Click Here to Visit Our Sponsor Get Sponsored
  Torah from Dixie leftbar.gif [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] []    [top_xxx.jpg]

FRAGILE: HANDLE WITH CARE

by Rabbi Alexander Heppenheimer    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

In this week's Torah reading, as in next week's, the central figure is the metzorah, the person suffering from the skin disease tzaraat (commonly mistranslated as "leprosy," but actually a supernatural condition symptomatic of certain serious spiritual failings).

complete_story.gif    

[]

In this week's Torah reading, as in next week's, the central figure is the metzorah, the person suffering from the skin disease tzaraat (commonly mistranslated as "leprosy," but actually a supernatural condition symptomatic of certain serious spiritual failings).

Like any unwell person, the metzorah has to go to a specialist to have his problem diagnosed and treated. The diagnosis has to be made by someone knowledgeable in the laws of tzaraat (and complex laws they are; these laws are the Talmud's paradigm of a difficult field of study). But the Torah scholar's authority stops short of actually declaring the patient to be contaminated with tzaraat. That declaration, with all that it entails, is reserved for a Kohen (priest). In fact, for this purpose, an adult Kohen is not even needed. An expert could look the diseased area over and reach a conclusion, and then go over to a four-year-old Kohen and prompt him, word-for-word, to say to the metzorah, "You are tamei (spiritually impure)." Similarly, when the metzorah is finally cured, it is not official until a Kohen declares him tahor (spiritually pure), no matter how many non-Kohen Torah scholars see it and tell him that the disease is gone.

Which, of course, raises the question: If the Kohen is anyway only going to repeat, word-for-word, whatever the expert tells him, then why bother with the Kohen at all? Why not just have the expert himself act as a doctor instead of as a lab technician, and let him make not only the diagnosis but also the verdict?

Let's consider what happens once a person is declared to be suffering from tzaraat. Uniquely among all the categories of people who are tamei, the metzorah has to be completely excluded from Jewish company. He is forced to stay outside the city, alone, to the point that even others suffering from the same ailment are not allowed to be near him. Whenever anyone passes by, the metzorah must call out, "Tamei, tamei - impure, impure!" (Leviticus 13:45) so as to warn others to stay away from him. In short, this is a person who has been, to all intents and purposes, severed (G­d forbid) from the Jewish people.

This is such a serious matter that only a Kohen can be entrusted with it - the Kohen who, in the words of the blessing preceding his recitation of the Priestly benedictions, "blesses [Hashem's] nation Israel with love". Of course, an expert is needed to tell us that there is a problem in the first place. But we need more than just a dry scholarly opinion to declare that a particular Jew does not belong within the Jewish people. The Kohen brings to the task a heart full of deep affection for this Jew, ensuring that, should he have to declare him tamei and temporarily exclude him from Jewish society until the subject has been rehabilitated, he will do it solely with the metzorah's welfare in mind, much like a parent disciplining a child.

Until the arrival of the Mashiach (Messiah), tzaraat and its laws are suspended, but the idea behind it still exists. Unfortunately, it happens all too often that certain actions or positions taken by our fellow Jews deserve to be condemned as un-Jewish. But even more unfortunately, it happens all too often that we arrogate to ourselves the Kohen's job of condemning the person as un-Jewish! The lesson of the tzaraat laws is that very few people are qualified to claim that someone deserves to be excluded from the Jewish people - and, in fact, it is probably fair to say that those who think themselves to be most qualified to do so are really the least qualified, and vice versa.

And, in fact, if someone goes ahead and makes such a judgment without being qualified to do so (because that judgment stems, at least partially, from a personal "ax to grind" rather than purely from concern for the other), then that person is himself guilty of the primary sin that results in tzaraat - the sin of lashon harah, unwarranted evil talk and slander about another Jew!

With the period of the counting of the omer (the 49 days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot) approaching - the period when we try to correct the failings of Rabbi Akiva's students, who did not treat each other with proper respect and therefore died in a plague during this period - let us each try to make of ourselves Kohanim who love each and every fellow Jew for his intrinsic self.

[]

Rabbi Alexander Heppenheimer is a graduate of Yeshivas Tomchei T'mimim in Brooklyn, New York, and currently serves as the baal korei (Torah reader) at the Yeshiva Minyan of Atlanta.

You are invited to read more Parshat Tazria & Metzora articles.

Would you recommend this article to a friend? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor@tfdixie.com

butombar.gif [] [] [] []