Tazria 5771 – Gilayon #696

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Parshat Tazria

On the tenth of this month, let every man take a lamb

for a father's house,

a lamb for a household,

in proportion to the persons, each man according to

what he eats

shall take his portion of the lamb.

(Shemot 12:3-4)


According to what he eats

– ['He' refers to one] who is able to eat. This excludes the sick and the aged

who are not able to eat [food the size of] an olive.

(Mechiltah and Rashi ibid. ibid.)


And should a household be too

small to have a lamb – This is to say that if the members of the household

are too few to warrant an entire lamb which they cannot eat and then will

transgress the sin of leaving over, it must take together with its neighbor.

In four places does the Torah express concern for the property of Israel. One of

them is here, because inasmuch as what remains of the lamb must be burned,

therefore the Torah

takes pity on you in advance and

says that if the household is too small to eat a whole lamb, let it take one

together with a neighbor lest one suffer pecuniary loss. The second place is

where the Torah permits the use of forbidden fat of a carcass and the fat of a treyfa

(killed by non-ritual means) for work purposes although you may not eat of

it (Vayikra7:24). The third concerns a

carcass (Devarim 14:21) "To the

sojourner within your gates you may give it that he may eat it, or sell it to a

foreigner". The fourth instance is that of a contaminated house, as is

written (Vayikra 14:36) "And the

priest shall charge that they clear the house" for should the colored

clothes be laundered they will lose color and value. And similarly with earthen

vessels – if they become impure there is no purification other than breaking

them, therefore the Torah took pity and commanded to empty the house.


Bechayey, ibid. ibid.)


On renewal and deafness

Pinchas Leiser

The Maftir

reading for this Shabbat is that of Parashat HaChodesh (Shemot 12:1-20). It is reasonable to assume that during the

Mishnaic period, the custom of Eretz Yisrael was observed, and on the Shabbat

when the prayer for the month of Nissan is recited, this portion alone was

read. The Mishnah states:

If Rosh

Chodesh Adar falls on the Shabbat, we read the portion of Shekalim. If it falls

in the middle of the week, it is read on the Shabbat before, and on the next

Shabbat there is a break. On the second [of the special Shabbatot], [we read] Parashat

Zachor (Remember Amelek), on the third, Para Aduma (Red Heifer), on the

fourth, "This month is for you". On the fifth, the regular order

is resumed. (Megilla 3:5)


month is for you" is the first law imposed upon the Children of

Israel.Were it not for the need to teach the basic principle that "The

earth and all that is therein is the Lord's" (see Rashi's commentary on

Bereishit 1:1), the Torah could have begun with this commandment. It is the

commandment of "Sanctification of the Month", the commandment that

establishes the calendar and festivals for us. The dates and festivals are

essential to public and social life. This parasha also marks the

beginning of the salvation from Egypt,

the freeing and the renewal.

The Torah

reading, as with every reading, is a dialogue between reader and text. It meets

the reader in various situations, and therefore it is interesting to note what

happened to one of our great sages, Rabbi Elazar ben Arach, Rabbi Yochanan ben

Zakkai's prize student. The story appears in Tractate Avot – Pirkei Avot,

Ethics of the Fathers:


Yochanan ben Zakkai had five students, as follows: Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkanos,

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananya, Rabbi Yosi HaCohen, Rabbi Shimom ben Netanel, and

Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh. He used to recite their fine attributes:

Rabbi Eliezer

ben Hokanos is a lined reservoir which does not lose a single drop. Rabbi

Yehoshua ben Hananya – fortunate is the woman gave birth to him. Rabbi Yosi

HaCohen, a hassid. Rabbi Shimon ben Netanel, sin-fearing, And Rabbi

Elazar ben Arakh, An overflowing fountain.

He was wont

to say: "If all the wise men of Israel were on one scale of the balance,

and Eliezer ben Hyrcanos in the other, he would outweigh them all." Abba

Shaul, however, quoted him otherwise: If all the wise men of Israel – including

Eliezer ben Hyrcanos – were on one scale of the balance, and Elazar ben Arakh

in the other, he would outweigh them all. (Trac.

Avot 2:8)

The Talmud

tells of Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh:

R. Eleazar ben

Arakh visited that place [Diomsith and Perugitha – towns in northern Israel, famous

for their wines and waters} He was attracted to them, and [consequently]

his learning vanished. When he returned, he rose to read in the Scroll [of the

Torah]. He wished to read, "Hachodesh hazeh lakem" ["This

month shall be unto you, etc."] [instead of which] he read "hacharesh

hayah libbam" [Did their heart become deaf?"1 But the

scholars prayed for him, and his learning returned.

