Parshas Tazria / Metzorah - Positivity Bias
This Dvar Torah is dedicated in the zechus of Yehudis Miriam Bas Raizel. May she merit a speedy refuah shleima!
כִּ֤י תָבֹ֨אוּ֙ אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לָכֶ֖ם לַֽאֲחֻזָּ֑ה וְנָֽתַתִּי֙ נֶ֣גַע צָרַ֔עַת בְּבֵ֖ית אֶ֥רֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶֽם: וּבָא֙ אֲשֶׁר־ל֣וֹ הַבַּ֔יִת וְהִגִּ֥יד לַכֹּהֵ֖ן לֵאמֹ֑ר כְּנֶ֕גַע נִרְאָ֥ה לִ֖י בַּבָּֽיִת:
"When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as a possession, and I place a lesion of tzara'ath upon a house in the land of your possession, and the one to whom the house belongs comes and tells the kohen, saying, "Something like a lesion has appeared to me in the house," (Vayikra 14:34,35)
The language of this passuk is somewhat peculiar. נָֽתַתִּי֙ (and I place) would in theory indicate that Hashem is giving us a gift and yet it is clear from the Torah that Tzaras is an indication that we have done something wrong. Indeed we find both explanations in Chazal.
Rashi, quoting the Medrash (Vayikra Rabba 17:6), explains that the finding of Tzaras on a home is good news as the Amorites had hidden treasures of gold within the walls of their homes and when the home is demolished as a result of the Tzaras the family will be blessed with wealth.
On the other hand, the Torah addresses the homeowner whose house was afflicted with Tzaras with the term וּבָא֙ אֲשֶׁר־ל֣וֹ הַבַּ֔יִת “he to whom the house belongs to him.” The Gemara in Yoma (11b) explains that the words“‘to him” implies one who devotes his house to himself exclusively. He refuses to lend out his possessions claiming that the doesn't have them. The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 17) creates the exact scenario:
A person says to his neighbor, "Lend me a kav of wheat."
The neighbor replies: "I have none."
"Then a kav of barley?"
"I have none."
A woman says to her neighbor: "Lend me a sifter."
She replies, "I have none."
"Lend me a sieve?"
She replies, "I have none."
What does the Holy One do? He brings a plague on the house, and when the man is forced to take out all of his belongings, everyone sees and they say, "Didn't he say that he had nothing? Look how much wheat he has! How much barley! How many dates there are here!"
The Gemara in Arachin (16a) tells us that someone is punished with their home being afflicted with Tzaras when they steal. Since he gathered property that is not his, the Kohen comes and scatters all of his belongings.
The contrast between these two explanations is exceptionally puzzling. The Gemara maintains that the person whose home is afflicted with Tzaras is stingy with their possessions and is ultimately forced to display their possessions for all to see. They may have even stolen from other. Yet, the Medrash says that this same person is rewarded with great wealth!!! If he is indeed a person who doesn't share with his neighbors why would he be rewarded with great wealth?
Even more puzzling is that if Hashem wanted to reveal the hidden golden treasures of the Amorites to Klal Yisrael, He simply could have commanded us to destroy all of the houses. Why does God choose to reveal these hidden treasures under such strange circumstances?
Our questions become even more profound when we consider the opinion brought in the Gemara in Sanhedrin (71a) which maintains that there was never actually a case where a home was afflicted with Tzaras. The passage in the Torah was only written so that we may be expound upon these pesukim and receive reward (דרוש וקבל שכר). What lesson are we meant to learn from this? A stingy person is rewarded with receiving a treasure that never existed in the first place?!? If there was in fact a case where a home was afflicted with Tzaras (as the Gemara maintains later on existed in Aza and in the Galil) then we are merely troubled by why a stingy person is being rewarded. If this is entirely theoretical then the lesson eludes us.
Is It Really Tzaras?
“Something like a plague has appeared upon my house.” (Yayikra 14:35)
Rashi, noting the strange usage of the phrase, "something like a plague", explains that even if a Talmid Chacham knows for certain that it is Tzaras, he should not definitively state that there is Tzaras on the home but rather he should say, “There seems to me to be a plague.”
If a Talmid Chacham knows these marks to be Tzaras, why may he not proclaim what he knows? Ostensibly, the Torah is instructing him to be non definitive out of deference to the Kohen who will make the official declaration. However, if the Kohen is a minor or is ignorant then the Talmid Chacham is called in to determine if the marks are indeed Tzaras and the Kohen simply makes the declaration. Why then is the Talmid Chacham instructed to be non definitive? He knows what these marks are and the halacha in some cases empowers him to give over his knowledge to the Kohen. Why must he hide what he knows for certain to be true?
