Tazria 5765 – Gilayon #389

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(Vayikra 13:40,44,46)


As for the uncleanness

of leprosy, we have already explained its meaning. The Sages, may their memory

be blessed, have also explained it. They have made known to us that the

established principle in regard to it is that it is a punishment for slander

and that at first this change appears in the walls. If the man repents, the purpose

has been achieved. If, however, he continues in his disobedience, the change

extends to his bed and his house furniture. If he still persists in his

disobedience, it passes over to his clothing, then to his body. This is a

miracle that was perpetuated in the religious community like that of the waters

of the woman suspected of adultery. The utility of this belief is manifest,

there being also the fact that leprosy is contagious and that, almost by

nature, all men find it disgusting. The reason why purification from it was

effected by means of cedar wood, hyssop, scarlet thread, and two birds, is

given in the midrashim; but it does not fit in with

our purpose, and up to now I do not know the reason for any of these things;

nor why cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet thread were used in the ceremony of the

red heifer nor why a bunch of hyssop was used for the sprinkling of the blood

of the paschal lamb. I cannot find any reason whereby I can account for these

species having been singled out.

 (RaMBaM, Guide of the Perplexed III:47,

Pines translation)



Truth Shall

Spring from the Earth: Halakhah and Science

Amos Barde'a

Parashat HaHodesh constitutes a

foundation for the great halakhic topic of kiddush hahodesh (sanctification of the new month), which is a

cornerstone of the Jewish calendar and for the determination of the dates of

the periods and holidays that set the rhythm of Jewish life. Besides being the halakhic foundation for setting out the months, it also

presents an important halakhic and philosophical

subject which I will attempt to briefly explain in this

important Torah forum.


ink has been spilled in the battle between Torah and science, usually in

connection with the Written Torah and theological issues. I would like to bring

up a topic which is much more essential to the world view of the religious

person, especially to the halakhic person. When the halakhah addresses the practical application of the

commandments in Orah Hayim,

Yoreh De'ah, Even HaEzer and Hoshen Mishpat, dealing with areas such as forbidden foods and the

laws of kashrut (which are based upon the end of last

week's parasha, Shemini),

or dealing with the laws of family purity in the present parasha,

it frames halakhic actions within an understanding of

reality, and tries to let natural reality shape halakhic

values, thus raising up the Torah from earthly existence. The halakhah takes biological and even gynecological facts into

account in halakhot relating to sexuality, and it

takes anatomic and even chemical reality into account in the laws of kashrut. Both science and halakhah

share a common concern for physical reality, while being driven by differing

interests. The halakhah strives to determine how the mitzvot must be observed in the light of physical reality, but

science seeks knowledge of physical reality for its own sake. The halakhic understanding of reality – and

the formulation of halakhic principles which become binding

for future generations – are based upon each particular generation's

understanding of nature. The great revolution of modern science, guided by the

complete objectification of the world and a critical empirical methodology, has

brought about many changes in our understanding of the world. As everyone

knows, most of the halakhah was formulated in what we

would call the pre-scientific era. All of this presents us with a problem: How

binding are halakhot that assume a view of nature

which is contradicted by the modern scientific positions which have been

universally recognized as correct? If the halakhah develops

in a certain way based upon a particular understanding of nature, is it

undermined when modern science views the world differently? For instance, the

laws of kashrut include the principle "as it is

absorbed, so it is released" (the same quantity of energy that causes the

walls of a vessel to absorb an organic substance will also cause it to release

that substance). What would happen if this principle was tested in accordance

with all of the methodological requirements of material science and found to be

false – such an outcome is at least theoretically possible – would the laws

regarding kashrut of vessels collapse?


the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month

shall be for you the first of months; it is for you the first of the months of

the year. Chronologically speaking, the sanctification of the new month is

the first commandment which Israel received as a national body; they received

it while still residing in Egypt. Rashi's father,

Rabbi Yitzhak, mentioned long ago that it would have made sense for the Torah

to begin with that commandment. The addition of the expression for you

has invited various interpretations, one of which sets out a primary principle

of halakhah and theology. Yonatan

ben Uzziel glosses the

verse: "This month is for you to determine as the first of months, giving

permission to determine the times of the holidays, and seasons, and the sun's

cycle, it is for you to determine the months of the year." The expression for

you is understood by Yonatan ben

Uzziel to mean "according to your determination."

In other words: the determination of the beginnings of the new months and of

leap years that establish which time will be sanctified as holidays – will be

performed by the sages. Ibn Ezra explains, "I

already mentioned in the beginning of my commentary on the Torah that the

determination of the year and of the month is for the court to decide." He

is referring to his wonderful introduction to his commentary, written in rhymed

verse: "…here the men of the Mishnah, offer

testimony of the moon's sighting, and here the answer is correct, if the

testimony is valid in their eyes, they will accept the testimony for the year's

needs, for it is established in accordance with the court's declaration, for

the determination of the leap year is based upon the arrival of spring, the sun's

cycle, and the public interest…" R. Shlomo Efrayim concurs with this interpretation in his commentary Keli Yakar, as does

the RaMBaN. Da'at

Zekeinim Mi'Ba'alei Ha'Tosafot formulates in the matter starkly:


you see it [the moon] like this, sanctify it; and everything depends upon

sanctification by the court, as R. Oshaya said: "When

Israel approaches the New Year, God tells the ministering angels, 'Set up a dais

and take out the books, for tomorrow I come to judge My

world." Meanwhile, the earthly court decides to lengthen the month and

push off the New Year another day. On the morrow, God does not judge His world.