(Bavli, 147b, in other version in Avot d'Rebbi Natan, Kohellet Rabba, and

Yalkut Shimoni}

Other, more

developed, versions of this story are to be found, but from the Bavli story,

one can imagine a situation in which, following the death of his illustrious

teacher, R' Elazar ben Arakh left the other scholars for more pleasant and

satisfying environs with baths and vineyards. The price for his secession was

that he forgot his studies. Upon his return to his scholar colleagues,

probably on the Shabbat on which our parasha was read, or perhaps even on

Parashat HaChodesh, he was honored with reading from the Torah, and he erred in

identifying certain words of the parasha. One can assume that even a child who

had learned to read would not make such gross errors, and we presume that it

was not the Talmud's intent to inform us of a decline in R' Elazar's sight.

Maharsha detects

significance beyond R' Elazars's simple misreading of similar letters

(daled-resh; kaf-bet) and his confusion of vowels that so changed the meaning

of the passage:

His mistake

was related to his person, for his heart became a heart of stone, deaf to understanding,

previously having been as an overflowing fountain while in the company of

the Sages.

The Abot d'Rebbi

Natan's version of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai's description of R' Elazar ben

Arakh is richer than the Bavli's account. A bareyta reads:

And he called

Elazar ben Arakh a rushing stream and a flowing spring, whose waters grow

stronger and overflow, thus realizing that which is written (Mishlei 5:15): "Your springs will gush

forth in streams in the public squares."

He is not only

a "rushing spring", something which may symbolize exceptional

creativity, or extraordinary intellectual capacity (as is explained by Rambam

in his commentary on the Mishnah), but also symbolizes one whose waters

overflow  – he fertilizes his surrounding

and contributes of his wisdom and abilities to society.

The praises

heaped upon R' Elazar ben Arakh by his teacher, as per "Avot d'Rebbi

Natan", match those familiar to us from the Mishnah ("If all the wise

men of Israel

including Eliezer ben Hyrcanos are on one scale

of the

balance, and Elazar ben Arakh in the other, he would outweigh them

all"); He was the only disciple able

to comfort his teacher upon his son's death (Avot

d'Rebbi Natan 14).

The story

about his separating from his companions and going to Porgitha-Diomsith

following the death of his teacher is paradoxical and especially tragic.

The short

versions of our story in the Bavli and in Avot d'Rebbi Natan do not provide us

with motivation for R' Elazar's cutting himself off from his society. Kohellet

Rabba and Yalkut Shimoni assume that he "went to his wife" and that

it was his wife who enticed him to remain in these places for an extended

period. As is known, this is not the only instance in which a woman is

presented as the enticing and instigating factor, but there is no need to

assume that R' Elazar's wife was the 'guilty' party in our story.

In Avot d'Rebbi

Natan, apparently the oldest source for our story, this incident is attached to

the story of the comforting of R' Yochanan ben Zakkai and his being led to the

bath house.

Could it be

that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkei's praise for R' Elazar instilled a kind of conceit

and egocentricism? Was this egotism responsible for R' Elazar's withdrawal into

his four cubits, convinced that, having nothing to learn from others, he no

longer needed chavruta (learning companions)? Perhaps in contrast to

Rabbi Eliezer the Great – who was ostracized despite his desire to influence

his colleagues – whose "colleagues separated from him" (as reported

by Rabbi Akiva in Baba Metsiah 59b), he, R' Elazar, cut himself off from his


As said above,

the Bavli does not reveal the reason behind R' Elazar's travels to those locations,

but rather focuses on the strength of the "la dolche vita's"

attractions even for the greatest of sages. Pleasure has tremendous power, and

no one is immune.

It seems to me

that it is possible to widen the deep insight of the Maharsha which detected a

connection between R' Elazar's sojourn in Diomsith and his erroneous reading of

"this month is for you".

For various

reasons – perhaps out of pride and superciliousness, perhaps because of his

difficulty at observing his teacher in mourning, perhaps because of the

magnetic pull of the world's delights, or perhaps of reasons unknown to us – R'

Elazar felt that his place was not in the Beit Midrash, the Hall of Study, that

he had no contribution to make and also that his motivation to give had

dwindled. Therefore, he "escaped" from social and educational involvement,

and focused upon himself. He did not realize that he had thereby foregone his

spiritual growth and even begun to deteriorate.

Perhaps the

lesson to be learned is that there no possibility of real spiritual growth

without social involvement.

It would seem

that that is no chance for geula – salvation, when, in the words of the

Maharsha, the heart "is too deaf to understand".

This insight

may have practical ramifications for our own generation. We have an opportunity

for geula, freedom, revitalization and growth on many different planes,

on person, social and national levels. This opportunity is dependent upon our

ability to open our hearts to the distress of our surrounding society, on our involvement

in the creation of more just society and on our striving for peace. Withdrawal

to our own four cubits causes us to "make our hearts deaf", and stymies

opportunities for growth, renewal, and geula on all planes. We must

choose between histcharshut (becoming deaf) and hitchadshut (renewal).