Only In Israel
"When you come to the land of Canaan..." (Vayikrah 14:34)
From the language of the passuk, it appears that the laws that follow only apply in Eretz Yisrael. The Ramban writes (13:47) that a building afflicted with Tzaras (and clothing afflicted with Tzaras) is not a natural phenomenon and Hashem would only bring Tzaras on a building in Eretz Yisrael. (There is a machlokes between the Rambam and others regarding Tzaras on the body being a natural medical condition but all agree that Tzaras on inanimate objects are not natural phenomena.)
What is the connection between Eretz Yisrael and a building afflicted with Tzaras? Why would Hashem not bring this affliction everywhere in the world when it is necessary?
Inner Negative Beliefs
In order to answer the above questions we must first gain a fundamental insight into the nature of Tzaras. To do so we must go back to the first time Tzaras is mentioned in the Torah.
When Moshe Rabbeinu first confronts Hashem in the burning bush, Hashem instructs Moshe to redeem Klal Yisrael from Mitzrayim. Moshe expresses his concern to God that Klal Yisrael will not believe him that he has been chosen to be their redeemer. In response, Hashem provides Moshe with signs that he will be able to demonstrate to Klal Yisrael.
וַיֹּ֧אמֶר אֵלָ֛יו יְהֹוָ֖ה מַה־זֶּ֣ה(כתיב מזה)בְיָדֶ֑ךָ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר מַטֶּֽה: וַיֹּ֨אמֶר֙ הַשְׁלִיכֵ֣הוּ אַ֔רְצָה וַיַּשְׁלִכֵ֥הוּ אַ֖רְצָה וַיְהִ֣י לְנָחָ֑שׁ וַיָּ֥נָס משֶׁ֖ה מִפָּנָֽיו: וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־משֶׁ֔ה שְׁלַח֙ יָֽדְךָ֔ וֶֽאֱחֹ֖ז בִּזְנָב֑וֹ וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח יָדוֹ֙ וַיַּ֣חֲזֶק בּ֔וֹ וַיְהִ֥י לְמַטֶּ֖ה בְּכַפּֽוֹ: לְמַ֣עַן יַֽאֲמִ֔ינוּ כִּֽי־נִרְאָ֥ה אֵלֶ֛יךָ יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֣י אֲבֹתָ֑ם אֱלֹהֵ֧י אַבְרָהָ֛ם אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִצְחָ֖ק וֵֽאלֹהֵ֥י יַֽעֲקֹֽב:
"And the Lord said to him, "What is this in your hand?" And he said, "A staff." And He said, "Cast it to the ground," and he cast it to the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses fled from before it. And the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch forth your hand and take hold of its tail." So Moses stretched forth his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand. "In order that they believe that the Lord, the God of their forefathers, has appeared to you, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." (Shemos 4:2-5)
The first sign given to Moshe is that his staff turns into a snake. Leaving aside for a moment the meaning of such a sign, at this point in our story it would appear that Hashem has provided Moshe with a significant miracle that will indeed convince Klal Yisrael that he is the chosen one. This is evidenced by the fact that Hashem concludes this miracle by saying, "In order that they believe that the Lord, the God of their forefathers, has appeared to you, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."
Instead, Hashem provides Moshe with another miracle for him to display to Klal Yisrael.
וַיֹּ֩אמֶר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה ל֜וֹ ע֗וֹד הָֽבֵא־נָ֤א יָֽדְךָ֙ בְּחֵיקֶ֔ךָ וַיָּבֵ֥א יָד֖וֹ בְּחֵיק֑וֹ וַיּ֣וֹצִאָ֔הּ וְהִנֵּ֥ה יָד֖וֹ מְצֹרַ֥עַת כַּשָּֽׁלֶג: וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הָשֵׁ֤ב יָֽדְךָ֙ אֶל־חֵיקֶ֔ךָ וַיָּ֥שֶׁב יָד֖וֹ אֶל־חֵיק֑וֹ וַיּֽוֹצִאָהּ֙ מֵֽחֵיק֔וֹ וְהִנֵּה־שָׁ֖בָה כִּבְשָׂרֽוֹ: וְהָיָה֙ אִם־לֹ֣א יַֽאֲמִ֣ינוּ לָ֔ךְ וְלֹ֣א יִשְׁמְע֔וּ לְקֹ֖ל הָאֹ֣ת הָֽרִאשׁ֑וֹן וְהֶֽאֱמִ֔ינוּ לְקֹ֖ל הָאֹ֥ת הָאַֽחֲרֽוֹן:
"And the Lord said further to him, "Now put your hand into your bosom," and he put his hand into his bosom, and he took it out, and behold, his hand was leprous like snow. And He said, "Put your hand back into your bosom," and he put his hand back into his bosom, and [when] he took it out of his bosom, it had become again like [the rest of] his flesh. "And it will come to pass, that if they do not believe you, and they do not heed the voice of the first sign, they will believe the voice of the last sign." (Shemos 4:6-8)
Here we have the first mention of Tzaras in the Torah. Moshe will place his hand against his bosom and his hand will be afflicted with Tzaras. He will then return his hand to his bosom and it will be miraculously cured. As with Moshe's staff, it is unclear what the inner meaning of this miracle is. What is clear, is that a message of some sort is being conveyed. The first miracle provided a message that ought to be enough to convince Klal Yisrael but if the message misses its mark, if Klal Yisrael remains unconvinced, somehow the second miracle will resolve all of their doubts. "And it will come to pass, that if they do not believe you, and they do not heed the voice of the first sign, they will believe the voice of the last sign." At this point in the text it is clear that Klal Yisrael is going to listen to Moshe Rabbeinu. ."..they will believe the voice of the last sign." This part of the conversation ought to be over. And yet Hashem continues with one last argument.