The ministering angels come before Him and say, "Did you not say, 'Tomorrow

I judge My world?'"…He says to them: "But

my sons have postponed judgment until tomorrow, and the matter has been placed

in their hands, so you must follow their decision…"


here we learn that the decision of earthly court must be respected by God's own

court. Rosh Hashanah 24b describes the disagreement between Rabban

Gamliel, the head of the court in Yavneh,

and Rabbi Yehoshua regarding the reliability of

witnesses to the new moon. R. Yehoshua said that

their testimony did not make sense, while Rabban Gamliel accepted their testimony;

Rabban Gamliel sent him a

message: I decree that you must appear before me with your staff and coins on

the day which, according to your calculation, would be Yom Kippur. He went and

R. Akiva found him in distress, he said to him: I

should learn that everything Rabban Gamliel does is done, for it is said, these are the

festivals of the Lord which are called holy, that you shall proclaim [the

word otam is spelled without a vav, allowing it to be read atem

you]; whether in their appropriate time or not in their appropriate

time, these are the only festivals I have… he took his staff and his coins

and went to Yavneh, to Rabban

Gamliel, on the day of Yom Kippur according to his

calculation. Rabban Gamliel

stood and kissed him on the head, and said to him: Go in peace, my teacher and

student – my teacher in wisdom and my student in that you followed my words.

The RaMBaM writes in Hilkhot Kidush HaHodesh 2:12: "If a

court sanctifies a new month, whether accidentally , or mistakenly, or by force

of coercion – it is sanctified, and all are required to celebrate the holidays

according to the day they sanctified, even if one knows they were wrong, one

must depend upon them, for the matter is given solely to them, and He who

commanded observance of the holidays also commanded us to rely upon them, for

it is said that you shall proclaim (Vayikra 23:2)." This helps us understand Rashi's comment on Devarim 17:11,

According to the Torah they teach you and the justice they tell you, right

and left. Rashi writes: "Right and left –

even if they tell you that right is left and left is right…" RaMBaN explains: "Even if you think in your heart that

they err, and that the matter is obvious to you, just as you know the difference

between your right and your left, [nevertheless] act according to their

command, and do not say, 'How shall I eat completely forbidden fat or kill this

blameless person?' But say: 'The Lord who commanded the commandment commanded

me to do whatever I am instructed to do by those standing before Him in the

place that He chose. Even if they err, I am given the Torah according to the

meaning in their opinion.'"


above sources reflect the halakhic principle that the

halakhic command depends upon how the Sages judge

reality, upon their knowledge and understanding, and not upon reality as it is

in itself. The times for observance of the holidays and their sanctity and all

of the commandments connected with them depend upon the decision of the human halakhic authorities. This principle also finds application

in regard to the lepers in our parasha; their uncleanness

depends upon the perception and judgment of the priest. Even if the afflicted

party is a licensed dermatologist, he must say to the priest it looks like an affliction to me,

as the RaMBaM rules in Hilkhot

Tumat Tzara'at 14: "Even

a wise man who know for certain that it is an affliction shall not pass

judgment, saying, 'I have seen an affliction.' Rather, he should say to the

priest, 'I have seen something like

an affliction.'"


can only conclude with the wonderful midrash

from Bereishit Rabbah,

which is based upon the verse from Tehillim 5:12, Loving-kindness

and truth have met, justice and peace have kissed, truth shall spring from the

earth and justice will be seen from heaven:


Simon said: When God wanted to create man, the ministering angels formed various

factions; some said, "Create!" some said, "Do not create!",

for it is said, loving kindness and truth have met. Loving kindness

said: "Create, for he is full of acts of loving kindness," while

truth said, "Do not create, for he is full of lies."


did God do? He took truth and cast it down to earth, for it is said, and He

cast truth down to earth.


said to Him: Lord of the universe, you disgrace your ornament!


said: It is My wish that truth rise up from the earth.

Dr. Amos Barde'a is a thinker and scientist



And I shall inflict an affliction of leprosy of houses in the land

you posses

That is the Temple, for

it is said: I shall desecrate My Temple, the pride of your strength.

 (Vayikra Rabbah 17:7)


For when a person first

takes on the habit of evil gossip, he who owns the house comes forth, for the "house"

is man and "he who owns the house" is the soul that dwells within it,

and he comes forth and tells the priest – that is the Holy One blessed be He –

and he says to Him, may He be blessed: "I saw something like an affliction"

That is, the man in whom I dwell has begun to be afflicted with sin.

(Alshikh on the Torah)


And the priest shall see the affliction


person sees all afflictions, excepting his own, nor even those of his


(Mishnah Nega'im



On the contrary,

instill in our hearts that each of us see our friends' virtues, and not their


(From the prayer of R. Eliyahu

MiLizenesk, the author of No'am



I saw something like an affliction in the

house: Even if he is wise and knows with certainty that it is an affliction,

he shall not judge it plainly, saying "I saw an affliction", but

rather, "I saw something like an affliction."

(Rashi, following Mishnah Nega'im)


Cedar and Moss – Haughtiness and Modesty

Since the afflictions

come because of haughtiness, what repairs and cures them? That he lowers

himself from his pride, like the worm and the moss.



The Rebbe

of Gur, who wrote Sefat

Emet, would say: Why must he bring cedar wood,

which alludes to pride-fullness? If the point is that he should lower himself

like moss, would it not be sufficient for him to bring moss alone?

When a sinner repents

and contemplates his sins, he becomes of low spirit and is greatly ashamed of

his previous pride-fullness. He is embarrassed and ashamed of having been proud

at the same time that he sinned. It ends up that his earlier pride now helps

him to become humble; if so, it is proper that the cedar has a role in his


(Sefat Emet as cited by Ma'ayanah

shel Torah)


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 Erkhin 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 (Hagi 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 (Tehillim 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)



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