Metzora 5768 – Gilayon #544


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Parshat Metzora

WHEN YOU COME TO THE LAND OF

CANAAN, WHICH I AM GIVING YOU AS A POSSESSION, AND I PLACE A LESION OF TZARA'AT

UPON A HOUSE IN THE LAND OF YOUR POSSESSION, AND THE ONE TO

WHOM THE HOUSE BELONGS COMES AND TELLS THE PRIEST, SAYING, "SOMETHING LIKE

A LESION HAS APPEARED TO ME IN THE HOUSE."

(Vayikra

14:34-35)

 

What

is the procedure in the inspection of a house? And the one to whom the house

belongs comes and tells the priest, saying, "Something

like a lesion has appeared to me in the house." Even if he is a

learned sage and knows that it is definitely a lesion, he may not speak with

certainty saying, "A lesion sign has appeared to me in the house,"

but only, "Something like a lesion has appeared to me in the house."

(Mishnah

Nega'im 12:5, based in Soncino translation)

 

"Has appeared to me"

and not "has appeared to me by my light." Based on this, they

said: The windows of a dark house should not be opened in order to inspect its

lesions. In the house – even if it is painted, In the house – this

includes the attic; In the house – from inside it makes it [the house]

unclean but not from behind it.

(Sifra

Metzora 5)

 

and I place a lesion of

tzara'at upon a house in the land of your possession, etc., alludes to the Temple, as it is

said, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will defile My sanctuary, the pride

of your power, the desire of your eyes, and the longing of your soul (Ezekiel 24:21). and the one to whom the house

belongs comes (34: 35) alludes to

the Holy One, blessed be He, as it is said, Because of My house that lies

waste (Haggai

1: 9). and tells the

priest alludes to Jeremiah, of whom it is said, One of the priests

that were in Anatot (Jeremiah 1:1). Something

like a lesion has appeared to me in the house alludes to the filth of

idolatry.

(Vayikra

Rabbah 17:7)

 

Our Rabbis teach us: How many

reasons are there for lesions afflicting people?…

Because of the evil eye – Rabbi Yitzhak says: Since a person's eye

is ill-disposed to lend his things, one goes and asks him, "Lend me your sickle,

lend me your axe, or any other needed tool," and he answers: "Cursed

be anyone who has a sickle or an axe." What does the Holy One blessed be

He do? He strikes him with tzora'at, then he will come to the priest and

say, Something like a lesion has appeared to me in the house. And he

will be ordered to destroy the house, and everyone sees his tools when they are

dragged outside, and the tools he owns are made public, and everyone says,

"Didn't he say that he didn't have a sickle and that he didn't have an

axe? Look! He has this and that tool which he did not want to lend out, for his

eye was ill-disposed to lend things.

(Tanhuma

[Warsaw

edition] Metzora 4)

 

Passages

Ephraim

Shoham-Steiner

The passage which speaks of the purification

of the metzora ["leper"] in the first half our parasha

contains linguistic echoes of two other Scriptural passages. The first is

alluded to in the verse: Then the priest shall order, and the person to be

cleansed shall take two live, clean birds, a cedar stick, a strip of crimson

[wool], and hyssop
(14:4). In his

commentary, R. Avraham Ibn Ezra mentions a possible connection between our

parasha and the story of the Exodus from Egypt. He writes: "The cedar

and the hyssop are the largest and smallest among species of plants. The wisdom

of Solomon's words testifies to this: And he spoke of the trees, from the

cedar in Lebanon

to the hyssop coming out of the wall (I

Kings 5:13). There is no need to research the identity of the hyssop,

because it is known through tradition. See – the metzora and the infected house

and the uncleanness associated with a dead body are similar in nature, and see,

they are like the Passover [offering] in Egypt."

Ibn Ezra ties the metzora passage, the

tzora'at of houses, and the purification of the uncleanness associated with a

corpse, which are all mentioned in our parasha, with the Passover in Egypt. He does

this by pointing to the fact that the hyssop was used in all these rituals. In

our parasha, the hyssop (together with the other ingredients needed to cleanse

the metzora) is dipped in the blood of the slaughtered bird, and the blood

shaken off it onto the metzora in order to purify him. In the story of the

Exodus, the bundle of hyssop is used to spread the paschal blood on the lintel

and the two doorposts in order to mark the homes of the Israelites, who were

eating the Passover sacrifice in the night of their redemption from Egypt.

