Parshat Hashavua Metzorah
Contributed by: Rav Nissim Mordechai Makor
Parshat Hashavua Metzorah in a nutshell: This week’s Torah reading begins by detailing how the recovered metzora (a person who is ritually impure) is purified by the kohen (priest)
This shall be the law of the metzora on the day of his purification. (14:2)
Living outside the camp of society, the metzora has the opportunity to reflect upon the effect of his disparaging words. He learns to realize how much evil he has generated. Words can hurt. They can also soothe. They can ameliorate one's grief. They can also cause untold pain. They can lift one's spirit. They can also cause crushing despair. They can bolster one's confidence. They can also rob one of his dignity. It all depends on one's thoughtfulness in speech - or his malevolence. And what about words spoken in anger, with no aforethought? How many families have such harshly spoken words divided? How many friendships have they destroyed? How many marriages have they soured? Words used thoughtfully can enhance relationships, raise reputations, make people feel good - about themselves and others.
Words are not cheap; the old adage, "names will never harm me," is not true. Names do cause harm. Just ask any adult who had been called a name as a child. Ask him if he still remembers the name, and if it still bothers him. Then there are the words which we have not said, the compliment we did not give, the apology we did not make. This is especially true of parents and teachers. That little compliment, the few words of encouragement, the smile that comes with a job well done, goes a long way. Everybody thrives on a compliment; some hunger for it. It goes without saying that the derogatory or thoughtless remarks we make to our children and students can come back to haunt us later in life.
The following story demonstrates the devastating effect of a parent's scornful comment. It is a story about a woman who survived the Holocaust, moved to Eretz Yisrael and became an intelligent and articulate member of the community. She would often reminisce about her childhood in pre World War II Europe. Once, during her musings, she declared that one of the happiest recollections of her life was the day in which she was forcibly taken by the Nazis from her home and transferred to an extermination camp.
Those listening to her story were understandably taken aback. Responding to their shocked expressions, she explained that her family situation was far from ideal. Apparently, her older sister had been the favored, frum, observant daughter, while she was the rebellious one. If there was one pat of butter and one pat of margarine, her sister would get the butter, while she would get the margarine. "After all," her mother would explain, "your older sister is exhausted from davening with such great kavanah, concentration, while you probably skipped a few pages. You can do with less."
The derision would increase and become more spiteful when she did something to anger her parents - which, regrettably, occurred more often than not. In anger, her mother would complain, "You probably are not even my biological daughter! Your sister was born at home, whereas you were born in a public clinic. The doctors probably exchanged my real daughter with you." This was certainly not her mother's usually refrain, but the painful effect of a derisive comment endures.
In 1942, the Nazis came to her hometown and rounded up the children. Only she and her parents were home at the time. Her father immediately wrote a kvittel to the Gerrer Rebbe. Her mother threw herself at the feet of the Nazi beasts, begging that they spare her child, "Please, I beg you. Let my child stay. I will do anything. I cannot live without her!" She entreated upon deaf ears.
The young girl, now turned adult, remembered that moment with great joy. "I felt no pain; I had no fear," she said. "I was overjoyed to finally hear that my mother truly loved me as a child." The affirmation that she was, indeed, her own and beloved daughter, that she was accepted and not rejected, overshadowed the fear of being taken away to her death.
Imagine, after all these years, this woman looked back on a devastating experience as being her greatest source of joy. After all, it was this experience that erased the pain in her heart that had been caused by words.
And immerse himself in the water and become pure. Thereafter, he may enter the camp. (14:8)
The punishment for speaking lashon hora is meant to teach the slanderer a lesson. He now has some idea regarding the effect of his words. As a result of his slanderous tongue, he caused a break in relationships between people. Let him live alone, far from the center of the community, so that he will begin to realize the harmful consequences of his vile mouth. Furthermore, when he is alone, he now has time to introspect and focus on his life. He now has the opportunity to change his overall demeanor and work on bettering his character. Last, as Horav Avigdor Halevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, explains, the metzora, having been distanced from the three machanos, encampments, now realizes that Hashem views him as being on a very low spiritual plateau. The reason for this is that a person's position relative to the center of kedushah, sanctity, is an indicator of his spiritual position.
