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Parashat Metzora 5779 — 04/13/2019

Parashat Metzora 5779 — 04/13/2019

Shabbat haGadol

L’ilui nishmat Leah bat Yosef A”H on her 45th Yahrzeit

Vayikra 14:1-15:33

The Gemara lists 7 major sins for which one contracts tzara’at, generally mistranslated as “leprosy” but actually referring to a physical disease that reflects an underlying, unhealthy spiritual state. They are: (a) evil/damaging speech (b) murder (c) perjury (d) sexual immorality (e) arrogance (f) robbery and (g) miserliness. Yet if you were to ask anyone what causes tzara’at, virtually everyone would focus on the first – evil speech / lashon hara. R. Goldin lists some of the Biblical associations between tzara’at and lashon hara, viz:

1. The term metzora itself can be broken down and linguistically connected to the expression motzi shem ra (slander, lit: bringing out a bad name). (Arachin 15b)

2. Moshe is temporarily struck with tzara’at at the burning bush when he casts aspersions on the Israelites by doubting their willingness to respond to Gd’s call for the Exodus. (Ex 4:6 and Rashi)

3. Miriam is punished with tzara’at when she maligns her brother, Moshe. (Num 12:9)

4. The practical response to tzara’at (seclusion from the community) results in a punishment that fits the crime. The metzora must distance himself through isolation from society because his words created distance between husband and wife, between a man and his friend. (Arachin 16b)

5. The bird offerings brought by the metzora at the end of his period of seclusion mirror the nature of his sin. He injured others through the “chatter” of slander and gossip. His purification is, therefore, effectuated through the means of “chirping, twittering” birds. (Arachin 16b)

But why is tzara’at associated with sins of speech? It is a general principle in Torah that “the punishment fits the crime.” Why is the physical disfiguration of tzara’at a fitting punishment (alternatively, a natural consequence) of lashon hara (lit: evil tongue)? R. Goldin writes:

The foundation for this viewpoint is laid early on in a seemingly strange interpretation offered by the classical translator of biblical text, Onkelos [RAR: 1st century CE]. Commenting on the seminal phrase concerning the man’s creation, “And He breathed into his [man’s] nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being [Gen 2:7]. Onkelos translates, “… and man became a speaking spirit” [Onkelos, ibid.]
… Aren’t man’s true distinctions his soul, his intellect and his power of reasoned thought?
A brilliant insight into the approach of Onkelos is offered by R. Yitzchak Arama [RAR: 15th century Spain] in an extensive discussion on Parashat Metzora. While man’s intellect does set him apart from the beast, this scholar notes, his intellect is only fully revealed and actualized through verbal communication. Speech is the Gd-given tool through which an individual’s heart and mind are reflected in the outside world.

In other words, just as Gd manifests Himself in creation through speech, we, who were created Gd’s “Image and Likeness,” are supposed to use our power of speech to manifest Gdliness in creation. Our soul, which is the transcendental value of our personality, is supposed to manifest itself into the environment, creating order and wholeness, and it is through speech (both verbal and symbolic) that this is accomplished. If we don’t do this, but rather use our speech in a destructive way, it is as if we lose our “Image of Gd” and become worse than an animal, which at least does what Gd designed it to do. Tzara’at causes us to be banished from human society, not only because of the harm that our lashon hara has caused, but also because of the waste of the infinite potential of our speech.

What does it mean that Gd created by means of speech? On the surface, it says 9 times in the first chapter of Genesis, “And Gd said let there be…” But there must be something deeper going on than a crude anthropomorphism. I wrote a number of weeks ago about a grammatical anomaly in the Book of Numbers, 7:89. The word “spoke” (as in Gd spoke to Moses) has an unexpected vowel at the beginning, which Rashi interprets as a reflexive form. In Rashi’s words, “Gd was speaking to Himself and Moses heard on his own.” If Gd is the ultimate reality, really the only Being Who truly exists, then whom does Gd have to talk to other than Himself. If Gd is the only reality, what does He have to be aware of, other than Himself?

I believe it is this Self-referral nature of Gd that can give us a way to understand how our tradition can describe Gd’s creative act as “speech,” and in particular, speech in the Hebrew language. If Gd is aware of Himself, there is a virtual polarity within Gd’s nature – and I hasten to say “virtual” because this is just another way of speaking of things that appear self-contradictory when expressed in human language. This polarity sets up a kind of vibration, and this vibration has tones and overtones. The structure of these overtones, we are told, is the grammar, syntax and semantics of the Hebrew language. Thus, the process of creation is, at its basis, the pattern of vibration within the immutable. This vibration, which in human terms is speech, is how Gd brings His unmanifest nature into the manifest.

