More on this Parsha


This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat Tazria

29 Adar Bet 5768

April 5, 2008

Vol.17 No.29

In This Issue:

Special Time, Special Place

by Mr. Moshe Glasser

In addition to this week's regular Parasha, we will read the last of the Arbaah Parashiot, Parashat HaChodesh. Not coincidentally, we also prepare for Rosh Chodesh this week through a special Tefillah, during which we announce the date and time of the coming new month. This is an interesting moment: Rosh Chodesh itself includes no mention of the month's name or characteristics. The day of Rosh Chodesh is the same each month, no matter which month it commences. But on Shabbat, we discuss the month itself. This lends the Shabbat preceding a Rosh Chodesh some characteristics of the month to come. Before Chodesh Nissan, the special Parashat HaChodesh gives us an even stronger link to the coming of the first of the months and the beginning of a new cycle of Regalim. What can we gain from this juxtaposition?

Rashi famously wonders, in his commentary on the Torah's very first Pasuk, why we do not start with Parashat HaChodesh, the first Mitzvah commanded to Bnei Yisrael. This question should astonish us: why would we not start with the creation of the world? Why would Rosh Chodesh be a more appropriate beginning? His answer is no less bewildering: that the nations of the world should know Hashem created Eretz Yisrael and bequeathed it to Bnai Yisrael, legitimizing our claim to the land promised to us. Why would the nations trust our bible? And why would that explain putting Bereishit - literally, the beginning - at the beginning?

The answer to this question helps us understand the conflict between Zeman and Makom, time and place, expressed in many aspects of Halacha and Jewish philosophy. Rosh Chodesh is an expression of power given to the Jewish people by Hashem. He allows us to control time - whenever we declare Rosh Chodesh, even if we are technically wrong, Hashem declares it with us. Shabbat, an acknowledgment of Hashem's creation of the world (place), comes every seven days whether we like it or not. Yom Tov corresponds to Bnai Yisrael's declaration of Rosh Chodesh (time). On Shabbat, as one of my Rebbeim used to say, Hashem invites us into His house. On Yom Tov, because we declare the day and we determine the system, we invite Hashem into our house.

This is an incredible power. It is so incredible, in fact, that Rashi considered it to be worthy of being the very first discussion in the Torah. But Rashi knew why it was relegated to the point of Bnai Yisrael's founding as a nation, later in Sefer Shemot. Bereishit discusses the critical aspect of Makom, place, made holy by Hashem's decree that Eretz Yisrael is the land, and no other, that will be ours forever - a decree regardless of time, as it was made by the Eternal. When it comes to the Shalosh Regalim, we combine these two critical aspects of our religion: a holy place at a holy time.

One of my favorite pastimes in school is talking to Dr. Berman, the Chairman of the Science Department at TABC, about the trends in science and how they can better help us understand this world. In the past, scientists sought to prove that our world, our sun, our galaxy were so typical, so common, so plebeian that we were nothing special. Perhaps this idea appealed to their sense of loneliness - if a world like ours is common, then maybe we are not alone, not special. They are recently discovering, however, that our planet and sun are so unusual, the conditions under which we exist so singular, that our mere existence is a statistical impossibility. Hashem's determination of location was done for us.

All that remains is for us to dedicate the time. In Nissan, at the beginning of a new quarter, a new month, a new cycle of Yamim Tovim, we have a new chance to explore the world around us, and hope that this time will feel as special as we can make it.

Pay it Forward

by Shimon Berman

While discussing the process of the Kohen checking a man for potential Tzaraat, the Torah states, "VeRaah HaKohen Et HaNega BeOr HaBasar VeSeiar BaNega Hafach Lavan UMareih HaNega Amok MeiOr Besaro Nega Tzaraat Hu VeRaahu HaKohen VeTimei Oto," "The Kohen shall look at the affliction on the skin of his flesh: If hair in the affliction has changed to white, and the affliction's appearance is deeper than the skin of the flesh- it is a Tzaraat affliction; the Kohen shall look at it and declare him contaminated" (VaYikra 13:3). While this Pasuk may seem very straight forward, it both opens and closes with the same action, namely that of the Kohen seeing the Metzora, an apparent repetition not compliant with the general theme that there are no extra letters or words in the Torah. Why does the Torah record this seeming redundancy?

The Meshech Chochmah explains this redundancy by giving each phrase a different purpose. This first time the Pasuk refers to the Kohen looking at the Nega, the Torah is alluding to the fact that the Kohen must check if the Nega qualifies as actual Tzaraat, thereby deeming the Metzora Tamei. The second examination is another form of checking the man, which is conducted irrespective of whether or not he was fit at the time to become Tamei. The Meshech Chochmah writes, "Aval Yeish Re'iyah Acheret…SheEinah Keshurah BaNega, Ela BaIsh UBaZeman," meaning that the Kohen had to view the person-his characteristics and his personal condition-and whether being Tamei would be appropriate at that point in time. The Meshech Chochmah quotes the Halachah (Moed Katan 7a-b) that a Chatan during his week of Sheva Berachot and any person celebrating one of the Shalosh Regalim would not be declared Tamei until after the Simcha had passed, so as not to spoil the Simcha. These acts of kindness on the part of the Kohen are not random, but serve to teach a lesson to the Metzora. The Gemara (Eirachin 15b) states that the Negaim of a Metzora result from seven actions, Lashon HaRa being the most well-known of them. The sin of the Metzora was not just that he shared a juicy bit of gossip, but that he was quick to judge others in an unfavorable manner and then spread this negative opinion to others. The Kohen's kindness teaches him to look favorably at the actions of others. By experiencing kindness, the Torah hopes that this Metzora will then pay it forward to others.

