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This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat Metzora

7 Nissan 5768

April 12, 2008

Vol.17 No.30

In This Issue:

The Virtue of a Positive Outlook

by Rabbi Joel Grossman

The Torah states, "Zot Tehiyeh Torat HaMetzora BeYom Taharato VeHuva El HaKohen," "This shall be the law of the Metzora, on the day of his purification: He shall be brought to the Kohen" (VaYikra 14:2).

My Rebbe, Rav Nisan Alpert zt"l, quotes the Gemara (Arachin 15b) which asks "Amar Reish Lakish: Mai Dichtiv 'Zot Tehiyeh Torah HaMetzora?' Zot Tehiyeh Torato Shel Motzi Sheim Ra." " Reish Lakish said: What is the meaning of that which is written, "This shall be the law of the Metzora"? It means this shall be the law of the speaker of Motzi Sheim Ra."

Rav Nisan said the most frequently quoted verse in Tanach regarding this idea is, "Mavet VeChayim BeYad Lashon," "Death and life are in the hand of the tongue" (Mishlei 18:21). After inquiring why the word BeYad, in the hand, is used in the Pasuk, he concludes, that it is not only words that can damage reputation of your associates, but rather, the same effect can be accomplished through a mere physical gesture, such as waving your hand in contempt. Even though not a single word was spoken, the public humiliation is no less effective. This is why the verse says, "Death and life are in the hand of the tongue." Sometimes it is the tongue that does the damage, and sometimes it is a well timed gesture of contempt, such as the flick of the hand.

The core message of all these lessons is identical. We must conquer our foolish pride; we cannot imagine that it is our right or responsibility to judge others or speak and act as we deem appropriate.

Rav Alpert asks why the Torah uses the word Adam, which generally denotes a person of greater stature than the word Ish. It seems strange that when discussing a person who speaks evil of others, the Torah would use language that denotes a person of distinction.

He explains that a person's stature is determined by whether or not he speaks evil of others. Unfortunately, the Gemara states that everyone falls into the trap of at least Avak Lashon Hara, being involved with caliber of Lashon Hara comparable to dust. Therefore, the manner in which the status of an individual is measured is by evaluating how that person deals with the inevitable Lashon Hara. A person of distinction who wants to improve himself must do his utmost to prevent any recurrence of the Lashon Hara. He must demonstrate a desire and an effort to improve. It is now clear why the Torah refers to this person by the noteworthy title of Adam; he realizes his sin of speaking evil of others and works on humbling himself to the point that it will hopefully never happen again.

Rav Yissachar Frand relates that Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt"l in which he would write the verse "Einecha LeNochach Yabitu VeAfapecha Yayshiru Negdecha," "Let your eyes look straight ahead and your eyelids will straighten your path" (Mishlei 4:25), and would keep it visible for the many people that would come to visit him during Chol HaMoed. His student, Rav David Finkel, asked him why he displayed this Pasuk? He responded that he had once heard the following interpretation of the verse: When your eyes look at someone else, turn them inward. In other words, when you see someone else, don't focus on their flaws, but rather your own, and you will see you are far from perfect. This helped him keep calm with some of his more infuriating visitors.

This Shabbat, when many Rabbanim will be delivering their Shabbat Hagadol Derashot in order to prepare us for Pesach, we should keep this message of Parashat Metzora in mind. We should take a more positive outlook of the world, and rather than find faults, we should focus on the virtues, and BeEzrat Hashem with this merit, and that of speaking properly, we can make this the Nissan of redemption, as mentioned in the Gemara, "BeNisan NiGalu, BeNisan Atidin LeGaeil" "In Nisan we were redeemed, and in the future, we will be redeemed in Nissan."

The Power of Speech

by Yakir Forman

The Haftarah of Parashat Metzora tells the story of four Jews afflicted with Tzaraat who were outside Shomron during a siege by the Aramim. These four realized that due to the lack of food in Shomron, they would probably die soon, and had nothing to lose by surrendering to the Aramim. When they came to the Arami camp, however, they saw that Hashem had caused the Aramim to flee in haste and leave their camp, with all their food and possessions, to the Jews. The four discoverers went back to the city gate and relayed the information to the Jews inside, ending the siege and the famine.

