In This Issue:
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
In Parashat Metzora, the Torah states, "Ki Tavo'u El Eretz Kenaan…VeNatati Nega Tzaraat BeVait Eretz Achuzatchem," "When you come to the land of Canaan… and I shall place a Tzaraat-affliction in the house of the land of your inheritance" (VaYikra 14:34). Rashi, quoting Torat Kohanim, states that this Tzaraat was a positive phenomenon. Since the Emorim had left treasures in the walls of their houses so that the Jews would not find them, the Jews would discover hidden wealth when the Tzaarat would necessitate the destruction of the walls.
The Panim Yafot wonders why Hashem had to inform Bnei Yisrael about the hidden wealth they would receive when they would arrive in Eretz Yisrael. Halachically, a person's property can acquire an object for him (Kinyan Chatzeir). Why did Bnei Yisrael have to be informed about the treasures if they would have legally acquired them anyway? What did the foreknowledge add?
He answers that Kinyan Chatzeir does not apply when the object is something someone usually won't find on property. Such items require the owner to be aware of their existence in order to acquire them (see Tosafot Bava Metzia 26a s.v. DeShatich). Therefore, it was necessary for Hashem to inform Bnei Yisrael what they would find so that when they would destroy their houses the treasures found inside will automatically become theirs.
The Midrash, however, adopts another approach to Tzaraat. It states that Tzaraat occurred because of the people in Eretz Canaan who were involved in trade.
The Netziv explains that businesspeople by nature spend a great deal of time talking to others. If they aren't careful about what they say, it is possible that they may say Lashon HaRa about one of their competitors. Since Eretz Canaan was made up mainly of traders (see Onkelos to Bereishit 38:2), the Tzaraat sent a message to Bnei Yisrael that they should be careful to avoid Lashon HaRa while discussing their trade.
If we can internalize the message of Tzaraat from this week's Parasha and be more careful about speaking Lashon HaRa, we will all become better people and will merit to see Mashiach come.
In Parashat Metzora, the Torah teaches that when somebody says Lashon HaRa, "VeNatati Nega Tzaraat BeVeit Eretz Achuzatchem," "And I shall put the plague of Tzaraat in a house of the land of your possession" (VaYikra 14:34). According to Rashi, when the Canaanite inhabitants of Israel saw that the Jews would be victorious over them, they hid their valuables in the walls of their homes so that the Jews would not get them. By placing Tzaraat on the walls of the house, Hashem provided the new Jewish owners with a way to access the treasure. This seems to contradict the view of the Talmud (Yoma 11b) which views Tzaraat inflictions on homes as a punishment for the refusal to loan household effects to others. Since those who turn down their neighbors' requests usually claim that they do not have what the borrower needs, Hashem forces them to remove all their household items, so that everyone can see the truth.
Rav Y. Eiger offers an explanation of this contradiction based on a thought of the Maggid of Metzritch. In Zemirot of Shabbat, we say, "MeShoch Chasdecha LeYodecha Keil Kano VeNokeim," "Bring Your kindness to those who know You, jealous and vengeful God." Why is God's treating us kindly related to the fact that He is a jealous and vengeful God? The Maggid explains by means of a parable. A king was once traveling with one of his servants, when a peasant threw mud at the king's cloak. The servants wanted to immediately punish the peasant, but the king would not allow it. "Rather," said the king, "teach him proper etiquette, until he is fit to serve me." When the fellow was finally trained, the king had him brought to the palace, where the former peasant was brought before him. The man was so overcome with shame at having insulted the person who was so kind to him that he began to weep uncontrollably. Similarly, we turn to God and ask that He
expose us to such an overwhelming outpouring of divine kindness that we will be embarrassed over how we have "mistreated" Him. This "punishment" will have a more powerful and lasting effect on us than true punishment will. While the Tzaraat afflictions are a punishment, they come together with God's blessing in the form of the Canaanite's treasures. In this way, God brings the sinner to repentance and rehabilitates him with kindness.