וְהָיָ֡ה אִם־לֹ֣א יַֽאֲמִ֡ינוּ גַּם֩ לִשְׁנֵ֨י הָֽאֹת֜וֹת הָאֵ֗לֶּה וְלֹ֤א יִשְׁמְעוּן֙ לְקֹלֶ֔ךָ וְלָֽקַחְתָּ֙ מִמֵּימֵ֣י הַיְאֹ֔ר וְשָֽׁפַכְתָּ֖ הַיַּבָּשָׁ֑ה וְהָי֤וּ הַמַּ֨יִם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּקַּ֣ח מִן־הַיְאֹ֔ר וְהָי֥וּ לְדָ֖ם בַּיַּבָּֽשֶׁת:
"And it will come to pass, if they do not believe either of these two signs, and they do not heed your voice, you shall take of the water of the Nile and spill it upon the dry land, and the water that you take from the Nile will become blood on the dry land." (Shemos 4:9)
If neither of the first two signs convince Klal Yisrael then Moshe is instructed to bring the first Makkah (the Nile River turning to blood). Interestingly, here God makes no mention of Klal Yisrael being convinced. The implication seems to be that God has provided Moshe with enough signs to prove his veracity. If at that point they still don't believe him, Moshe is to commence with his mission regardless of Klal Yisrael's acceptance or lack thereof.
So many questions need to be addressed at this point. What is the inner message of Moshe throwing his snake to the ground and picking it up? Why is Moshe afraid of the serpent? Does he believe he is in danger? Would Hashem bring him to this point only to kill him? Why is there a concern that the first miracle would not be sufficient for Klal Yisrael to believe that Moshe Rabbeinu is the redeemer? What is the inner meaning of the second miracle where Moshe's hand is afflicted with Tzaras and then miraculously cured? How does the second miracle compliment the first so that Klal Yisrael will surely be convinced? Lastly, if Klal Yisrael is somehow still not convinced, why is Moshe being instructed to commence the bringing of the plagues upon Mitzrayim? If there is a need to convince them, they remain unconvinced. If there is no need to convince Klal Yisrael, why bring these signs to begin with?
Rashi sheds light into the inner story that is taking place.
ויהי לנחש:רמז לו שסיפר לשון הרע על ישראל ותפש אומנותו של נחש:
and it became a serpent-: [This was how] He hinted to him [Moses] that he had spoken ill (lashon hora) of Israel (by saying, “They will not believe me,” ) and he had adopted the art of the serpent. — [from Exod. Rabbah 3:12]
When Moshe is told to throw down his staff so that it becomes a snake, it is not only a sign for Klal Yisrael to prove that Moshe has been chosen, but is a message for Moshe Rabbeinu as well. In claiming that Klal Yisrael will not believe him, Moshe has adopted the art of the Nachash Hakadmoni. Just as the Nachash Hakadmoni said Lashon Hora in Gan Eden, so too Moshe Rabbeinu said Lashon Hora about Klal Yisrael. (In fact, the Medrash (Shemos Rabbah (3:13) says that when the Nachash was cursed by Hashem (Bereishis 3:14) it means that the Nachash was afflicted with Tzaras.) The Seforno adds that the Nachash adopted a threatening posture towards Moshe Rabbeinu, explaining why Moshe recoiled in fear. The Ramban explains that Moshe thought that the snake was going to bite him as a punishment for his sin.
But what exactly did Moshe Rabbeinu do wrong? Moshe Rabbeinu had fled Mitzrayim. He is now going to return and announce to Klal Yisrael that he is their redeemer. It seems quite natural for Moshe to be concerned that Klal Yisrael will not accept him. A nation that has been enslaved for 200 plus years is bound to be psychologically broken. Indeed we see that when Klal Yisrael faced trials and tribulations in the desert, the notion of returning to Mitzrayim is brought up time and again (albeit by Reshaim). In fact, Rashi's use of the term lashon hora is important here. The difference between lashon hora and motzi shem rah is that lashon hora is true! Moshe's concerns may have had negative connotations for Klal Yisrael but they are clearly based in reality. Why then is Moshe Rabbeinu being placed in the same category as the Nachash Hakadmoni! The Nachash Hakadmoni is responsible for the broken world that we live in. Had he not spoken lashon hora in Gan Eden the world would have been brought to its ultimate state by Adam HaRishon in Gan Eden. Can we really say that Moshe has adopted the posture of the Nachash?