The Light of Mitzvot

by Nachi Farkas

In addition to Parashat Tazria, this week we will read the Parashat HaChodesh, which discusses the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh. In his Sefer Aish Kadosh, the Piezetzner Rebbe wrote a Drasha on Parashat HaChodesh. He cites the famous first Rashi in the Torah, which poses the question why the Torah did not begin with the first Mitzvah given to Bnei Yisrael, that of sanctifying Rosh Chodesh, and why the entire story of Sefer Bereishit is necessary. Rashi answers that Sefer Bereishit is to be used in an argument against those who would protest our conquest of Eretz Yisrael, saying that we were stealing from their lands. Sefer Bereishit allows us to answer that Hashem created the whole Earth, including Eretz Yisrael, and He can give it and take it away as he wishes.

The Piezetzner Rebbe asks yet another question: even if Sefer Bereishit is necessary, why did it have to be written first, before all the Mitzvot? Why couldn't the Mitzvot have come first, and then the story of the world's creation? He writes that one answer to this question can be found in the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 3a) which quotes a statement of Rabi Chanina: "Gadol HaMetzuveh VeOseh Yoteir MiSheEino Metzuveh VeOseh," "It is better to be commanded to do a Mitzvah (Metzuveh), and do it than to not be commanded yet still do the Mitzvah." Tosafot explain that a Metzuveh has a Yeitzer HaRa not to do the Mitzvah. Thus, the Piezetzner Rebbe adds that there is a special positive benefit to being commanded, not just a greater Yeitzer HaRa. When a Mitzvah is done, Hashem contributes a part of his "light", an Or Kadosh, to the Mitzvah. But when someone is Metzuveh they also find within themselves this inner "light" and use it to make their Mitzvah special. This is why a being a Metzuveh is preferred. A Metzuveh has the ability to draw out this inner light, while one who is not a Metzuveh cannot.

There is a hint to this idea from the word "Mitzvah." In At-Bash, the switching of each letter with its opposing letter, such as Aleph with Taf, Bet with Shin and so on, if the letters Mem and Tzadi of "Mitzvah" were switched with their At-Bash pairs, they would become Yud and Hei, and the word would spell out Hashem's name, Yud "Kei" Vav "Kei." Only a Metzuveh can bring out his inner light and realize the Sheim Hashem involved in every Mitzvah. This is why the Torah starts with the stories of Avraham and the other Avot. If these were Tzaddikim were without the commandments of the Torah, how much greater is the opportunity for us who have the Torah and are commanded do follow the Mitzvot, making us able to utilize and recognize our own potential inner light.

This message is very important on a daily basis. Instead of seeing a Mitzvah like Tefillin and deciding not to do it because of lack of rhyme and reason, one should look at the Mitzvah and see the ability to bring out his own inner light and resonate with the Shechinah of Hashem in a way that only he can, because he is commanded. This is what Tosafot mean when he state that the Yeitzer HaRa tries to stop a person. The Yeitzer HaRa tries to make us forget the great potential and reward that doing this seemingly pointless Mitzvah will give us. Mitzvot will allow us to see our true selves as the special chosen people of Hashem and to become even closer to him. In truth, that is the best reward for doing any Mitzvah. May we all be Zocheh to muster up this inner light and create a greater connection with Hashem.

Thanks to Rabbi Moshe Weinberg for his help with this Devar Torah.

Bad and Worse

by Shaul Yaakov Morrison

In this week's Parasha, we are told many details regarding one who is suffering from Tzaraat, a rash that appeared on the skin of those who transgressed the prohibition against speaking Lashon HaRa. The affected area had to be shown to a Kohen, who would then prescribe the actions that are necessary to heal the individual of his affliction. The correct method of Teshuvah for speaking Lashon HaRa was distancing one's self from the community for a period of time to be determined by the Kohen, shaving one's head, and bringing a Korban.

One might think that we are fortunate in our day and age not to have to undergo such a rigorous and uncomfortable punishment for engaging in something so seemingly minor as speaking Lashon HaRa.

Surprisingly, it is the converse that is true. It will be a fortunate occasion when Klal Yisrael will once again have a clear indication of a transgression such as that of Lashon HaRa. Tzaraat enables one to know about their problem before it is too late, and allows them to repent for their transgression. Picture a person brought before Hashem to be judged, after 120 years has passed, only to discover that he had said so much Lashon HaRa. The person will protest "But I gave Tzedakah, I set time for Torah study and I observed Shabbat and Kashrut almost perfectly." The person is punished anyway because all of the Lashon HaRa he said. If only he would have known about his sins, and would have been able to do Teshuva, and he would not have to undergo all of the suffering in Olam HaBa.

A story is told of the renown Tzaddik Rav Aryeh Levin in which someone stole a precious article from the Levin household. Rav Levin saw what occurred and immediately pursued the thief calling "I forgive you!" "I relinquish all ownership!" "It's yours!" "It's yours!" He didn't want the thief to have the transgression on his head for the rest of his life. This is comparable to the punishment of Tzaarat. When the transgressor was done with the cleansing process, he had completely repented, and the sin of Lashon HaRa was no longer over their head. However, now that there is no cleansing process, there is no way to do Teshuva for Lashon HaRa; therefore, we must be even more careful with our language, now that we don't have Tzaraat to warn us when we are speaking improperly. B'ezrat Hashem, we can learn from the Tzaraat, and at the end of fulfilled life of 120 years, we will be free of the burden of Lashon HaRa and able to proceed happily to Olam HaBa.