Parashat Metzora, the second of the two Parshiyot we read this week, deals mainly with the laws of Tzaraat. The Pasuk states, "VeTzivah HaKohen VeLakach LaMitaheir Shetei Tziporim Chayot Tehorot," "The Kohen shall command and take on behalf of he who is becoming pure two live, clean birds" (VaYikra 14:4). Rashi explains that the birds are reflective of the sin which caused the person to be afflicted with Tzarrat. Just as the person receiving Tzaraat spoke without purpose, so too the atonement comes about by sacrificing a bird that chirps without a purpose. Rav Shlomo Gantzfried, the author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, poses three questions regarding this Pasuk. First, why does the Torah require two birds in this process; is one bird not sufficient? Furthermore, why was one bird sacrificed and one bird sent free? Lastly, why did Chazal rule that the free bird should be sent specifically to the fields rather than a city or the wilderness?
The Meforshim explain that the rationale behind the sacrificial service is to bring the Metzora to improve himself so that he won't repeat his Aveirah. In theory, the sinner should have been obligated to personally experience the entire process of atonement and be slaughtered to Hashem. However, Hashem had mercy on this individual and allowed him to sacrifice an animal instead. Thus, had the Torah mandated only one bird, the Metzora might conclude that since he sinned through speech, he should remain silent for the rest of his life to avoid repeating the sin. The Torah therefore demands that the sinner bring two birds, one which would be kept alive, to symbolize that speech can be used for constructive purposes and to bring life to man. And when man uses his speech for Torah and not gossip, he fulfills the words of Shelomo HaMelech, "For death and life are in the hands of the tongue" (Mishlei 18:21).
Moreover, it is insufficient for man to achieve atonement by just understanding this concept. Even one who uses his mouth solely for Torah can remain distant from the level of perfection desired. The Torah therefore instructs the Kohen to bring the bird to the field, symbolizing that man must also strive to remain humble, like those who dwell in the fields while studying Torah so as not to draw attention to their scholarship.
These two traits, humility and Lashon Tov, go hand in hand. One who is humble is unlikely to speak disparagingly of others and will instead focus on the positive aspects of speech, such as Talmud Torah. Shemirat HaLashon is a challenge, but developing a sense of humility goes a long way towards achieving this golden quality.
Parashat Tazria contains the rules of the punishment Tzaraat. Commonly (mis)translated as leprosy, this is usually associated with the grave sin of Lashan HaRa. The Parasha explains in detail many of the rules of Tzaraat, including the rules that the Kohen needs to follow upon examining someone who is suspected to have Tzaraat. In this vein, the Pesukim state, "VeIm Paso Yifseh HaNetek BaOr Acharei Tahorato VeRaahu HaKohen VeHinei Pasah HaNetek BaOr Lo Yevakeir HaKohen LaSeiar HaTzahov Tamei Hu," "But if the affliction shall spread on the skin after he [the person suspected of having Tzaraat] has been declared pure, the Kohen shall look at it and behold the affliction has spread on the skin, the Kohen need not examine it for a golden hair [one of the signs of Tzaraat], he is Tamei" (VaYikra 13:35-36).
One of the rules in the Halachic legal system is that once a person is declared innocent, his case cannot be reopened, even if the crime in question was that of murder. Why do the laws of Tzaraat seem to contravene this rule? The Pesukim seem to teach that even once a person is confirmed clean of Tzaraat, the Kohen can return and decide that he actually does have Tzaraat! Moreover, these Pesukim specifically state that the Kohen doesn't even have to look for all the signs of Tzaraat before declaring someone Tamei in this situation. Doesn't this violate the spirit of judging people favorably (see Avot 1:6)?
An answer is that these Pesukim show how bad Loshon HaRa truly is. The fact that the gossiper's case could be reexamined while that of a murderer can not shows that Lashon HaRa is one of the worst sins, worse than murder (see Arachin 15b regarding the severity of Lashon HaRa). More so, these Pesukim show the concept of "measure for measure." The person was afflicted with Tzaraat in the first place because he didn't judge people favorably, which led him to speak disparagingly of them. Therefore, when he is being examined to determine whether or not he has Tzaraat, he isn't judged favorably either.
We must all work to stop Lashon HaRa in its tracks. The Chafeitz Chaim in his epochal work Sefer Chafeitz Chaim notes that the Gemara (Yoma 9b) states that the second Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred. The Chafeitz Chaim explains that the Gemara means to include Lashon HaRa, for Lashon HaRa causes divisiveness to reign amongst people and is a prime cause of Sinat Chinam. If we wish to see the Beit HaMikdash rebuilt, we must first eliminate the cause of its destruction, the terrible sin of Lashon HaRa.
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