Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Tazria-Metzora

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Adam ki yih’yeh b’or besaro se’eis o sapachas o baheres v’haya b’or besaro l’negah tzara’as v’huva el Aharon HaKohen o el echad mi’banav ha’Kohanim (13:2)

Parshas Tazria and Parshas Metzora primarily revolve around the subject of tzara’as – the different forms in which it can appear, the laws determining which afflictions are pure and which are impure, and the purification process for one who is stricken with tzara’as. The Gemora (Arachin 16a) teaches that one of the primary causes of tzara’as is speaking negatively about others. The biographical introduction at the beginning of the sefer Kochvei Ohr by Rav Yitzchok Blazer, one of the chief disciples of Rav Yisroel Salanter, records a frightening story on this topic.

Rav Blazer left clear instructions that he should not be eulogized after his death. When he passed away in 1907, Rav Shmuel Salant, who was the Rav of Yerushalayim at the time, ruled that this request must be honored. However, Rav Chaim Berlin, who also lived in Yerushalayim and was a close friend of Rav Blazer dating back to the period when he was the Chief Rabbi of Moscow and Rav Blazer was the Rav of St. Petersburg, came under pressure to eulogize Rav Blazer. He noted that that there was a precedent to disregard such instructions, as the Noda BiYehuda had done in eulogizing the P’nei Yehoshua in spite of the fact that the P’nei Yehoshua had explicitly requested not to be eulogized (Pischei Teshuvah Yoreh Deah 344:1).

Rav Berlin proceeded to give a public eulogy of Rav Blazer, which he suggested was a form of compromise. He explained his reasoning by pointing out that in recording Avrohom’s response to the death of his wife Sorah, the Torah uses two different expressions, saying (Bereishis 23:2) that he came to eulogize her and to cry over her death. The nature of a eulogy is to praise the deceased, whereas crying emanates from the loss felt as a result of the death. In this case, Rav Berlin noted that Rav Blazer had only forbade eulogizing him by discussing his accomplishments and greatness, but he in no way prohibited a gathering for the purpose of crying over and mourning his loss, which Rav Berlin proceeded to do.

In a letter quoted there, Rav Berlin writes that on the following Friday night, Rav Blazer appeared to him in a dream to thank him for honoring his request and refraining from publicly praising him. Rav Berlin decided to seize the opportunity and asked Rav Blazer to tell him about the judgment in the next world. Rav Blazer replied that Hashem’s Heavenly Court is incredibly strict and harsh and is beyond the comprehension of any human in this world. He added that the area in which the judgment is the most stringent is forbidden speech, and although Torah scholars have many merits, Hashem is exceedingly strict regarding sins that involve speech. Rav Berlin asked Rav Blazer how he had fared in his own personal judgment, to which he replied that the entire week he had not been permitted to appear to Rav Berlin to thank him, until he was finally granted a reprieve on Shabbos and allowed to come, at which point he disappeared.

This insight is even more powerful in light of the fact that it was conveyed by Rav Blazer, who was known to be exceptionally careful in his speech and maintained a taanis dibbur in which he completely refrained from speaking other than for Torah study and prayer every year for 40 consecutive days, from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur.

When Rav Eliyahu Lopian would repeat this story to the students in his yeshiva, he would conclude by emotionally repeating over and over that sins of speech are incredibly severe, and there is nothing that can protect and come to the defense of somebody who sins in this area, a message which we should take to heart and remember the next time we are tempted to disparage another person or pass on a juicy piece of gossip.

Ki savo’u el Eretz Canaan asher ani nosein lachem l’achuza v’nasati negah tzara’as b’veis eretz achuzaschem (14:34)

Parshas Tazria introduced us to the laws about the different types of tzara’as which can afflict a person’s body. Parshas Metzora begins by teaching the elaborate procedure which a stricken person must go through to purify himself. Afterward, we are introduced to a new type of tzara’as, one which afflicts a person’s home. This concept is difficult to understand. Although a person’s body may be stricken with tzara’as to punish him for his actions, why is a house afflicted with tzara’as and destroyed if it is an inanimate object which lacks free will and which never sinned?

The Beis HaLevi explains that a person’s actions influence his physical surroundings. If a person does mitzvos and kind deeds, his environs are uplifted, and if he sins, his surroundings are negatively affected. Conversely, a person is also influenced by his environment. Noach’s generation became so wicked that they corrupted the entire world, leaving Hashem with no choice but to obliterate it and begin again anew. In the case of the house, its owner spoke so much lashon hara that it permeated the very walls and foundation of the home, rendering it impure to its core. As if that weren’t bad enough, the house has become transformed into a place with the potential to corrupt even pure and innocent people who enter its doors. As a result, just as in the times of Noach, there is no choice but to seal it off and destroy to prevent any further damage from occurring.

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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 223:1) that when a woman gives birth to a son (12:2), the parents are obligated to recite the blessing HaTov v’HaMeitiv. Is any blessing recited over the birth of a daughter? (Meromei Sadeh Berachos 54a, Aruch HaShulchan 223:1, Mishnah Berurah 223:2, Halichos Shlomo Tefillah pg. 280, Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 9:49, Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 13:20)

2) A shoteh – insane person – is exempt from doing mitzvos. Which mitzvah may be performed even by a shoteh? (Rambam Hilchos Tumas Tzara’as 9:2)

3) The Torah requires (13:3) a person who may have tzara’as to show it to a Kohen. If a Kohen is asked to rule on the status of an affliction found on the skin of a powerful person whose retribution he fears, is he permitted to refuse to do so, or if he notices what appears to be tzara’as on the skin of somebody close to him but doesn’t want to rule him impure, may he send his friend to another Kohen, who may not come to the same conclusion? (Chiddushei Rav Yosef Karo)

4) The Torah requires (13:45-46) a metzora to dwell outside of the Jewish camp and to call out, “Tamei, tamei!” The Gemora in Moed Katan (5a) explains that this done so that people will pray on his behalf that he should be healed quickly. Why is the metzora required to request other people’s prayers more than any other person who is ill? (Medrash Yehonason Parshas Metzora)

5) Rashi writes (14:35) that even if a Torah scholar knows with certainty that an affliction in his house is a case of tzara’as, in relating this information to the Kohen he may not say that negah – an affliction – has appeared in the house, but k’negah – something like an affliction – has appeared in the house. If he knows for sure that the affliction is a case of tzara’as, why must he speak in this imprecise manner? (Sifsei Chochomim, Tosefos Yom Tov Nega’im 12:5, Ayeles HaShachar)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.