Metzora 5765 – Gilayon #390
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IF, HOWEVER, HE IS POOR
AND HIS MEANS ARE INSUFFICIENT, HE SHALL TAKE ONE MALE LAMB FOR A GUILT OFFERING, TO BE ELEVATED IN EXPIATION FOR HIM, ONE
TENTH OF A MEASURE OF CHOICE FLOUR WITH OIL MIXED IN FOR A MEAL OFFERING, AND A
LOG OF OIL… SUCH IS THE RITUAL FOR HIM WHO HAS A SCALY AFFLICTION AND WHOSE MEANS FOR HIS CLEANSING ARE LIMITED.
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; dakh – depressed,
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.
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)
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
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.
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
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
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.
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"
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
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
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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