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SKIN DEEP

by Rabbi Ariel Asa    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"Come now, let us reason together, says Hashem: If your sins will be like red-dyed wool, they will whiten like snow; if they will be red like the blood of an insect, they will become like wool" (this week's Haftorah - Isaiah 1:18).

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"Come now, let us reason together, says Hashem: If your sins will be like red-dyed wool, they will whiten like snow; if they will be red like the blood of an insect, they will become like wool" (this week's Haftorah - Isaiah 1:18).

"If your sins will be like red-dyed wool" - this refers to the period of the first Temple. "If they will be red like the blood of an insect" - this refers to the period of the second Temple (Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Shabbat).

Mr. H and Mr. S are both sitting in the waiting room to be seen by Dr. R, a world-renowned specialist in his field. While they are waiting, they begin discussing their ailments and soon discover that they have identical symptoms - red skin blotches over much of their bodies. They both wonder aloud if Dr. R will indeed be able to cure them of this ghastly ailment.

Soon enough, Mr. H is called in. The exam takes an extensive period of time. Dr. R leaves no stone unturned to discover the source of the malady. Finally, he pronounces with reassurance, "Mr. H, I'm confident that your recovery will be complete." He gives Mr. H a few instructions and wishes him well.

As Mr. H exits the examination room, Mr. S is very curious what the prognosis was for his new-found friend. Mr. H reassures him that he has nothing to fear. Mr. S is then called in. Again, the doctor does a thorough examination. When he finishes, he asks his patient to sit down. He explains to him that his situation is very grave and though he hopefully will be partially cured, he will continue to suffer from this affliction for years to come.

Mr. S objects. He had just heard that Mr. H was given a very different prognosis regarding his future - why is his so much worse? Dr. R, with his never-ending compassion, takes the time to explain to his patient that even though externally the symptoms of both individuals appear to be the same, in reality there is a major difference between the two: The blotches that Mr. H has are only skin deep. There is no underlying affliction causing them. Therefore his healing process will be brief and complete. However, your blotches, Mr. S, are a manifestation of a terrible disease that is ravaging your whole internal system. Your plight is much worse.

The Jewish people, during the period of the first Temple, committed many grave sins, including illicit relations, murder, and idol worship. Yet they were told, your sins will be white as snow. During the second Temple, they were involved in diligent Torah study and observance. However, they were told that there sins would only become whitened like wool, not nearly as white as snow. The distinction begs an explanation.

Hashem informed the prophet Isaiah that during the first Temple, the sins of the Jewish people were like red-dyed wool. The inner layers of the wool remain white; only the outer part of the wool appears red. Externally, the Jews did sin. Internally, however, they kept their high regard for the Torah and for one another.

During the second Temple, their sins were compared to the blood which flows internally in the insect. Inwardly, the generation of the second Temple had a disdain for the Torah and especially for one another. Thus, even after they would repent, their sins would return to only being as white as wool.

During this three-week time period we mourn the physical and spiritual destruction that took place so long ago. As we do so, let's focus our thoughts inward and attempt to eradicate the negative venom which was the cause of that original destruction.

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Based on the commentary of Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk, a great Torah scholar at the beginning of this century.

Rabbi Ariel Asa is an educator at Torah Day School of Atlanta and a practicing mohel throughout the Southeast.

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