The Pasuk in this week’s Parsha states, VeHizhartem Et Bnei Yisrael MiTumatam, VeLo Yamutu BeTumatam BeTamam Et Mishkani Asher Betocham.” “Separate the children of Israel from their Tumah so that they do not die from their Tumah when they defile the Mishkan in their midst.” This Pasuk does not prohibit becoming Tamei, but does forbid entering the Mishkan to encounter God’s Shechina in the state of impurity.
What is wrong with entering in a state of impurity? What does Tumah represent that is antithetical to service in the Mishkan?
The traditional explanation is that Tumah is conferred on a person or thing which has experienced a loss of life or life potential. This explains why a corpse is the Avi Avot HaTumah (the “father” of all Tumah), and possibly why Niddah, Baal Keri, Zav and Zavah all posses some level of impurity. In each case, the blood or seminal emission had life creating potential that was unrealized. Since a person who has recently come into contact with death or loss of life potential is in a state that is inappropriate for intense service of Hashem, who is the Source of all life, his status as Tamei forces him to avoid entering the Mishkan.
The Ramban extends this notion to the Tumah of Tzaraat as well. Tzaraat is an indication of a serious spiritual flaw in an otherwise holy person, and is reflective of the departure of Hashem’s Shechina and Hashgacha (divine providence) from that person. The departure of that spirit is similar to the loss of life and results in Tumah. One might add that skin turning white as a result of Tzaraat is reminiscent of death when the body turns white.
The famous question on this approach is why a woman who gives birth is Tamei. Certainly childbirth is considered a moment of life creation, not the loss of life! Why does she become Tamei after childbirth?
Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin offers a creative answer to this difficult question, forcing us to rethink our premise. He explains that death does not create Tumah simply because Hashem is the Source of life, but because Hashem is beyond the notions of time and space. Death reminds us of the limits of physical existence bound by time and space, limits which have no bearing on HaKadosh Baruch Hu, who is eternal. If death, which is the end of physical life, is antithetical to God’s nature, then birth, which is the beginning of physical life, is also antithetical to it. Though birth is a happier occasion for us to experience, it is no less a function of the limits of our existence in the physical, time-bound universe. As a result, childbirth, just like death, confers a status of Tumah upon the mother.
by Yaakov Rubin
Tzaraat on a house (14:33-57) can easily be recognized as a supernatural occurrence. It must, therefore, have a purpose. The common explanation, that of the Sifra and Vayikrah Rabbah (cited by Rashi to Vayikra 14:34), is that once the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael realized that the Jews were going to conquer the land, they hid all of their valuables in the walls of their homes. In order for the Jews to find this wealth, Hashem placed Tzaraat on the walls of the houses. When the Jews were forced to cut away the offending stones (14:40), they would find the hidden treasure.
Rambam (Hilchot Tumat Tzaraat 16:10), on the other hand, takes an entirely different approach. He explains that Tzaraat on the house is a punishment for gossip and selfish behavior. As a punishment, Hashem first puts Tzaraat on the house. If the sinner does not take the hint, Hashem places Tzaraat on his/her clothing. If the person still does not repent, then Tzaraat is placed on his/her own body. Rambam’s source is the Gemara’s explanation of Pasuk 35 (Yoma 11b). The Pasuk, describing the procedure for determining whether the house has Tzaraat or not, says, “UVa Asher Lo HaBayit,” “And the one to whom the house belongs shall come.” The Gemara explains that the person’s sin was calling the house “his” and no one else’s, declaring that even Hashem has no ownership of it. The Tzror HaMor comments that such a person is practically a heretic. Because of his selfish feelings, if someone wanted to borrow something, this person would claim not to own such an item in order to avoid sharing with anyone. By placing Tzaraat on the house, Hashem forces the person to bring all of his belongings outside so everyone can see what he really owns and how selfish he actually is. The person should have realized that Hashem can just as easily take away as give, a fact that everyone needs to keep in mind.
by Doniel Sherman
A very logical question arises after reading Perek 13 Pesukim 12-13 in Parashat Tazria. The Torah explains that when one’s entire body is covered in Tzaraat "from their head until their feet," they are Tahor, spiritually pure. However, as soon as fresh, healthy skin appears, the person is declared Tamei, impure, by the Kohen. One could ask: logically, shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't the one whose Tzaraat heals become Tahor and one who’s fully covered in Tzaraat be Tamei?
