Metzora 5765 – Gilayon #390

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 (Vayikra 14:21,32)


If, however, he is poor [dal] and his

means are insufficient – Eight terms refer to the poor person: ani, evyon, miskein, rash, dal,

dakh, makh, helekh.


– in accordance with its plain meaning; evyon

– is despised by all; miskein – is denigrated

by all, for it is said, the wisdom of the miskein

is denigrated (Kohellet

9); rash – without property, dal

– his property has become meager; dakhdepressed,

he sees something but does not eat it, or drink it, or taste it; makh, bent down before all like the lowest door

sill, that is why Moses warns Israel, When your brother is bent down.

(Vayikra Rabbah



Dal can refer to a bodily state, as in scrawny [dalot] and ill-formed (Bereishit 41:19), happy is he who is thoughtful

of the wretched (Tehillim

41:2), so wretched [dal], son of the king

(II Samuel 13:4). And some people are called dal

because they lack money.

(Ibn Ezra on Vayikra 14:21)


If, however, he is poor [dal]: For

the poor man the guilt offering remains exactly the same. The duty of social

justice is the same for rich and poor and social position does not enter into

the judgments of those sins against brotherhood and justness for which the

guilt-offering of the leper is designed to atone. It is only in the tenor of

life as a whole which is different in the higher or lower "class" in

which our fate has placed our lives, and it is in different phases of our moral

strength which become tested and proved in the different external conditions of

life. So that although guilt offering and log of oil are the same for a

rich leper or a poor one, the sin offering and the burnt offering representing

the dedication and the direction of their general lives, consists for the poor

man, just as in the "rising and lowering" offering, of a bird

sin-offering, and a bird bunt-offering.

(Rabbi S.R. Hirsch on Vayikra

14:21, following Levy translation)


Study and

Gain Reward

Pinchas Leiser


various types of leprosy and their ritual purification belong to the vast

category of commandments that lack any contemporary application. It is not

clear to us what it is that the Torah refers to as "leprosy." Even if

a team of historians, bible scholars, rabbis and doctors managed to discover

its identity, it is doubtful that the results of such a project would bring

about the resumption of the rituals of banishment and purification described in

the Torah.


is not the only biblical phenomenon of purely academic interest. The unruly and

rebellious child and the subverted city [ir

hanidahat] are among the situations of which it

is said, "They never occurred and never shall occur." Why, then does

the Torah mention them? So that we may "expound upon

them and receive a reward."

The Mishnah (Makot

1:10) records a disagreement regarding the Sanhedrin's infliction of the

death penalty. Rabbi Akiva and R. Tarfon

take the most radical stance, claiming that, "If we were in the Sanhedrin,

no one would ever be killed." The Mishnah in Sotah 9:9 is also well-known:


murderers became numerous, the ritual of the broken-necked calf was

discontinued… when adulterers became numerous, the bitter waters were ended.


the destruction of the Temple, we have ceased to offer sacrifices; instead, Our lips will make up for [sacrificial] bulls.

We observe the commandment of wiping out the memory of Amalek

by reading Parashat Zakhor,

and not by chasing and exterminating Amalekites. It seems

to me that the revolutionary transformation from a culture of ritual activity

to one of study, prayer, and contemplation demonstrates the greatness of the

Oral Torah as a dynamic element which is capable of creating a "Torah of



since the Sages, all of the Torah's interpreters have related to the impurity

of leprosy as constituting the reaction of one's body and property to the commission

of various sins, especially that of evil speech.


medicine and psychology are well aware of "psychosomatic" phenomena;

that is to say, that the body expresses the spirit's distress. Holistic

medicine is based upon the belief that body and soul belong to one single

system, and that sometimes one part of the system reflects the pain endured by

the other part of the system.


language assumes a connection between one's ethical, religious, and social

behavior and the symptoms of such behavior found in one's home and body – a

kind of "etho-somatic" explanation.

