Metzora 5771 – Gilayon #697

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Parshat Metzora

If, however, he is poor and his hand cannot attain,

 he shall make

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

(Vayikra 14:21)


If, however, he is poor and his

hand cannot attain – Because poverty may be a personality [rather than

monetary] characteristic as in 'gaunt and foul-featured'; 'happy is he who is

thoughtful of the wretched'; 'why are you so dejected', ['poor', 'gaunt', 'wretched'

and 'dejected' are all translations of the Hebrew 'dal'] it was necessary

to specify 'and his hand cannot attain' – to inform you that 'poor' [in the

context of our parasha] refers to one who has no money.

(Hizkuni ibid., ibid.)


For the poor man, the asham- the

guilt offering remains exactly the same. The duty of social justness is the

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

judgement of those sins against brotherhood and justness for which the asham

metsorai 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 the guilt offering and the log of oil are the same for a rich metzora

or a poor one, the chatat- the expiation offering- and the olah

the elevation offering- representing the dedication and direction of their

general lives, consists for the pauper, just as in the korban oleh v'yored,

of a chatat oaf [performed with a fowl] and an olat oaf – [performed

with a fowl].

(Rabbi Shishon Rafael Hirsch, Commentary on Torah, ibid. ibid.)




Resh Lakish said: What is the Meaning of

"This Shall Be the Law of the One-with-Tzara'at?1

This Shall Be the Law for Him Who Brings up an Evil

Name" (Arakhin 15b)

Ronen Ahituv

The laws of

the metzora and his tzara'at affliction, culminated in this week's

parasha, raise a serious moral issue. The Torah's attitude to the metzora

seems to actually exacerbate his suffering. Not only is he afflicted; we add to

his distress, as we remove him from within the encampment and impose upon him

an intricate set of sacrifices and ceremonies even after he has been cured.

Our Sages,

attempting to cope with this problem, ask a question which- at first glance- seems

to intensify the problem, the question of theodicy. How can one justify the

severe sentence of the metzora? The solution proposed – as exemplified

by the above title – is that the metzorah committed lashon hara

slander – and therefore he was punished. (True, tsara'at appears

elsewhere in the Bible as a consequence of other sins, and there are midrashim

which expand the list, but lashon hara is the most outstanding. In any

case, even the alternate explanations of the affliction presuppose that some

form of sin was committed).

If this be the

case, the problem has been solved; both the affliction and the banishment are

stages in the sinner's punishment, and their purpose is to teach him a lesson.

Pity on the afflicted is not warranted; he is a sinner, a slanderer, and

society must eject such persons from its midst.

An additional

advantage of this explanation is to be found in the realm of psychology; this 'disease'

threatens and frightens society as a whole. Who can guarantee that we, too,

will not suffer this affliction? The answer – that only the sinner is punished

– satisfies us and calms us; if we will only be careful not to speak lashon

hara, we are assured that we will not become metsoraim, and we can continue

our lives as usual.

The Holy One

is presented as the good and just god we all seek, for the suffering is

inflicted only upon the transgressor, and his wrongdoing is the cause of his

punishment. We, as enlightened people, continue the process of divine justice

and remove the afflicted sinner from our community–another stage of God's

punishment of anti-social behavior. The final stage in the process, the

purification of the metzora and his reacceptance into the community, are

interpreted as a symbol of the process of teshuva, repentance.

Everything is

perfect… well… almost perfect…

The Achilles

heel of this mode of thinking lies in the assumption that justice in this world

is a given, and that it forgoes in advance impartial scrutiny. It predicates

axiomatically that everyone afflicted –that is to say– everyone suffering – has

sinned, without examination of his specific case.

Job argues

against this simplistic presumption that suffering is always justified. To

Eliphaz's contention "Think now what innocent man ever perished?" (Job 4:7), Job retorts ""My comrades

are fickle, like a wadi" (Job 6:15).