Likewise, our speech can manifest our thoughts and intentions. If our thoughts and intentions are in line with Gd’s intentions, then our speech will have the full power of Gd’s Will behind them. If not, they will, to whatever extent, cause grief and suffering, stress and strain, as we try to swim against the tide. That is really a losing proposition, and we end up with the living death of tzara’at if we get too far off the path.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Metzora
Parashat Metzora teaches us the importance of living in love so that we do not set ourselves apart from our neighbors, near and far; we do not speak ill of others and we do not feel better than others. Whatever skills we have, we remember, as the joke goes, “You’re unique, just like everybody else.”

It’s only through “loving Gd with all our heart, all our soul, all our might” and “loving our neighbor as our self (our Self)” that we can return to Full Awareness of the Source, Gd, our own Full Nature.

This parshah tells us we need to look at our lives as something we are personally responsible for and that is certainly vital for us to do. It is also vital that we ask what is the source of our thoughts, our decisions, our right actions, our wrong ones? What is the source of our health and our afflictions?

In Parashat Metzora, the angle is that the individual who has an affliction, a skin disease, is personally responsible. True!

But Torah and the parshah do not discuss that the thoughts and actions that lead to health or afflictions come to the individual from the Source the individual does not know. We need to rise to the level of awareness where we are aware of the Source, are One with the Source, are the Source and then our actions as individuals will always be healthy for us and everyone, never harmful, never!

Through love we rise to Love, to Happiness, Joy, Return to Full Awareness of One.

Metzora” is short for three Hebrew words (“motzi shem ra”) meaning “saying bad things about people” When a person develops skin lesion — perhaps similar to leprosy — the community takes it as a sign that he has consistently spoken bad things about people, is spiritually impure. beautifully comments that through failure to love he has isolated himself from the community. Part of the healing process is that he should be physically isolated from the community. Gd commands that he stay outside the camp (interpreters comment this has the value of allowing him time to reflect on his immoral behavior, to commit himself to moral behavior and to be healed; some also comment that this protects the members of the community from being further harmed, perhaps infected, by him). It is also a physical reminder of how damaging he has been to himself by isolating himself from his neighbors through his unloving thoughts, speech, actions; and through his conception of himself as greater than others.

When a kohen (priest) goes outside the camp and sees that the metzora is healed of his skin affliction, the process of purifying his whole personality, his soul, begins. again comments beautifully that by leaving the camp where Gd’s Presence is so manifest in order to see if the metzora has been healed, the kohen is showing great love, he is a great role model for the metzora.

The purification process continues with two birds, spring water in an earthen vessel, a piece of cedar, a scarlet thread and hyssop.

One bird will be slaughtered, its blood put in the spring water in the earthen vessel. The other bird, the cedar stick, the scarlet thread and the hyssop will then be dipped in the water.

Rashi, the most-quoted commentator on Torah, observes that the birds constantly chatter and it is the chatter of the metzora that needs to be purified, restored to loving; the cedar tree is tall and so it symbolizes the haughtiness with which the metzora considered himself higher than others (and through the naturally tall cedar he can naturally be restored to his full height as a human being, an expression of Gd, High without Limit).

One bird is slaughtered: this is the old speech, unloving. The other bird lives: this is the healthy speech to which the metzora now becomes attached.

Spring water is a common symbol of purity and so it symbolizes the purity which the metzora will return to. Earth is a common symbol of Love, of stability, and so it symbolizes the stable love the metzora will return to.

The scarlet thread symbolizes the red tongue, to be purified by dipping it in the water.

Hyssop is a symbol of purity (it was used to paint the blood on doors to protect our ancestors from the plague of the death of the first born) and also a symbol of humility—it was used by our ancestors for so many purposes it serves as a symbol of willingness to serve Gd in whatever way Gd chooses.

Our religion, whatever spiritual practices we do, help us to act purely, to become increasingly aware of our Source, to become increasingly healthy, whole and to prevent ourselves from falling ill.

We have a very loving, joyful congregation, a blessing, a Blessing!

Baruch HaShem.