The other passage that bears a linguistic

resemblance to the rituals described in our parasha is not found in a different

book of the Bible, but rather in Torat Kohanim [Vayikra] itself; I am

referring to the priests' dedication ceremony in parashat Tzav. The linguistic

similarity is just an indication of the actual similarity between the

dedication ceremony of the priests and the metzora's purification ritual. In connection with the priests, we read: And

he brought Aaron's sons forward, and Moses placed some of the blood on the

cartilage of their right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the

big toes of their right feet (Vayikra

8:24). In the purification ceremony we read: The priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the

priest shall place it above the cartilage of the right ear of the person being

cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot…And some of the remainder of

the oil that is in his palm, the priest shall place on the cartilage of the

right ear of the person being cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand and on

the big toe of his right foot, on [top of] the blood of the guilt offering (Vayikra 14:15-18).

It

appears that this similarity is not accidental, just as the similarity pointed

out by Ibn Ezra of the metzora's ceremony to the Passover in Egypt is not

accidental. In order to understand the connection between them, we must first

briefly analyze the significance of these rituals. All three rituals (the

spreading of the paschal blood on the lintel and door posts, the metzora's

purification ceremony and the priests' dedication ceremony) all involve the

participant's passage from one status to another. All three take place by an

entrance: one at the entrance to a house, the others by the entrance to the

Tent of Meeting. In each ritual the participants are about to cross through the

entrance and they are destined to undergo an essential change. In Egypt the

Israelites who used the hyssop to spread blood on their doorways made the

passage from being slaves to being freemen, from being an enslaved people to

being a redeemed people, from being people whose every action was controlled by

their masters to being people who will stand by Mount Sinai and choose to take

upon themselves the yoke of Torah and the commandments, acting together as one

person with one heart, in the manner alluded to by the expression, "We

shall obey and we shall hear." The ceremony in Parashat Tzav involved the

passage of Aaron and his sons from the status of redeemed Israelites to that of

priests who wear ephods and who have gained the high station of performing the

holy service. Their ears must be attentive to hear God's word, their hands will

soon be busy with holy deeds, and their feet must carry them along the

sanctuary's paths and avoid leaving it. This is not just a purification ritual

that ends their state of impurity; it is a ceremony that raises them to a new

and higher status – it turns pure Israelites into priests who will serve in the

Tabernacle. The ritual for purifying the metzora also involves a passage. Actually,

by the time the metzora participates in the ceremony he has already undergone several

stages of purification. In contrast to the ceremonial quarantine during which

he is banished from all the three camps, now the metzora stands by the entrance

to the Tent of Meeting while the priest performs the purification ceremony

(and, according to Rashi, he would stand by the Nicanor Gate when the Temple was in existence).

That means that the metzora was already permitted to enter the Israelite camp

and now he wants to rise higher in holiness and become purified so that he will

be able to enter the Temple's

gates and offer a sacrifice like any other Israelite. This means that the

ceremony is not concerned solely with purification, rather it returns the

metzora to the status he enjoyed before becoming infected – he returns to the

status of an Israelite who, when pure, is allowed to enter the Temple. This seems to be the basis of the

similarity between the two rituals. But why are these matters linked to the act

of spreading blood and oil on the ear, hand, and foot? Rituals in which certain

liquids come into contact with parts of the body in order to mark an essential

change in the participant are found both in Judaism and in other cultures. People

use these ceremonies to symbolize a change of essence or status by means of

contact between certain liquids and parts of the body. It is sufficient to

recall in this context the anointing of kings and priests, ceremonies which

make kings and priests essentially different from other people. Here as well,

the Torah uses the spreading of blood and oil on the left earlobe, the left

thumb and left big toe to symbolize the change undergone by the priest on the

one hand and the metzora on the other. The former will enter a life of sanctity

in the Temple,

while the other will return to his role after being ostracized for being

unclean. The spreading of blood with the hyssop upon the two doorposts and the

lintel (again we see three elements, just as there were three parts of the

human body involved in the other ritual – the earlobe, the thumb, and the left

big toe) transforms the house's essence. It becomes a Hebrew house where the

paschal sacrifice is performed for a set group of people; the participants will

become free the next day.