The Gemara

in Ta'anit 11a refers to the reactions found on the

walls of one's home, one's body, or one's soul as "testimony":


if a person should ask, "Who will testify against me?" – the stones

and walls of a person's home testify against him, for it is said, for the

stone shall cry from the wall, and a rafter shall answer it from the woodwork

(Havavkuk 2).


school of R. Shila says: The two ministering angels

who accompany a person testify against him, for it is said, He orders His

angels [to guard you] (Tehillim


R. Hidakah says: A person's soul testifies against him, for it

is said, Be guarded in speech with her who lies

in your bosom (Micah 7). And some

say: A person's limbs testify against him, for it is said, You

are My witnesses, says the Lord (Isaiah 43).


conception accepts the possibility of a person's behavior and moral standing

being reflected in his home, his body, and his soul. That is to say, the outer bears witness to the inner and gives it expression.


this conception be understood in modern terms? Do the exegetes assume that this

inner-outer relationship belongs to a lost past? If it no longer exists, should

we be sorry that it has been replaced with a more symbolic system; should we

miss it?


seems to me that these questions do not invite simple, unambiguous answers: The

discontinuation of the ceremony of the broken-necked calf is associated with

moral decline. Human life became cheapened, and when society found murder less

shocking, the ceremony lost significance. The bitter waters also lost their

power when adultery became commonplace.


for animal sacrifice, the RaMBaM's position in the

Guide for the Perplexed is well known – he describes animal sacrifice as

involving a kind of compromise with the people's need to worship God in a

fashion similar to that of pagan worship. In contrast, the RaMBaN

and others offer approaches which sanctify this mode of service to God. In his Olat RAYaH , Rabbi A. I. Kook has this to say about the verse, the meal-offering

of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasant to the Lord:


in the coming future, emanation of wisdom shall spread and enter even into the

animals, they shall do no evil or destruction in all of My holy mountain,

for the land shall be full of knowledge of the Lord and then sacrifices

will all be meal-offerings, from vegetation, as pleasing to the Lord as in the

days of old and the early years.


regard to leprosy of houses, garments, and bodies, the cessation of the etho-somatic phenomenon can be viewed in two ways:


the one hand, the lack of such "automatic" heavenly responses may be

viewed as imposing greater responsibility upon people, requiring that one be

more mature and take responsibility for ones own actions and for the moral

condition of one's society. The walls and stones will not react; neither will a

person suffer bodily leprosy if he behaves immorally. It is important to

mention that leprosy is usually understood to constitute a punishment for

ethical and social sins, for negligence of the commandments "between man

and his fellow," and not for failure to observe commandments "between

man and God."


the other hand, it could be that the stones, garments, and bodies do not react

because in a less ethical society all of these elements, like the society

itself, become desensitized. Perhaps all of our houses would be afflicted with

leprosy, and all of us would become lepers, if the physical environment were to

react to our society's moral condition.


may assume that everyone chooses the interpretation that best fits his

world-view. Apparently, we are unable to come to a final determination

regarding this question; perhaps we are not expected to.


the less, lacking a divine reaction to ethical failings, is there no place for unambiguous public condemnation of contemporary

occurrences of evil speech and defamation? Don't incitement and unbridled

verbal violence deserve severe denunciation as well as a clearer moral and

legal response? At least they should result in ostracism on the part of the

generation's spiritual leaders. Have the leaders of the generation themselves

avoided such unacceptable behavior? Is there no room for clearer discrimination

between "impure" and "pure"?


should hope and pray that our coming time of freedom will afford us the

opportunity to contemplate our great fortune in living as "a free people

in our land," but also to contemplate the great responsibility that

springs from our good fortune.

Pinchas Leiser, a psychologist, is the editor of Shabbat Shalom



Leper – Defamer

Why is the tongue

compared to an arrow? Because if a person draws his sword to

kill his fellow, and the latter begs him to have mercy upon him, the killer may

recant and return his sword to its scabbard. An arrow, however, cannot

be turned back once shot, even if he wants to. Therefore it is said, [O

deceitful tongue!] A warrior's sharp arrows, with hot coals of broom-wood (Tehillim 120) – Once

broom-wood is lit, its coal are never extinguished. There was an incident

involving two people traveling in the desert who sat under a broom-wood. They

collected sticks from it and used them to cook their food, which they ate. A

year later they returned to the same spot in the desert and discovered ashes

from their fire. They said: It has been twelve months since we passed through

and ate in this place! They touched the ashes and stepped in it, and their feet

were burned by the coals beneath the ashes, because they had not been

extinguished. That is why evil speech is compared to the coals of broom-wood,

as it says, A warrior's sharp arrows, etc.

And so this wicked man kills people with his tongue. Just as an arrow remains

unnoticed until it reaches its victim, so too, evil speech remains unnoticed

until the arrows of Esau's Kingdom arrive suddenly.

