hashem and balances out the great chesed of Pesach. It furnishes us the second wing with which to take flight and soar to new heights of knowledge of Hashem and divine service. (Chiddushei HaRim Al HaTorah, pp.160-61)