The notion of Moshe Rabbeinu having spoken lashon hora about Klal Yisrael is further underscored by the second sign that he is to provide for Klal Yisrael. As Rashi explains:
מצרעת כשלג: אף באות זה רמז שלשון הרע סיפר באומרו (פסוק א) לא יאמינו לי, לפיכך הלקהו בצרעת, כמו שלקתה מרים על לשון הרע:
With this sign, too, He hinted to him that he spoke slanderously when he said, "They will not believe me." It is for this reason that He struck him with tzora'as, just as Miriam was struck for speaking slanderously.
The punishment for speaking lashon hora is Tzaras and in saying that Klal Yisrael will not believe him, Moshe Rabbeinu has spoken lashon hora. But here we must ask ourselves, why is Hashem repeating the lesson? Clearly Moshe Rabbeinu understood that the snake (and its threatening posture) was a reference to the Nachash Hakadmoni. Why then does he need the second miracle?
Perhaps the answer lies in the significance of Moshe Rabbeinu placing his hand upon his bosom. The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 3:14) explains that lashon hora is generally told over in secret. By placing his hand inside his clothing, Moshe is being given an insight into the nature of his lashon hora. Overtly, Moshe Rabbeinu had said nothing wrong. He was expressing the concern that any person in his position would have expressed. But underneath the surface of his argument there was an insidious statement about the state of Klal Yisrael. This was not only a clinical conversation about how Klal Yisrael could be redeemed from Mitzrayim; Moshe Rabbeinu revealed his inner belief system about Am Yisrael. In his mind, they were no longer waiting for redemption. If Klal Yisrael was in fact waiting with baited breath for redemption then surely they would not need convincing. When the son of the previous Gadol HaDor, the younger brother of Aaron and Miriam, who grew up in the house of Pharaoh but was forced to flee because he killed an Egyptian to save a Jew, returns with the claim that he is the redeemer, Klal Yisrael ought to have been ecstatic upon his return. True, they had been enslaved for hundreds of years but a Jew never loses hope in redemption. A true leader must see the positive in their flock otherwise they are not worthy of their position.
The concept of leadership having a positive paradigm can be seen from the following Gemara in Menachos (109b) regarding the death of the great Kohen Gadol, Shimon HaTzaddik:
דתניא אותה שנה שמת שמעון הצדיק אמר להן שנה זו הוא מת. אמרו לו מנין אתה יודע? אמר להן כל יום הכפורים נזדמן לי זקן אחד לבוש לבנים ונתעטף לבנים ונכנס עמי ויצא עמי שנה זו נזדמן לי זקן אחד לבוש שחורים ונתעטף שחורים ונכנס עמי ולא יצא עמי. לאחר הרגל חלה שבעת ימים ומת ונמנעו אחיו הכהנים מלברך בשם.
For it is taught, the year that Shimon HaTzadik died he said to them that this year he would die. They said to him, from where do you know this? He said to them, “Every Yom Kippur an old man dressed in white and wrapped in white meets me and goes in with me [to the Kodesh haKedoshim] and comes out with me. This year an old man dressed in black and wrapped in black met me and went in with me but did not come out with me.” After the festival he was sick for seven days and died. And his brothers, the kohanim, refrained from blessing with the Name [of God in the Birchas Kohanim - the Priestly Blessing]
Rav Soloveitchik explains that the man that Shimon HaTzaddik would encounter in the Kodesh HaKedoshim was symbolic of Klal Yisrael. As Klal Yisrael was being judged on Yom Kippur, Shimon would enter into the Kodesh HaKedoshim with a positive view of Klal Yisrael (thus the man was wearing white) and in this way he would gain atonement for them. As long as he was able to see Klal Yisrael in a positive light, Shimon was worthy of his position of leadership but when he saw the man wearing black Shimon understood that his time as a leader in Klal Yisrael had come to an end. Of course Klal Yisrael has its flaws. The job of a leader is to address these issues but at the same time not to lose a positive worldview. We are all sensitive to the way in which we are seen by others. A talmid who perceives that his Rebbe sees him in a negative light will not be able to be mekabel from that Rebbe. In contrast, once a Talmid is assured that his Rebbe sees him positively, he will be able to receive even the most difficult criticism.