 (Midrash Tehillim 120)


Leprosy of Garments and of Houses: Spiritual Aspects

And I placed the affliction

of leprosy upon houses in the land – How has the land sinned that it

deserves punishment? Rather, the land is struck for the sake of human sins, as

it is said, fruitful land becomes a salt marsh

because of the wickedness of its inhabitants (Tehillim 107). Why because of the wickedness? In order that people see and

learn, and so he says, For when Your

judgments are wrought on earth, the inhabitants of the world learn

righteousness (Isaiah 26).

Why does suffering

enter the world? Because of humans, in order that they observe and contemplate

and say: He who sins is stricken, and he who does not sin is not stricken. And

why are the trees and stones and walls stricken? In order

that their owners see it and repent.

(Tanhuma Metzora



And if the garment

is inflicted with leprosy: It is a certainty that this could not possibly

be a natural phenomenon, for such changes of appearance can only occur in a

garment either by artifice, when one colors it with dyes, either deliberately

or accidentally, or as the consequence of some problem with the dyes used to

color the garment, or with the work of the dyer, or in the reaction of the dyed


True, Scripture does

testify that such a wonder can occasionally occur in garments and houses, and

it is in order gain the attention of their owners to their sins, as the Sages

said regarding the Sabbatical Year: "Come and see how serious the

slightest infringement of the Sabbatical Year is: A man trades in fruits of the

Sabbatical Year, eventually he sells all of his moveable property; he does not

notice, eventually he sells his field, etc." Al of this occurs out of God's

pity upon his people.

 (Seforno on Vayikra 13:47)


If a man loses the hair of his head… he is a leprous man, he is


Punishment still fits

the crime. Miserliness and avarice invite affliction of houses and the like. If

the head is afflicted, the power of his mind must have been disturbed, and he

held strange opinions. That is why the leprosy attacks his pate, the place of

thought and he seat of mind. If his sin involves character traits, powers of

the soul, or activities, as they said, "Afflictions come for seven reasons"

(Erkhin 16a),

then the sin is not particular to the cognitive powers which make humans unique.

Not so if he sinned through the powers of his mind, for then his head is

afflicted. He sins through the special human powers of the mind, as a man, through powers not found in any of

the dumb animals. That is why it says, he is a leprous man, he is unclean.

(Meshekh Hokhmah on Vayikra 13:41-44)


Purification of the leper

The anti-social

character of the wild, uncontrolled bird stands in direct contrast to the

social character of the outcast who wished once again to be reaccepted into

human society. His reacceptance, however, is dependent on carrying out the

command to kill one of the birds (Vayikra 14:5), symbolizing

that man must completely subject his previously uncontrolled, animal instincts

to the overall moral demands of society.

(Rabbi S.H. Hirsch, as quoted by Prof. Nehama Leibowitz in her Studies

in Vayikra, pp.129, Aryeh

Newman, translator)


Always let the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near

Our Rabbis taught: Elisha was afflicted with three illnesses: one because he

stirred up the bears against the children, one because he thrust away Gehazi with both his hands, and one of which he died; as it

is said, Now Elisha was fallen sick of his

sickness whereof he died (II Kings 8:14)

Our Rabbis have taught:

Always let the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near. Not like Elisha who thrust Gehazi away

with both his hands and not like R. Yehoshua ben Perahiyah who thrust one of

his disciples [Jesus of Nazareth in some manuscripts] away with both his hands.

How is it with Elisha? As it is written, And Naaman said, "Be

content, take two talents" (II Kings 5),

and it is written, And he said to him, "Went not my heart with you when

the man turned again from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive

money, and to receive garments, and olive yards, and sheep ad oxen, and menservants

and maidservants?" But had he received all these things? Silver and

garments were what he had received! R. Yitzhak said: At the time Elisha was engaged [in the study of the law concerning] the

eight kinds of [unclean] creeping things; so he said to [Gehazi],

"You wicked person, the time has arrived for you to receive the reward for

[studying the law of] the eight creeping things." The leprosy therefore

of Naaman shall cleave to you and to your seed for

ever. Now there were four leprous men (II

Kings 7:3) – R. Yohanan said: This refers to Gehazi and his three sons.

(Sotah 47a, following the Soncino translation)


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