The Gelilei Zahav explains the reason for this puzzling law. He explains that one who has Tzaraat is quarantined so that other people don't "catch the bug" that he is afflicted with. Chazal explain that the “bug” referred to here is the slander and gossip for which the individual is punished. The person is quarantined so that other people don't act like him and speak gossip. One who has Tzaraat covering his entire body is not likely to influence anybody, since they will see his Tzaraat and will not follow in his path, fearing that the same fate will befall them. Therefore, one afflicted with Tzaraat on his entire body is considered spiritually pure and is not quarantined. However, one whose Tzaraat is beginning to disappear is more likely to entice another into speaking slander because the former Tzaraat is less noticeable.
This sheds light on age old advice: people have an easier time of avoiding obvious evil than they do avoiding subtle negativity. It is much easier to steer clear of the advice of the person with full body Tzaraat then that of the person with barely noticeable patches of Tzaraat.
Doctor Kohen’s Second Checkup
by Chaim Strassman
This week’s parshiyot, Tazriya-Metzora, talk about many things, such as birth and Tzaraat. On the topic of Tzaraat, the Torah goes into great detail regarding what is to be done to the affliction, the different signs used to determine if someone actually has Tzaraat or not, and how long a Metzora should be quarantined for.
Throughout this portion, the Torah continually states that the Kohen should look at the Tzaraat, or the Kohen should declare that the Tzaraat is indeed impure or not Tzaraat at all. Only a Kohen has the power to rule in matters of Tzaraat. The Midrash (Torat Kohanim) explains that even a well educated scholar who is a non-Kohen may not rule as to whether an affliction is Tzaraat or not. However, a Kohen is permitted to declare something as Tzaraat after he has consulted a non-Kohen scholar.
In Perek Yud Gimmel Pasuk Gimmel, the Torah says twice- once at the beginning of the Pasuk and once at the end of it- that a Kohen should look at the Tzaraat. The Torah repeatedly tells us that a Kohen must look at the affliction, but why does it tell us twice in one pasuk?
A simple answer could be that even if a Kohen does not know how to rule on matters of Tzaraat, and he therefore will have to consult a non-Kohen scholar, he should examine the affliction anyway. The Pasuk repeated that the Kohen should look to emphasize that an integral part of the Tzaraat process is the Kohen’s examination.
Another answer could be that the Kohen should look at the Tzaraat twice. If a person plucks out the white hair (the sign of Tzaraat), even if he/she does so while the Kohen is making his examination, he/she must be declared Tzaraat-free. Therefore, the Mishnah in Negaim (7:4 see Bartenurah ibid.) states that the Kohen should double check the affliction to see if the white hair is still there before he actually declares a person impure. Note, however, that the Torah (Devarim 24:8 and Rashi’s commentary ad. loc.) specifically prohibits deliberately removing signs of Tzaraat.
It is always important to double check before deciding anything for certain. Teachers always encourage students to check their work before handing in a test, just to make sure that no careless errors were made. In the very first Mishnah in Pirkei Avot, the Anshei Kenesset HaGedolah advise judges to “Be deliberate in judgment.” The Bartenurah explains this advice to mean that even if a judge has seen a particular case two or three times before, he should not render judgment on it before double checking his ruling. Double checking helps avoid mistakes and is always worthwhile.
A Jew on the Inside
by Dani Yaros
This week’s Parsha, Tazria-Metzora, describes the affliction of Tzaraat that serves as punishment for one who speaks Lashon Hara. The Torah indicates that Tzaraat is purely an external disease that does not in any way damage the inside of one’s body. Similarly, the form of Tzaraat that is found on one’s house is always on the outside walls, but does not infect the inside of the house.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (44a) says, “A Jew who sins is still a Jew.” Just because someone may not be Frum, and therefore doesn’t keep the Mitzvot, does not mean he loses his Jewish status. Why is this so - the core of Judaism is keeping the Torah and its Mitzvot - so if one is not keeping the Torah, what connection does he have to Judaism at all? Perhaps an answer can be learned from Tzaraat. Just like Tzaraat never affects the inside of a body, so too external sinning doesn’t affect the internal property of being Jewish. A Jew who sins does so because he does not understand the importance of the Torah, not because he enjoys doing Aveirot or has no care for the Mitzvot. Deep down, he really wishes to perform Mitzvot. Unfortunately, his Yeitzer Hara prevents him from doing Mitzvot and influences him to sin (see Rambam’s Hilchot Geirushin 2:20).
Sefirat HaOmer is a time period which is observed as days of Aveilut, mourning, because of the tragic passing of thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students. Chazal tell us that Rabbi Akiva’s students died because they did not respect one another. During this time of Aveilut, we must do what the affliction of Tzaraat teaches us to do – self-introspection. May it be Hashem’s will that we reach greater heights through this reflection and that we achieve the ultimate redemption.
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