The Mishna in Avos (1:12) instructs us to be from the talmidim of Aharon HaKohen. We are to love peace and chase after peace. Love our fellow men and bring them close to the ways of Torah. The Rambam explains that when Aharon would sense that someone was heading in the wrong direction he would speak with them extensively in a pleasant fashion and he would truly love them. The person having experienced the affection that Aharon showed them would think to themselves “if Aharon would know who I really am he wouldn’t even be able to look at me let alone to speak with me. But in his eyes I am a good person so I will live up to who he thinks I am.” Such was the “kiruv” style of Aharon HaKohen. The positive view that Aaaron HaKohen had for everyone in Klal Yisrael helped them become the best version of themselves. Aaron was not unaware of his students flaws. Quite the contrary. When he saw his talmidim's flaws it was a call to action but the action was one of love and positivity.
The Nachash Hakadmoni did far more than convince Chava to sin. In what was a beautiful relationship between mankind and God, the Nachash introduced negativity and thus disconnection. The God you love and trust doesn't want you to eat from the Eitz HaDaas because on the day you do so you will be like a God. And in a sense the Nachash was telling the truth (lashon hora and not motzi shem rah). The Nachash used his power of speech, the ultimate tool of connection, to create a disconnection between Adam, Chava and Hashem. Middah K'Negged Middah Hashem punished the Nachash by recreating him to live off dirt as its means of sustenance. With food readily available, no longer does the Nachash turn to Hashem in prayer for his needs. In effect, Hashem has disconnected himself from his relationship with the Nachash. An appropriate punishment for bringing disconnection into the world. Seen from this perspective it is understandable that Moshe Rabbeinu's critique of Klal Yisrael is compared to the actions of the Nachash. Seeing Klal Yisrael in a negative light would not allow for the connection between Moshe Rabbeinu and Klal Yisrael to be established. If Moshe Rabbeinu sees Klal Yisrael in a negative light, how can he redeem them from the darkness of exile?
The darkness of Makkas Choshech was total. “Lo rau ish es achiv vilo kamu ish mitachtav”, a person could not see his brother and no one rose from his place. This was true not only on a physical level but on a spiritual level as well. When we cannot “see” our brothers then they, our brothers, cannot stand up. So much of what gives us strength (especially when we are younger) is the way we are seen by others. When people see us in a positive light it allows us to see that light within ourselves. In order for Moshe to redeem Klal Yisrael from exile, in order for him to help Klal Yisrael "stand up", his first lesson would be to leave behind the negativity. Yes, Klal Yisrael may look like a snake when they are thrown down but when they are lifted up they are symbolized by the staff of Moshe Rabbeinu. Just as Moshe led with his staff so too Klal Yisrael would one day lead the world to its ultimate redemption.
The second lesson of the Tzaras gave Moshe Rabbeinu an even deeper insight into the true nature of Klal Yisrael. Moshe Rabbeinu. As we mentioned above, Moshe's placement of his hand upon his bosom revealed the secret of his feelings about Klal Yisrael's inabilities. But in that very same fashion his Tzaras is cured! What is the inner message of this duality?
The Alter Rebbe in Tanya addresses the passuk, "For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it" (Devarim30:14). Though Moshe doesn't specify what "thing" he's referring to, from the context of his words it is clear that what's "close to our heart" is loving God, and what's "close to our mouth and actions" (i.e. "that you may do it") is the performance of G‑d's commandments. Moshe assures us that loving God and living a Torah lifestyle is accessible to the average human being. But for so many of us we find ourselves feeling distant from God. It is hard to imagine that loving God is close. That consistently performing his Mitzvos is possible. To answer these questions the Alter Rebbe explains that every Jew has an innate love for God. The Rebbe calls this the ahavah misuteret, the "hidden love." While we may not feel this love (or even be aware of it), that is only because it is so deeply submerged in our consciousness. But in truth the love is always there and it is often seen in times of great crisis. Whenever this love is threatened, it emerges and causes Jews to act in ways they never have before. Throughout history we have seen Jews who did not lead a Torah observant lifestyle but when they were given the opportunity to die al Kiddush Hashem, they did so with alacrity. Why would they die for something that they didn't live for? Their deaths were not to advance the "cause" so to speak of Judaism. Rather, the Alter Rebbe explains, when a Jew finds themselves in a corner, their truest nature emerges. The "hidden love" cannot tolerate being denied and therefore these Jews were more than willing to die Al Kiddush Hashem.
As we said above, the bosom symbolizes our secret nature. When Moshe placed his hand on his bosom the first time he was made aware that he had a secret paradigm of Klal Yisrael as being uninterested in redemption. In returning his hand to his bosom, Moshe is cured of his Tzaras. In other words, from the place of the disease comes the cure itself. In the first lesson, Moshe was taught that Klal Yisrael's condition was a function of their being in Mitzrayim. Take them out of Mitzrayim and you will see how they change. In the second lesson, Moshe was taught that Mitzrayim itself would reveal the inner nature of Klal Yisrael. The hidden (seceret) love of every Jew will emerge and in its flourishing our "skin deep" flaws will be cured.