Ephraim

Steiner is a member of the Baka Egalitarian Minyan. He teaches Jewish History

at the Ben Gurion

University of the Negev and in Jerusalem's Himmelfarb

High School.

 

Now there were four men,

stricken with zara'at, [at] the entrance of the gate. And they said to each

other, "Why are we sitting here until we die?"

(II

Kings 2:7 – the haftarah for Parashat Metzora)

 

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 Perahiya 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)

 

If a man loses the hair

on [the back of] his head, he is bald. He is clean.

And if

he loses his hair on the side toward his face, he is bald at the front. He is

clean.

If

there is a reddish white lesion on the back or front bald area, it is a

spreading tzara'at in his back or front bald area.

So the

priest shall look at it. And, behold! there is a reddish white se'eit lesion on

his back or front bald area, like the appearance of tzara'at on the skin of the

flesh,

He is a man

afflicted with tzara'at; he is unclean. The priest shall surely pronounce him

unclean; his lesion is on his head.

(Vayikra 13: 40-44)

 

The principle of

"measure for measure" is in operation. Afflictions of the house come

because of stinginess and tsarut ayin (Jastrow defines tsarut ayin

as narrow-mindedness, selfishness, envy), etc. If the affliction is upon the

head, it most certainly must house faulty intelligence and alien information.

Therefore the tzaraat affects his bald spot, the place when thought and

intelligence reside. If his sin has to do with the qualities and powers of the

soul or with actions, – as they said (Arakhin

16a), "There are seven reasons why afflictions appear" – then

the sin is not distinctive from the aspect of the powers of intelligence, which

make man unique. Such is not the case if one sins with his powers of

intelligence; then the affliction is upon his head. He sins with that faculty

which is unique to man alone, which is not found in any other living creature,

therefore Scripture twice emphasizes, a man.

(Meshekh Hokhma, Vayikra 13:40-44)

 

Afflictions of

the House Result from Acquisitiveness and Aggression

What makes most sense for me to say about this is that the

principal reason [for afflictions of the house] is miserliness, as the Sages

said (in Arakhin 16) based on the verse and he who owns the house shall come

– he kept the house all to himself and does not allow others to enjoy it; for

this is why God gave him for a possession a house full of all good things, in

order to test him to see whether he will benefit others with his house, for mine

is the silver and the gold – says the Lord (Haggai 2:8), and

everything that a man gives to others he does not give of his own, for he will

be repaid from the table on High. That is why it says When you come to the

land of Canaan which I give to you as a possession, since they did not

inherit the land by sword, neither did their fore-arm save them (Psalms

44:2).

Rather, the Lord's right hand is raised up to give them a portion of the

nations, and there is no room for the miserly to say my strength and my

hand's power won this wealth for me. After all, He grants you strength and

property, it is only right that you should give of yours to the impoverished of

His nation. If you do not listen to His words and you belong to those misers

who credit their property to their own efforts, then:

I

shall inflict an affliction of leprosy of houses in the land you possess. This means to say: In places where you attribute your property to yourselves, as if you

hold it through the strength of your hands. That is why it immediately says, and

he who owns the house shall come – he who kept the house all to himself,

saying that his strength and his hand's power built it his house, or one who

says your property – one who keeps his house for

himself and does not allow others to enjoy it.

(Keli Yakar on Vayikra 14:34)

 

The

Purification of the Metzora

The priest is to

command that they take for the one to be purified two birds, live, pure, and

wood of cedar and scarlet of the worm and hyssop.

(Vayikra 14:4).

 

Wood of cedar: Because

afflictions appear because of arrogance. scarlet of the worm and hyssop:

What is the cure? He must lower himself from his haughtiness as [to the

level of] the worm and the hyssop.

(Rashi, Vayikra 14:4)

 

The character of the

most unsociable being as represented by the tzippor dror – [literally, a

free bird. Commonly translated as 'sparrow'], which refuses to accept

authority, is presented here in contrast to what is demanded for re-entrance

into the social life of the community. This is the contrast of the animals of

the "field" to the

humans of the "city". The demand which is made as the condition for

the re-entry into the social life of the community, and he shall

slaughter the bird, is energetic subjection of the wild untrammeled

animal life under the sharp control of the morally strong human will.

