Friday, April 16, 2010

Parsha Tazria - Metzora

In this week's Torah reading, we are given the laws of the various skin diseases [types of tzara'at, usually and incorrectly translated as "leprosy"] that can render a person spiritually impure. These specific diseases do not render an individual impure because of their physical contagiousness, but rather because their presence reflects some spiritual fault or contamination.
It is a Scriptural decree that the uncleanness of these lesions and their cleanness do not come about except by the pronouncement of a kohen. As it says He shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.

Question: Since every priest is qualified to rule on tzarat, why is Aaron specified in addition to all the other priests?

The following answer is given: Aaron epitomized the love of people and the pursuit of peace.When he knew of a quarreling family or friends, he would work tirelessly to reconcile them. At times it would be necessary to conceal information or even deviate somewhat from the truth. He would tell each estranged friend of the other's deep regrets and desire to renew the friendship.

Tzaarat is caused through evil talk against a person. Often, a tale-bearer justifies his actions, claiming that he is actually performing a mitzvah by telling the truth and that he is motivated by love and concern. Thus, he rationalizes that he is causing no harm and indeed, the individual ultimately will rectify his ways.

Therefore, the Torah prescribes bringing the tzaarat-stricken individual to Aaron to learn the lesson that the greatest lover of peace did not accomplish it through evil talk. It is also a message to the sinner that G-d prefers the ways of Aaron, which bring peace, over the "truth" of the tale-bearer, which destroys families and relationships.

Candlelighting time for Los Angeles is 7:07pm

Parshat Metzora. Moshiach called a Leper.

This week's Torah portion of Metzora deals with the various types of leprosy and the purification procedure one had to undergo after suffering that affliction. However, on a deeper level, leprosy signifies something more than just a skin condition or disorder.

Surprisingly enough, Moshiach is often referred to as a leper. The Talmud calls Moshiach a leper, for "he suffers our burdens, and our maladies are his. He is therefore afflicted, stricken by G-d and tortured."

But, Moshiach is considered a leper only during the exile, before the Final Redemption takes place. Although Moshiach exists in every generation, his essence whole and unchanged, he is not yet in a revealed state. He must therefore suffer the pain of the Jewish nation and bear the burdens of exile together with them.

What is the nature of Moshiach's suffering? Leprosy, as pointed out by Chasidic philosophy, is a disease affecting only the "skin of his flesh." It is an illness which disfigures only the external layer, and does not involve internal organs. Leprosy therefore symbolizes a state in which a person's inner being remains unaffected, despite the outward manifestation of disease.

The leper represents a person whose inner self has already been purified and refined. All that remains is for the outermost shell to be cleansed. In Moshiach's case, this outer layer consists of the Jewish people's collective weaknesses.

This is the condition in which we find ourselves today, on the threshold of the Messianic era. Our afflictions are only external, for the essence of the Jewish people has been refined and cleansed by the long years of exile.

Together with us, Moshiach, too, impatiently awaits the day he will no longer suffer and G-d will bring the final Redemption, may it be speedily in our day!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tongue - Good or Bad?

Rabban Gamliel was head of the Sanhedrin and a wise leader of the Jewish people. One day he instructed his attendant, Tovi, to go to the market saying only, "Tovi, please buy something good to eat."

Tovi thought for a few moments and then went to the butcher. He purchased a tongue, known to be a great delicacy. Returning to his employer, Tovi proudly showed him his purchase.

"Excellent!" said Rabban Gamliel. "Now, go back to the market and buy something which is not good to eat." Tovi was surprised at Rabbi Gamliel's unusual request, but he returned back to the marketplace. As he walked, he thought, "Why would my master desire that I buy bad food? There must be some purpose for his request. Perhaps he wants to teach his disciples something." Tovi's thoughts continued in this vein.

Tovi entered the butcher shop and ordered another tongue. Then he returned to his employer and showed him the purchase. Rabbi Gamliel asked, "When I asked you to buy something good to eat, you bought a tongue. But then, when I sent you out a second time to purchase something bad to eat, you returned with another tongue. Is a tongue good or bad?"

Tovi replied, "A tongue is both. For when the tongue is good, there is nothing better, but when it is bad, there is nothing worse. When people learn Torah or speak G-d's praises with their tongues, there is nothing more exalted in the world. When they express kindness to their fellow man and use their words to help one another, it is a very great thing. However, when they speak ill of one another, when they insult or hurt another with their words, they bring about great evil and the tongue is very bad."

Let us remember this every time we use our tongue.