We can now understand the inner meaning of the miracles that Hashem instructs Moshe to perform for Klal Yisrael. Moshe was not incorrect in expressing his concerns that Klal Yisrael would not believe that Moshe was sent to redeem them. As we pointed out, lashon hora is true. It is difficult to maintain faith while in the throes of terrible trials and tribulations. God sends the same message to Klal Yisrael as he does to Moshe. The first miracle expresses to Klal Yisrael that their behavior in Mitzrayim does not define them. That is only because they have been thrown down to the depths of Mitzrayim. When they are redeemed they will see their true nature. Certainly this is an empowering message if there ever was one but for some it would still not be enough. There would still be those who would doubt that they were actually worthy of redemption. For those people a second miracle was needed. Moshe would show Klal Yisrael that God punished him for doubting that they would be redeemed. Just as God punished Pharaoh and Avimelech in the times of Avraham and Sarah, God remains loyal to the Jews even now in Mitzrayim. In the ultimate act of leadership, Moshe would share with Klal Yisrael his own humanity and how Hashem believes in every Jew. In returning his hand to his bosom and curing his Tzaras, Moshe reveals to Klal Yisrael their own hidden nature. While they may see themselves as idolaters who have fallen to the 49th level of Tumah, their secret love for God remains intact. In fact, throughout the process of redemption, as their hidden love becomes revealed, the exile in Mitzrayim will propel Klal Yisrael all the way to Har Sinai!
And the Torah tells us that this should have been enough to convince every Jew that they were worthy of redemption but sadly there were some Jews that still could not believe. Galus is truly debilitating. Hashem instructs Moshe, don't try and convince this last segment of Klal Yisrael. Simply start bringing the Makkos and they will see that Hashem doesn't only exact retribution on the individuals but even on entire nations. God For those Jews that still found themselves worshiping idols, God would show them in real time that the Gods of Egypt were powerless. For this last segment of Klal Yisrael, it was not enough to tell them that were still beloved. They needed to see it in action.
What emerges from all of the above is that we now have a fundamental insight into the nature of Tzaras. Tzaras is a result of the disconnection that the Nachash Hakadmoni brought into the world. Our job in this world is to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon. To do so it must be revealed that in truth we have never been disconnected. Our hidden love for God remains intact and in the process of redemption it is that secret love that propels us to the greatest heights attainable. Those who see the world through the lens of negativity have bought into the notion of disconnection. This is the art form of the Nachash who was ultimately punished with Tzaras. When one is afflicted with Tzaras it is an opportunity to see past the surface level disconnection and discover the unbreakable connection between Hashem and Klal Yisrael. Positive leadership and education inspires because it is a communication of the inherent relationship we have with Hashem.
The Union of Purification
With this in mind we can now understand the ritual needed to remove tzaras.
Regarding the person who is afflicted with tzaras the Torah tells us:
"And God spoke to Moshe, saying, This shall be the Torah of the leper in the day of his cleansing; He shall be brought to the Kohen; and the Kohen shall go out of the camp; and the Kohen shall look, and, behold, if the disease of leprosy is healed in the leper; then shall the Kohen command to take for him who is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop; and the Kohen shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen utensil over running water; as for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water." (Vayikra 14:1-6)
A similar prescription is necessary for the home that is afflicted with tzaras:
"And he shall take to cleanse the house two birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop; and he shall kill one of the birds in an earthen utensil over running water; and he shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times; and he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water, and with the living bird, and with the cedar wood, and with the hyssop, and with the scarlet. But he shall let go the living bird out of the city into the open fields, and make an atonement for the house; and it shall be clean." (Vayikra 14:49-53)
Rashi (14:4) explains (based on the Gemara in Arachin 16b) that the cedar tree is a tall tree and as such represents the haughtiness of the Metzora. In contrast the hyssop is merely a shrub and as such represents humility. Rashi later (14:6) explains that the cedar sitck and the hyssop are bound together as they are dipped into the blood of the slain bird. This is indeed puzzling? If the cedar represents the haughtiness of the Metzora, why is present in the purification process? And what is the significance of it being tied to the hyssop which represents humility?
From the perspective of the body all things are disconnected from each other. I take up this space while you take up another. From the perspective of the soul, all things are united. Though our bodies are separate, our souls are all inherently connected. The Metzora lives with the perspective of the body. As such they readily see others as disconnected from themselves and often through the lens of negativity. This is the haughtiness of the body which led the Metzora to sin. But the Metzora now has an amazing opportunity to do Teshuva and rectify the sin that the Nachash brought into the world. His haughtiness will become a spring board to humility. He can learn from his mistake that we are not disconnected, we are all one soul. It is now clear why the cedar that represents haughtiness is part of the purification process. Just as with Moshe Rabbeinu the affliction and the cure emanated from the same place, so too here, as the Meztora considers the source of his negativity he comes into contact with his true essence which is united to every other Jew. The symbolism of uniting the cedar and the hyssop could not be more appropriate.