True, at the end of the story God says "You have not spoken the truth

about Me as My servant Job" (Job 42:7)

but it would seem that until this point the Book of Job and its conclusions are

not perceived by our Sages to be an authoritative source, heaven forefend,

.they rather seem to repeat the sins of Eliphaz and his companions. These sins

are not far from being lashon hara, for if one accuses his friend of

being a sinner without seriously examining his behavior, is he not a 'motsie

shem ra' – a libeler?

I think the

key to our problem may be found in our Sages' reading of the laws of tsara'at.

On the one hand,

our Sages determined that the priest may not personally deal with matter of

afflictions unless he is a wise man and well-acquainted with all forms of

affliction and their designations. They ruled that "A priest who

pronounced a pure person to be impure and a impure one to be clean… has accomplished

nothing… and this is one of the reasons for which Hillel came up from Babylonia"

(Tosefta Negaim, end of Chap. 1)

On the other

hand, they permitted a priest who was not a learned man to function in matters

of afflictions in the following manner: "They say to him 'Say unclean, and

he says 'unclean., 'Say clean', and he says 'clean' (Mishna Negaim 3;1) Thus we see that even though the priest is

not well-versed in the laws of tsara'at, he alone is authorized to

pronounce the afflicted 'clean' or 'unclean'. Similarly we have learned "If

his affliction has disappeared, even after three years he remains unclean until

the priest tells him "He is clean" (Tosefta

Negaim Chap. 1) , It is not the actual existence of the affliction which

is the determining factor; it is the priest – provided he is directed by a



determination of the cleanliness and the uncleanliness of the metzora

suffering the affliction – which is of course, an act of God – passes into the

human realm, for it is not the affliction which determines 'clean' and 'unclean',

but rather man – or, more accurately- the sage who directs the priest.

Now we can

complete our move and consider Resh Lakish's dictum in our title to be not only

words of aggada [homiletic explication] – but as halachic

instruction. The meaning of his statement is that we may not pronounce one

unclean unless we know for certain that he is a slanderer!

Only if the

wise see that one sins and harms his social environment by his speech, only

then may they pronounce him unclean and distance him from society. It is the

imposition of responsibility and the granting of authority to the wise to

determine purity and impurity of the afflicted which afford certainty that the

afflicted is indeed a sinner. Sin is no longer perceived to be a cause of

heaven-imposed affliction; it is reason for halachic definition by man,

and because of it the sages determine that man is unclean and send him out of

the camp.

Thus we can note an additional

aspect wherein the Sages, through their explications, correct the seeming

injustice of Torah law. As in other instances, the sages take upon themselves

the yoke of public administration, and accept full responsibility for said

management. In doing so, they relieve the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and Nature

of responsibility – they are fully aware of the great gap between nature and


[1]. Although for centuries the accepted translation for 'tzara'at'

and 'metsora' been "leprosy" and 'leper[ modern science does

not identify this particular skin affliction as true leprosy. Therefore we

prefer to leave these Hebrew terms untranslated.


Ahituv lives in Mitzpeh Netofah and is a teacher and darshan



The purification of the metzora

"The priest is to command that they take for the candidate

for purification two birds, live, pure, and wood of cedar and scarlet of the

worm and hyssop" (Vayikra 14:4).

"Wood of

cedar": For negaim 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 the Book of

Vayikra, quoted by Prof. Nechama Leibowitz z'l in "New Studies in the Book

of Vayikra", p. 162)


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 tzara'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)


