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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 sage.

Thus 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 morality.

[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.

Ronen 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.

            (Kli 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 clothing!

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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