It is now clear why in purifying someone from Tumas Meis we once again find the cedar and the hyssop as the passuk states:
"And one shall burn the heifer in his sight; its skin, and its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall he burn; and the Kohen shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer." (Bamidbar 19:5-6)
One who comes into contact with a dead body is struck by the arrogance of the living. We see ourselves as immortal. This is the arrogance of the body. On the other hand, coming in contact with a dead body can be a demoralizing experience as well. The balance between the cedar and the hyssop, the union of the body and the soul, is necessary for purification.
With this in mind we can understand why the Talmid Chacham is instructed to say “Something like a plague has appeared upon my house.” (Yayikra 14:35) It may in fact be true that the Talmid Chacham can easily identify the marks as tzaras. He may even inform the Kohen as to their nature if the Kohen is unable to do so himself. But the presence of tzaras is a call to action. It is a time for humility. Humility is the posture of the soul. Tzaras is is a function of the hubris of the body which sees itself as disconnected from others.
And even more so, this is a time for positive thinking. The way we perceive reality becomes the reality we live in. The marks of tzaras indicate a life that was consumed by a negativity bias. Someone who saw others in the worst possible light, judging others by their actions and not by their intentions. This is the negativity of the Nachash Hakadmoni that we are obligated to rectify. Our words matter. Until such time that the marks have been definitively declared to be tzaras there remains a possibility for them to be just marks and therefore the Talmid Chacham is tasked with saying "something like tzaras has appeared on my house."
This is why it is the Kohen and not the Talmid Chacham who ultimately declares the marks to be tzaras. The Kohen in Yiddishkeit represents the ultimate person of love. As the spiritual heirs of Aaron HaKohen they embody love and connection. This explains why the text of Birchas Kohanim is, "Blessed are you … who has made us holy with the holiness of Aaron and has commanded us to bless His people Israel with love." This is quite an unusual bracha. There is no other bracha that instructs us to fulfill a mitzvah with love. But Birchas Kohanim
must flow from the love that Aaron instilled in his descendants. And it is precisely this love that makes the Kohen the perfect person to declare someone a Metzora. The Kohen, the paradigm of love, positivity and connection is the perfect role model for the Metzora to have in his life. Seeing how the Kohen treats him with such exquisite sensitivity in this embarrassing situation will inspire the Metzora to Teshuva. His lowest moment will be transformed to his greatest opportunities, enabling the Metzora to rectify the negativity of the Nachash.
We are now ready to address some of the issues we raised at the very outset of this article.
We asked why the stingy person and the thief would be blessed with great wealth when he discovers the hidden treasures in the walls of his own home.
If Hashem wanted to reveal the hidden golden treasures of the Amorites to Klal Yisrael, He simply could have commanded us to destroy all of the houses. Why does God choose to reveal these hidden treasures under such strange circumstances?
Finally, if there never actually was a case where someone got tzaras on their home, what is the lesson that is being taught?
By now it should be clear that tzaras is an affliction that is brought about by seeing ourselves as disconnected from others. This can be a function of the way we speak about others but it can also be a function of the way we treat other people. When our neighbors ask to borrow something our attitude ought to be that we are excited to share. As Godly souls we are deeply connected to each other and we should share with our neighbors as an expression of that connection. When are stingy it is a revelation about the negative way in which we see others. Stealing from another is the ultimate act of disconnection. So God ensures that the thief and the stingy neighbor will be seen for who they really are as their possessions lie out in public for all to see. The punishment certainly fits the crime. If you see yourself as disconnected then that is the life you will have. Which neighbor will be there for the Metzora after they find out that he was lying to them all along?
And yet, all hope is not lost. Though the path will be difficult, there is a treasure that can be acquired in these challenging times. As the secrets of the Metzora have been revealed, he is now called upon to look at the fabric of his relationships. If he can reach deep with himself and recognize his essence (proverbially putting his hand on his own bosom) he will come to the realization that his neighbors are extensions of himself. The hidden treasure now becomes his! The root of the word Amorites is Emor, which means to speak. In other words, the Metzora who has done Teshuva will now speak in a positive way about his neighbors. He will share with them and treat them appropriately. He will become a beloved member of the community as they readily see the changes he has made in his life. He will have brought a tikkun to the sin of the Nachash! This is a great treasure indeed.
So did it ever happen that a house actually became afflicted with Tzaras? As we said, there are multiple opinions on this matter. But according to the opinion that it never happened the Gemara tells us it is an opportunity for us to study the matter and receive reward. As we consider our own homes and the values that we are communicating to our family, the sugya of tzaras on a home is certainly a fundamental one. It teaches us how create homes of positivity and connection. How to see our community as one shared soul and not just a group of individuals. That even in our lowest moments there are incredible opportunities. Indeed, we will reap much reward from studying these sugyas.