Afflictions on the house – a result

of possessiveness and use of force

What I consider

to be the most correct understanding of this is that the main cause [of

afflictions of the house] is selfishness, as our Rabbis of blessed memory

learned (Arachin 16) from the passage

"and he shall come, he who has the house" – he who used the house only for

himself, not letting others benefit from it, for because of this God gave him

for possession a house full of all good things, to test him whether he will let

others benefit from his house. "For the silver and the gold are mine –

said the Lord" (Haggai 2:8), and when man gives to others, he

is not giving of his own, but he gives from the Lord's table, therefore it says

"when you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession "for

"for not with their sword did they inherit the land, and their arm did

not save" (Psalms 44:4), but rather "the right

arm of God is raised on high" to

give them the inheritance of nations and there is no place for the selfish to

say "my strength and the power of my hand made me all this wealth",

for it is He who gives you the strength and the inheritance, and therefore, it

is right that you should give from what is His to the poor of His people, and

if you do not heed His word and you shall be one of those selfish persons who

attribute their possessions to themselves, then: "I will inflict an

affliction of tsara'at upon a house in the land you possess" meaning: upon that place which you

attribute to yourselves, as though you possess it with the strength of your hands, therefore it continues to state "the

owner of the house shall come"– he who set aside the house for

himself, that is to say, with his strength and the power of his arm he built

his house, or "you possess" – referring

to one who set aside the

house for himself, and lets no one else derive any benefit from it.


Yakar, Vayikra 14:34)



There were four men, lepers,

outside the gate. They said to one another: "why should we sit here

waiting for death?"

(Kings II, 7:1, Haftorah for Metzora)


"Always push away

with the left hand and draw near with the right"

The Rabbis learned: Elisha

suffered three bouts of illness: One, when he enraged bears against children,

one when he pushed away Gehazi with both his hands, and one that killed him,

for it is said Elisha had been stricken with the illness of which he was

to die (Kings II 13: 14).

The Rabbi learned: Always push

away with the left hand and draw near with the right, not like Elisha who

pushed off Gehazi with both of his hands, and not like Yehoshua ben Perahya who

pushed away one of his students (according to some texts, Jesus of Nazareth)

with both hands.

What had Elisha done? It is

written: Na'aman said [to Gehazi], "Please take two

talents" Kings II, 5:23) and

it is written, [Elisha accused Gehazi:] Did not my heart go along when a

man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this a time to take money in

order to buy clothing and olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, and male

and female slaves? (5:26) But

did he [Gehazi] really take all of these things? He only took money and


Rabbi Yitzhak said: At that very

hour Elisha was expounding the laws of the eight impure swarming creatures. He

[Elisha] told him [Gehazi]: Wicked-one, now the time has come to receive your

reward for the eight impure swarming creatures [i.e., the eight types of

luxuries you wished to acquire from Na'aman], the leprosy of Na'aman will

cling to you and to your descendants forever (5:27).

There were four men,

lepers – Rabbi Yohanan said: They were Gehazi and his three sons.

(Sotah 47a)


Three kings and four commoners

have no portion in the world to come: the three kings are Jeroboam, Ahab, and Manassah.

Rabbi Judah

said: Manasseh hath a portion therein, for it is written, 'and he prayed unto

him, and was entreated of him, and he hearkened to his supplication and they

restored him to Jerusalem

to this kingdom. The Sages answered him [Rabbi Judah]: They restored him to his

kingdom, but not to [his portion in] the world to come. Four commoners, viz.,

Balaam, Doeg, Ahitophel, and Gehazi.

(Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:2)


And Gehazi – Gehazi

– as it is written, "And Elisha came to Damascus"9 whither did he go? – R. Johanan

said: He went to bring Gehazi back to repentance, but he would not repent.

'Repent thee,' he urged. He replied, 'I have thus learnt from thee: He who sins

and causes the multitude to sin is not afforded the means of repentance.' What

had he done? – Some say: He hung a loadstone above Jeroboam's sin [i.e., the

Golden Calf], and thus suspended it between heaven and earth [by its

magnetism]. Others maintain: He engraved the Divine Name in its [sc. the

calf's] mouth, whereupon it [continually] proclaimed, 'I [am the Lord thy

God],' and 'Thou shalt have no [other] gods before me.' Others say: He drove

the Rabbis away from him [sc. Elisha], as it is written. "And the sons of

the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee

is too strait for us"11 proving that till then it was not

too narrow.




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