There is a direct corollary between the two positions. This is to be noted from the fact that the Kohen Gadol walks into the Kodshei Hakodoshim, Holy of Holies, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, only after having been away from his home for seven days prior to Yom Kippur. During his separation period, he lives on the Har Habayis, Temple Mount, in preparation for his awesome experience. Residing in this elevated Makom, place, of kedushah, has a powerful effect on the Kohen Gadol - one which now gives him access to the Holy of Holies. Thus, the metzora, who is sent away from his original home, now understands that his spiritual position has now been changed; he has been distanced from his original standing.
Once we understand the depth of the punishment, we now have an idea of the incredible reward in store for he who speaks positively of Klal Yisrael collectively, as well as each Jew individually. The Toesfta in Meseches Sotah 4:1 says that Hashem's reward is five hundred times greater than His punishment. This is all the more reason to look for the positive aspect in every person's behavior. At times, it might take a bit of imagination to see the positive, as the following story demonstrates.
Two friends worked together, side by side, for an institution in Eretz Yisrael for many years. After awhile, one of them suddenly passed away. The funeral was attended by many of Yerushalayim's elite, among them Horav Aryeh Levine, zl. It happened that Rav Aryeh was walking in the funeral procession together with the surviving friend, when the man left the procession and ran into a flower shop. A few minutes later, he rejoined the procession, this time carrying a flowerpot with him. The man's action shocked Rav Aryeh, who was fully aware of his lifelong relationship with the deceased. It continued to bother him until he decided that he must give the man mussar, reproach, for his lack of respect for his friend. He began by asking, "Can you please enlighten me why you felt it necessary to leave your friend's funeral procession to buy a potted plant?"
"Rebbe, let me explain my actions," the man replied. "Yesterday, a man who was being treated for leprosy passed away in the hospital. My friend, the deceased, was very close to this leper and would visit him often. When the leper died, the hospital staff was about to burn all of his effects due to contamination. The problem was that among his few possessions were his Tefillin. My friend had been negotiating with the hospital administration concerning the Tefillin. At the end, the hospital deferred and agreed to have the Tefillin stored in a flowerpot and then removed and buried in the ground. There was one condition: They had to have the flowerpot in the hospital by 12:00PM - today. Regrettably, my friend died suddenly and the risk of the Tefillin being destroyed was considerable. This is why I left the procession to purchase a flowerpot, and I am going immediately to the hospital to bury the Tefillin.
Rav Aryeh concluded the story by emphasizing to what length one must go to judge another person favorably.
Asher bochar banu mikol hoamin - Who has selected us from all the nations.
The Marpei Lashon explains the meaning of our selection over all the nations to receive the Torah, when, in truth, we were the only ones who were willing to accept the Torah. Chazal teach us that the Torah was given in seventy languages, so that every nation would have access to understanding it. Lashon Kodesh, however, is different from the other languages, because it alludes to the lessons and derivations of Torah SheBaal Peh, the Oral Law. Everything that Chazal derive is based upon the structure of the Torah's text which is written in lashon kodesh. No other language affords this opportunity; no other language alludes to the oral law. Thus, we thank Hashem for giving us the Torah in lashon kodesh. He selected us for this unique distinction by giving us His Torah in the language that was written in Heaven.
All Birchos Hanehenin, blessings over food and fragrance, in which a person partakes and enjoys Hashem's gifts do not have the extra clause, Asher nosan lanu, "which He gave us." Rather, the brachah is a general statement, such as: Hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz, "Who brings forth bread from the earth;" or Borei minei mezonos, "Who creates species of nourishment." Why is Birchos HaTorah different? Siach Tzvi explains that every form of material/physical good in the world can be beneficial for one and harmful for another. Bread may be healthy and nourishing for one person, while it is detrimental for another. Torah and mitzvos are the only gifts that present blessing and good for anyone, anytime, anywhere. Torah is the ultimate gift. Thus, its recipients acknowledge the fact that they have been chosen to receive the gift and that the Almighty gave it specifically to them.
Acknowledgement to Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum, My Teacher