The Gemara (Berachot 54a-b) tells another story about Jews afflicted with Tzaraat. In Parashat Chukat, the Torah quotes a song from Sefer Milchamot Hashem, the Book of the Wars of Hashem, which says, "Et VaHeiv BeSufah" (BeMidbar 21:14), a Pasuk which does not lend itself to an easy literal translation. The Gemara translates this Pasuk as "Et and Heiv at the end," explaining that Et and Heiv were two Jews with Tzaraat who were traveling behind Bnei Yisrael. When Bnei Yisrael had to pass through a mountain's narrow valley during their travels through the desert, the Emorim tried to ambush Bnei Yisrael by hiding in the mountain's caves, which were opposite to finger-like protrusions; however, the Aron, traveling in front of Bnei Yisrael, caused the two mountains on either side of the valley to come together, merging the protrusions and the Emori's caves and killing the Emorim. Bnei Yisrael passed through unaware of the miracle, but once the two mountains separated again, Et and Heiv saw the Emori blood between the two mountains and realized what had happened. They told Bnei Yisrael of the miracle, and Bnei Yisrael then sang a song of thanks to Hashem about what happened.

Why were these six Metzoraim, the four in the Haftarah in addition to Et and Heiv, all Zocheh to see Hashem's great miracles when the rest of Bnei Yisrael heard about them only secondhand? In his Sefer Torah LaDaat, Rav Mattis Blum explains that the six Metzoraim were afflicted with Tzaraat and exiled from the rest of Bnei Yisrael because they had spoken Lashon HaRa. They were experiencing the consequences of speech used improperly. Hashem wished to convey to them the flipside: how powerful speech used correctly can be. He therefore gave them the opportunity to tell important information to the rest of Bnei Yisrael. In the Haftarah, the four Metzoraim's speech caused great happiness to Bnei Yisrael, due to the end of the siege, and a Kiddush Hashem, due to the fulfillment of Elisha's prophecy, which proclaimed that the famine would end and food in Shomron would once again be affordable. Et and Heiv, through their speech, caused Bnei Yisrael to institute a song of thanks that would be written in the Torah and last for generations, and also caused Berachot to be recited by whoever passes the spot of the miracle they discovered. All six Metzoraim were able to accomplish great things through speech spoken correctly.

Using this idea, we can resolve an apparent problem in Haftarat Metzora. There is a general rule that Haftarot should end on a positive note. Even in deliberately negative Haftarot, such as Haftarat Chazon and Haftarat Tisha BeAv, the Haftara concludes with two or three positive Pesukim. The last topic in Haftarat Metzora, however, is the trampling of the Jewish captain who had previously ridiculed Elisha's prophesying the end of the famine, and the Haftarah ends on the highly negative note of "VaYamot," "And he died" (Melachim II 7:20). How can the Haftarah end with this Jew's death; this ending is not happy?

In his Sefer Bein Haftarah LeParasha, Rav Yehudah Shaviv shows that this Haftarah teaches us an important lesson using "Chatimah MeiEin Petichah," the Haftarah's end should parallel its beginning. Haftarat Metzora begins with the Pasuk, "VeArbaah Anashim Hayu Metzoraim Petach HaShaar," "There were four men who were afflicted with Tzaraat at the city gate" (Melachim Bet 7:3), referring to the four aforementioned Metzoraim. Their Tzaraat parallels the captain's death, based on the Gemara (Nedarim 64b), which says that "Metzora Chashuv KeMeit," a Metzora is considered as a dead person. The captain, who should have spoken words of encouragement to the people, instead used his speech to scorn Hashem's prophet, and was thus killed. The four Metzoraim also used their speech improperly, and were given Tzaraat, an affliction compared to death; however, the four Metzoraim were then able to do Teshuvah and use their speech for good. Thus from our Haftarah we see both the best results of speech, from the four Metzoraim, and worst results of speech, from the captain. Although this Haftarah may end on a negative note, we can certainly learn a very positive lesson from the contrast of its beginning and end.

We also see the gravity of Chazal's assertion that "Metzora Chashuv KeMeit". The four Metzoraim, as well as Et and Heiv, should have been killed for speaking Lashon HaRa, as the captain was. Instead, they were all afflicted with Tzaraat instead, and given a second chance to use their speech properly, which all six utilized. May we all be Zocheh to always have such a second chance to fix our speech and other aspects of our Avodat Hashem.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

by Avi Hirt

Parashat Metzora continues the theme of Parashat Tazriya in its discussion of the laws concerning Tzaraat. In its description of reporting potential Tzaraat afflicting one's house, the Torah states, "UVa Asher Lo HaBayit VeHigid LaKohen Leimor KeNega Nirah Li BaBayit," "The one to whom the house belongs shall come and declare to the Kohen, saying: Something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house" (VaYikra 14:35). An obvious question arises from this Pasuk: why does the person who reports his potential Tzaraat use the strange formulation of "Something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house" rather than simply conveying to the Kohen that he believes that his house has contracted Tzaraat?