Inasmuch as "a

prisoner cannot free himself from prison", R' Elazar ben Arakh needs sages

who are socially involved, who evince concern, to plead mercy for him, so that

he may again open up to study and rejuvenation. Does there exist today

leadership that can assist us in our constant struggle against deafness of the

heart, and that can advance study, development and renewal?

1. A misreading of two

consonants and four vowels changed the meaning of the text.


Leiser, editor of Shabbat Shalom, is a psychologist.



The Miracle of Creation of the

Fetus in Its Mother's Womb

Rabbi Levi said: It is customary

in the world that if a man deposits a purse of silver with his friend in secret

and he returns to him a pound of gold in public, is he not thankful? So with

the Holy One, Blessed Be He, people deposit a drop of semen in secret and the Holy

One, Blessed Be He, returns them complete praiseworthy souls in public, is this

not praiseworthy. This is [what is written] (Job 36) "I will make my

opinions widely known; I will justify my Maker."

In a different midrash, Rabbi

Levi said: "It is customary in the world that if a man is incarcerated in

prison, no one pays attention to him. But if another comes and lights a candle

for him, is he not thankful? So with the Holy One, Blessed Be He, – The fetus lies

in his mother's womb and He lights a candle for him, and this is what Job

referred to (Job 29): "When His lamp

shone over my head" – is this not praiseworthy? It is "I will justify

my Maker."

Rabbi Levi said in yet another

midrash: It is customary in the world that if one is incarcerated in prison and

no one pays attention to him, and if someone comes and frees him, is he not

thankful? So it is with the fetus in his mother's womb, the Holy One, Blessed

Be He, frees his and brings him out.

(Vayikra Rabba Parasha 14)


"And should a man's hair

fall out, his is bald on the pate, he is clean" …"The man is leprous;

he is unclean" …"He shall be unclean as long as the disease is on him".

(Vayikra 13: 40,44,46).


On the basis of this, they said:

If the unclean man sits beneath the tree and the clean man stands, the clean

man becomes unclean. If the clean man sits under the tree and the unclean man

stands, the clean man remains clean.

 (Hizkuni 13:46)


"And he shall cry out, "Unclean!

Unclean!" – He shall call out in a loud voice to persons coming near "I

am unclean, I am unclean – keep away from me" because the mourner, too,

covers his head –  as the Rambam,,

bringing proof from Unkolos' translation on this passage ruled (Laws of Mourning, 5:19) – thus all will know

that he is unclean, not a mourner.

 (Rabbi Yitchak

Shmuel Reggio, 13:45)


All agree that

leprosy is a punishment for slander. The disease begins in the walls of the

houses (Lev. xiv. 33, seq.). If

the sinner repents, the object is attained: if he remains in his disobedience,

the disease affects his bed and house furniture: if he still continues to sin,

the leprosy attacks his own garments, and then his body. This is a miracle

received in our nation by tradition, in the same manner as the effect of the

trial of a faithless wife (Num. v. ii, seq.).

The good effect of this belief is evident. Leprosy is besides a contagious

disease, and people almost naturally abhor it, and keep away from it. The

purification was effected by cedar-wood, hyssop, scarlet thread, and two birds (Lev. xiv. 4); their reason is stated in

various Midrashic sayings, but the explanation does not agree with our theory.

I do not know at present the reason of any of these things; nor why cedar-wood,

hyssop, and scarlet were used in the sacrifice of the red heifer (Num. xix. 6); nor why a bundle of hyssop was

commanded for the sprinkling of the blood of the Passover-lamb (Exod. xii. 22). I cannot find any principle

upon which to found an explanation why these particular things have been


(Rambam: Guide for the Perplexed III 47 – Trans. M.



Cedar and

Hyssop – Pride and Humility

Because infections

are brought about by arrogance, how can he be treated and cured? Let him humble

himself as worm (English translations are

either 'scarlet' or 'crimson'. The dye used in creating the red yarn was made

from the blood of a worm.) and hyssop.



As Worm and


The Hassidic

master of Gur, author of "S'fat Emet", was wont to say: Why was he to

bring also "cedar wood" that is symbolic of pride? If the intention

was primarily that he humble himself like a hyssop, would it not have sufficed

to bring the hyssop alone?

However, when

the sinner repents and considers the sins which he committed, he becomes low of

spirit and deeply ashamed because of his earlier pride. He is ashamed and

humiliated because he was prideful while he sinned. His earlier pride, then,

was instrumental in attaining his current humility. Therefore "the cedar"

justly has a part in the cure.

(Sfat Emet as quoted in Ma'ayana shel Torah)


Humility and

submission do not require that the body be bent and hunched, but rather that he

experience inner spiritual distress even as his body stands straight, as the Baal

Shem Tov explained: "Every stature shall bow down before You" – to

bow down before you even with a straight stature.

(Avnei HaEzel).


When one humbles

himself like a hyssop, when actually there is only false humility, this person

also is in need of atonement.

(Chidushei HaRim)


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