(From Rabbi S. R. Hirsch's commentary on Vayikra,

quoted by Prof. Nehama Leibowitz z'l in her Iyyunim Hadashim beSefer Vayikra,

p. 162)

 

Readers respond

Debbie Weisman wrote in the

Purim issue (541) about how some of her friends are troubled

by the reading of the Meggilah because it is a "story which is violent,

anti-feminist, and full of vengeance against gentiles." I have come to

quiet their qualms. In an article I published in Mo'ed (14:5764) I demonstrated that, in contrast to all

accepted opinion, that the Book of Esther is not a story of "revenge"

and promotion of genocide. Rather, it is the complete opposite: it comes to

blunt revenge and prevent genocide. I showed this using the method of the

"mirror story," which was developed by Yair Zakovitz, following the

Sages' lead. As I demonstrate there in detail, the story of Haman and Mordechai

is the "mirror" (opposite) of the story of Amalek and Saul (I Samuel 15), and the Book of Esther is a late moral tikkun

["repair"] of Amalek: it rejects pillaging and the murder of

innocents. It certainly rejects the slaughter of women and children. The

Meggilah tells us that sometimes there is no need to wage total war against our

enemies, but that rather a highly localized war should be fought, and then as

an act of self-defense. Sometimes, even when the conditions of international

politics allow and even justify a war of "annihilation" (such as the

biblical herem) against the enemy, it should not be carried out and the

war must remain limited. The mirror-story also teaches us that Mordechai, who

was responsible for this deliberate refusal to fulfill the royal decree calling

for a massacre, ended up rising to a higher status. From this we see that one

of the "turn-arounds" in the story of the Meggilah is a revolution in

moral thinking (this is one of the deep meanings of the phrase venahafokh hu

but it was the opposite case).

If Prof. E. A. Simon z"l

had read my article, perhaps he would have decided to actually make the

(charming but apocryphal) story about him into a reality: he indeed would have

taken the trouble to travel between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv – but not in order

to avoid the reading of the Meggilah (which transforms the story of Amalek's

annihilation from being a negative story into a positive, repairing story), but

rather the opposite: he would travel in order to read it twice, and in order to

lend honor to the commandment.

Those interested in reading my

article can write to me and I will send it to them by email: amnonsh@tiratzvi.org.il .

With blessings,

Amnon Shapira, Kibbutz Tirat

Tzvi

 

 

Professor Gerald Cromer – He

who does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.

Shortly before this issue went

to press, our dear member, Gerald Cromer, passed away following a brief but

difficult struggle against a cruel illness.

All those who knew Gerald

learned to appreciate his wonderful combination of vision and action. In many

ways he always stood at the vanguard. It is difficult to think of any important

project that did not claim Gerald as one of its founders and initiators. Even

before he made aliyah, he initiated the creation of the London

circle, which eventually served as the founding core of Kehillat Yedidya in Jerusalem.

When, in time, he felt the need

for a religious-halakhic community characterized by spiritual searching,

greater participation by women in the synagogue, and social engagement, he was

among the founders of Kehillat Yedidya.

When his children reached school

age, he, together with a group of "fanatics" set in motion the

creation of the Efrata School, where children would be educated to love

Torah, humanity, and the Land

of Israel in an

atmosphere of respect and tolerance.

During the period of the first

war in Lebanon

and the uncovering of the Jewish underground, he felt, together with other

friends, the need for a religious movement promoting the value of peace, and

thus he became a founder of Netivot Shalom and served as one of its leading

activists for many years. As leader of the movement he initiated the

publication of Shabbat Shalom a little before Rosh Hashanah 6758, asking

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Space here is insufficient to

the task of recounting all of the activities he undertook in order to help

create a worthy Israeli society that would be fairer and more tolerant. Even

when he became ill he continued to think about what else could be done for the

improvement of society.

Jerusalem has lost one of her best sons. Fighters for peace and social justice

have lost one of their best champions, and I, together with many others, mourn

the untimely loss of a dear and beloved friend.

We offer our condolences to

Chana, to the children, and to their families.

May his memory be a blessing.

Pinchas Leiser – editor

Miriam Fine – coordinator

The Editorial Board of Shabbat

Shalom

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