Imagine you just purchased a new luxury car with all of the possible amenities. When you bring the car home, you will commit to take great care of it. If you have young children, they will not be allowed to bring snacks in the car, and you may even take the car for a carwash every other week. What would your face look like if someone took a cup of coffee or a Slurpee and proceeded to dump it all over the seats or took a key and began scratching the exterior of the car? We can imagine the look of horror on the car owner’s face! Rav Dr. Abraham Twerski uses this analogy to help us understand the awful nature of one who suffers from substance abuse. The addict was given something more precious than a car – Hashem gave him a body that is so valuable, and it is his responsibility to care for it more than he would a car. How could he, or anyone, destroy it through substance abuse? Spiritually, the same is true. We are given a functioning body, and it is our privilege and responsibility to care of the life with which we are blessed.
The challenge of appreciating how special we are is at the core of Parashat Metzora. At the end of the Parashah, the Torah commands us, “And you should warn Bnei Yisrael about the impurities and they should not... contaminate the Mishkan that is within them” (VaYikra 15:31). The language used by the Torah is in the plural, focusing our attention on the notion that there is a Mishkan inside each of us. This description, that the Mishkan is within each of us, is reminiscent of the beginning of Parashat Terumah, in which God commands each of us to build a personal Mishkan in each of us (Shemot 25:8). Like our new precious car, we are commanded to protect this Mishkan that is inside of each of us.
This description is an appropriate ending of the Parashah that describes Tzara’at, which is inflicted on someone for speaking Lashon HaRa. Rambam (Hilchot Tzara’at) points out that Tzara’at is a special affliction that plagues only Bnei Yisrael. It targets Bnei Yisrael for not appreciating the special Tzelem Elokim that exists inside each of us. More specifically – the Slonimer Rebbe, in his Netivot Shalom, comments – we are susceptible to Lashon HaRa only if we do not appreciate the Mishkan that is inside of each person. If we were able to appreciate the beauty of the other person, how would we be able to speak Lashon HaRa about him? If we appreciated how special we were, why would we need to speak badly about others?
Interestingly, the Metzora must be seen by the Kohein in order to be healed (VaYikra 14:2). Why does the Kohein serve as the doctor? Kohanim were known to be the teachers of Bnei Yisrael. Following in the footsteps of Aharon HaKohein, they were “Oheiv Shalom VeRodeif Shalom,” “people who love peace and chase harmony” (Avot 1:12). Kohanim have the unique ability to see the good in each individual. It is precisely for this reason that they are tasked to deal with the Metzora, one who spoke Lashon HaRa and demonstrated that he did not understand the uniqueness and goodness of each individual.
As we turn our attention to Pesach and then Sefirat HaOmer, we have a dual focus. On the one hand, we are to focus on appreciating how blessed we each are to be born as a Tzelem Elokim, while on the other hand, we should appreciate the uniqueness of everyone else. As we internalize this message, it will serve to only enhance the respect with which we will treat others and ourselves. What emerges when a person respects himself and others is a person who appreciates the need to treat himself and everyone else with great dignity and Kavod. Together, we will all be able to continue to create a culture of care and respect for one another, in which we all benefit.