- In this issue:
- Parsha Perspectives
- Word of the Week
- Hey, I Never Knew That
- Table Talk
- A Question for the Rabbis
- Parsha Summary
- Post/View Parsha Comments
Under the Microscope
By Rabbi Elazar Meisels
זאת תהיה תורת המצרע… טהרתו והובא אל הכהן
“This shall be the law regarding the person with tzara’at, on the day of his purification he shall be brought to the kohen.” (Leviticus 14:2)
The combined Torah portions this week, Tazria and Metzora, discuss the laws of various forms of tumah [spiritual defilement] that result from certain discolorations on the body, clothing, or one’s home, as well as certain discharges. Removing the impurity is not always a simple matter; it is a long process, and immediate success is not guaranteed.
Though these impurities are spiritual and not subject to the laws of nature, one cannot help but wonder why it is so difficult to remove them. As they are hardly visible to the human eye, why is this extensive effort needed to purify oneself?
Mr. Sam Tucker supplies precious metals to his customers. These are not the typical gold, silver, or platinum; they are ultra-refined metals and far more valuable. His clients are mainly the US military who requires these metals for top-secret projects, NASA, and others involved in specialized research. A single item can run in excess of $250,000 and only a few orders are needed each year to maintain profitability. The primary expense lies in refining the metal to such a degree that no amount of impurity can be detected.
Usually, this process is exacting but smooth. But one day, disaster struck. One of Sam’s workers, a highly-trained employee, accidentally allowed the tip of one finger to come in contact with the two-inch strip of metal being prepared. This was an emergency. Immediately, Sam rented out a special lab and hired an expert in removing all traces of impurity. The expert toiled for two weeks attempting to remove all traces of human contact. Special chemicals and equipment were required. The total bill for the repair was $57,000.
Finally Sam was assured that the product was ready for delivery. Unwilling to risk shipping it via a third party, Sam hand-delivered the item to his client in Washington and returned home with the promise of payment as soon as the product cleared quality control. When two weeks passed and payment was still not forthcoming, he phoned his client to inquire about the delay. The response he received was, “We’re sorry to inform you that we are still unable to forward payment. It seems that quality control detected a slight trace of human contamination and we’re unsure whether this item will be acceptable for our purposes.” It took another few weeks of agonizing before the client accepted the metal and forwarded payment.
If incidental human contact that lasted less than a single second required such superhuman intervention to be removed, it should come as no surprise to us that spiritual contamination, too, cannot so easily be removed. The neshamah (Jewish soul) is a highly precious entity that must maintain an elevated degree of purity in order to achieve its pure goals. The small sin stains it, and only with an intensive cleansing process can it truly be removed.
Word of the Week
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher
“…a blemish on his head or בזקן —bazakan…” (Leviticus 13:29). זקן—zakan, means beard and, since it is a sign of age, it is related to and written with the same letters (but with slightly different pronunciation) as זקן—zaken—old or zoken—old age. The Talmud (Kiddushin 32b) understands that zaken refers to one who has acquired wisdom and reads the word as an acronym for “zeh kanah chochmah” (Rashi)—“this one has acquired wisdom.” The Zohar (3:141a-b) also sees the beard as a symbol of Torah wisdom, and it has been associated with the classic appearance of a rabbi or scholar for much of history (see Sefer Hadras Panim).
Hey, I Never Knew That
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher
The mitzvah of circumcision is mentioned at the beginning of the Torah portion this week (Leviticus 12:3) despite the fact that it already appears as a commandment to Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:9-14). A possible explanation for this repetition is found in Maimonides’s commentary on the Mishnah (Chullin ch.7). He writes that we do not perform commandments or avoid prohibitions because our ancestors practiced these laws; rather our obligation to fulfill the Torah stems from the revelation at Mt. Sinai. The fact that Abraham performed the mitzvah of circumcision does not obligate us at all; the fact that the children of Jacob refrained from eating the sciatic nerve (gid hanasheh) does not prohibit us at all. Judaism is not ancestor worship or merely a tradition; it is based on the mass revelation at Mt. Sinai, witnessed by the entire Jewish people in which G-d obligated them and their descendants to keep the Torah.
The Talmud (Arachin 16a) lists seven sins which can cause tzara’at: evil gossip, murder, false oaths, illicit relationships, arrogance, theft, and stinginess.
The most well-known causes of tzara’at is lashon hara (evil gossip). Our sages teach that the punishment for a person who listens to lashon hara is even greater than that of the speaker. How can this be understood?
There are seven sins that can cause tzara’at. What common thread is there between these sins, and in what way might tzara’at be an appropriate punishment for them?
A Question for the Rabbis
By: Rabbi Mordechai Becher
The Torah portion this week states that someone who is impure must immerse in a mikvah in order to be purified (Leviticus 15:16). The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16b) states that a man must purify himself in a mikvah before every festival. Maimonides legislates this as an obligation, but it is clear from his language that it only applies in the days when there is a Temple and offerings (Mishneh Torah, Tumat Ochlin 16:10). Is there such an obligation nowadays? Rashi (Yevamot 29b) understands that the obligation to immerse before a festival is based on the holiness of the festival which applies even today, and that one who is impure should immerse himself in a mikvah before each festival. In fact, nowadays there is a common custom for men to immerse in the mikvah before each festival (Shaarei Teshuvah, Orach Chaim 529:2).
The parshas of Tazria and Metzora continue the discussion of the laws of tumah and taharah (ritual cleanliness), emphasizing that a Jew must stay away from all sources of defilement. While last week we concluded the reading with the laws of purity relating to food, i.e. kashrus, this week is devoted to laws of purity relating to the body itself.
The Torah delineates the laws relating to a woman after childbirth. Male infants must be circumcised at eight days old.
If a person notices white or pink patches on his skin or dark red or green on his garments or home, a Kohen is summoned to determine whether the man has been inflicted with tzara’as (a spiritual malady, often incorrectly translated as leprosy). After a seven-day quarantine, depending on an increase or decrease in size and change in color, the Kohen will verify if the disease is tzara’as or not.
One who has tzara’as must:
- Remain in isolation outside of the camp (separated even from those who had been expelled for ritual impurity)
- Rend his garments
- Refrain from cutting his hair
- Cover his mouth
Inflicted areas on garments and homes must be removed. If the tzara’as reoccurs, the garments and homes must be destroyed.
Parshas Metzora discusses the purification process for the metzora (a person inflicted with tzara’as). After the Kohen declares him to be pure, the metzora completes a ritual procedure using two birds, spring water in an earthen vessel, cedar wood, a scarlet thread and a bundle of hyssop. He is then allowed to enter the camp, but he must dwell outside of his tent for seven days. His impurity is now only contagious through direct contact, being considered a primary source of uncleanliness. Before entering the camp, the metzora’s entire body is shaved. After a seven-day wait, the person is shaved a second time, and on the eighth day, brings three animals and an oil offering to the Temple. With this, the purification process is completed.
The Torah offers an alternative for one who lacks the finances to participate in the prescribed offerings.
The laws dealing with blemishes that appear on a house are detailed. The parsha concludes with other forms of contamination and their appropriate purification processes.