Rav Yeruchem Levovitz suggests an answer: the Torah is teaching us that we must always judge people favorably, even ourselves. The potential Metzora could have said definitively that he had developed Tzaarat, but the Torah teaches him to view himself as "innocent until proven guilty."

This lesson is still applicable to us today. We should not jump to conclusions as soon as we hear or see something. For example, after seeing a Jew driving on Shabbat, one must give that Jew the benefit of the doubt and conclude that an emergency forced him to violate Shabbat. Similarly, we must distance ourselves from the practice of publishing slanderous conjecture, as the media often does, about people whom we only suspect to be acting wrongly based on the places in which we see them. As Bnei Torah, we should not jump to such conclusions, but rather follow the Pasuk by giving people the benefit of the doubt.

Like an Affliction on the Wall

by Chaim Metzger

Parashat Metzora deals mainly with the Halachot regarding Tzaraat, a spiritual affliction. One of the most interesting things about Tzaraat is that not only can it afflict the body, but it can even appear on clothes or buildings. Someone who sees an affliction on his house must come to a Kohen and ask the Kohen to come to his house to check if the house has Tzaraat. The Torah quotes such a person's words to the Kohen using very interesting language, "KeNega Nirah Li BaBayit," "Something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house" (VaYikra 14:35). Why would the owner of the house need to say that something "KeNega," like an affliction, appeared on his house? Why can't he simply say that he saw a "Nega," an affliction?

Rashi answers that it is necessary for the Torah to use this language in order to teach us that even if the owner of the house was a Talmid Chacham, he should still not say it definitively. Tosafot Yom Tov resolves the question by saying that it is preferable to avoid speaking of unfortunate events, but if the case arises where it is necessary, one should speak about them in a roundabout manner, lest speaking of it causes the matter to occur again. If one were to assume that Tosafot Yom Tov are correct, then how can he explain the Rashi on the previous Pasuk which said that Tzaraat appearing on the walls of a house was a blessing because the owner of the house would discover treasures that the Emorim hid in the walls? If the Tzaraat was a blessing, why would there be reluctance to discuss the matter directly?

Rav Moshe Feinstein proposes that this contradiction can be solved through an illustration from the Mitzvah of Tzedakah, charity. Based on the Pasuk, "Kol Cheilev Yitzhar VeChol Cheilev Tirosh VeDagan," "All the best of your oil and all the best of your wine and grain" (BeMidbar 18:12), Chazal derive that one must give Tzedakah from the best of one's possessions. Thus, it can be assumed that if someone does not value money, then by simply giving the normal amount he cannot accomplish this, and only through the donation of a large amount could he fulfill "Kol Cheilev." This concept explains the Gemara (Ketubot 66b-67a) which states that Nakdimon ben Gurion lost his fortune because he did not give Tzedakah to the best of his abilities. Nakdimon gave only an amount which he deemed insignificant, such as the placing of woolen garments under his feet and having the poor collect the treaded-on clothes, demonstrating his disregard for what he would give to the poor.

On the other hand, perhaps giving a small amount of money does accomplish "Kol Cheilev." Many people are unconcerned if they lose sums of money that they deem negligible, for they still have enough to maintain their state of living. However, when it comes to acts of kindness or charity they are careful not to waste a single penny, because the needs of the less fortunate are so great that every cent counts. If someone has this mindset, then when engaging in acts of kindness and donating amounts they would normally deem negligible, they can fulfill the mitzvah of Tzedakah to the fullest.

If Hashem desires it, he can grant someone riches without causing the beneficiary to lose a cent. In business, however, there are times when one must spend large amounts to earn a profit, knowing full well that no benefit will be received for years. But the time one waits for the profits is not spent in worry, as he knows that he will reap the benefits in the future. By taking this into consideration, people will realize the importance and potential benefits of every penny and be careful not to let any small amount of money go to waste. Such an individual would consider the demolition of sections of his house or a wall of his house a pointless expenditure, as the money could have been used for much better purposes. To such a person, the Torah's compelling him to demolish his wall is a punishment, and therefore he does not wish to say "an affliction has appeared to me in the house" but would prefer "something like an affliction" to speak about it an a roundabout way, as it truly is an affliction for him, not a blessing as Rashi says. It is important to realize the value of every cent and to view any wasting of money as a true affliction.