We can now understand the connection between the home that is afflicted with tzaras and Eretz Yisrael.
In the desert the Jews were deeply connected to one another. There was a clear sense of community as they traveled together. Upon entering Eretz Yisrael, they were now tasked with building their own homes. The concept of separation now became a potential danger as each family lives on their own.
The Jewish mission is to make our world a home for God. In Eretz Yisrael, Klal Yisrael would have the opportunity to make this dream into a reality. Their own homes would be microcosms of God's home. When the Jewish home is run in an appropriate fashion, when it s place of positivity and connection, it transforms our world into a home for God. This is why the generation in the desert that spoke lashon hora about Eretz Yisrael could not possibly enter into Eretz Yisrael (Arachin 15a). Their negativity would not have allowed them to build homes of connection.
So Hashem shares with Klal Yisrael the awesome opportunity they have in front of them. Build a transcendent home. One where others are invited to share your wealth. In such an environment we built the Bais HaMikdash. Unfortunately, sinas chinam caused our Beis HaMikdash to be destroyed. The negative eye that we had towards each other brought tzaras on to the Beis HaMikdash. The home had to be destroyed.
But hope is not lost. There is a treasure waiting to be discovered within these broken walls. Rashi calls the treasure מטמוניות של זהב. The word מטמוניות, hidden, could be divided into two words מט and מוניות which would mean 49 days of counting, a clear reference to the period of Sefiras HaOmer we are now in. This period of mourning the loss of the Talmidim of Rav Akiva, who were killed because they did not respect each other (ie. they saw each other in a negative light and felt disconnected from each other), is also a great opportunity to discover the essence of our relationship with each other. In so doing we can bring Mashiach.
There is a fascinating reference to creating connection and bringing Mashiach in Parshas Miketz. Yosef is confronting his brothers about the stolen chalice that he has "discovered" in Binyamin's pack. The language of the passuk is striking:
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר לָהֶם֙ יוֹסֵ֔ף מָֽה־הַמַּֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה הַזֶּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עֲשִׂיתֶ֑ם הֲל֣וֹא יְדַעְתֶּ֔ם כִּֽי־נַחֵ֧שׁ יְנַחֵ֛שׁ אִ֖ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֥ר כָּמֹֽנִי:
Yosef said to them, “What is this act that you have done? Do you not know that that someone like me can foretell events?” (Bereishis 44:15)
The language נַחֵ֧שׁ יְנַחֵ֛שׁ, foretell events, is an interesting one. It is almost as if the Torah is connecting this story with the story of the Nachash in Gan Eden. But what's the connection between these two stories?
Furthermore, when we examine the phrase יְנַחֵ֛שׁ אִ֖ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֥ר כָּמֹֽנִי one can see that the word Mashiach (משיח) is encoded backwards in the text. The final word of the passuk כָּמֹֽנִי has a מֹֽ in it. If you count two letters to the right you will find a ש, another two letters to the right and you will find a י, and finally another two letters to the right you will find a ח, spelling the word Mashiach. What is the significance of Mashiach being encoded in the text at this point in the story? Why is it encoded backwards?
The word Nachash and Mashiach have the same Gematria (358). The negativity and disconnection caused by the Nachash created the fractured world we live in. Mashiach will come through the rectification of this sin. Yosef was trying to teach his brothers this important lesson. Yosef was the disconnected brother. The one who was seen in a negative light. Now the brothers have an opportunity to stand united and save Binyamin. Yosef says to them נַחֵ֧שׁ יְנַחֵ֛שׁ, I can see the future. For us to have a future together we have to rectify the sin of the נחש and stand united. Only in this fashion will we merit to see Mashiach. This explains why the word Mashiach is encoded backwards. To bring Mashiach we have to reverse the trend of negativity and disconnection that exists in Klal Yisrael.
So yes, our Beis HaMikdash has indeed been destroyed, our home lies in ruins, but that just means that we have an opportunity to gather the hidden treasure that was lying in the ruins. Ultimately, the Torah teaches that the home afflicted with tzaras is rebuilt as the passuk says:
וְלָֽקְחוּ֙ אֲבָנִ֣ים אֲחֵר֔וֹת וְהֵבִ֖יאוּ אֶל־תַּ֣חַת הָֽאֲבָנִ֑ים וְעָפָ֥ר אַחֵ֛ר יִקַּ֖ח וְטָ֥ח אֶת־הַבָּֽיִת:
"And they shall take other stones and bring them instead of those stones. And he shall take other [mortar] dust, and plaster the house." (Vayikrah 14:42)
Just as the afflicted home is rebuilt so too may we merit to see the building of the Beis HaMikdash speedily in our days.