Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Tazria


Adam ki yihyeh 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 mibanav (13:2)

Parshas Tazria discusses the laws governing an “adam” (person) who has tzara’as on his skin. The Zohar HaKadosh teaches that of the many Hebrew words which refer to a person, the word “adam” is used to connote a respected individual. Why is a person who has sinned and brought tzara’as upon himself referred to with an expression signifying importance?

Rav Nissan Alpert explains that a person isn’t measured by his mistakes. All people are human and are prone to err from time to time. Rather, a person’s worth is determined by whether he learns from his mistakes. A Torah scholar who is content with the level he has reached and has no ambitions to continue improving himself can hardly be considered a great person. On the other hand, a person who works to improve himself so that he doesn’t repeat his sins is certainly to be admired. In our case, although the person was stricken with tzara’as, if he comes to a Kohen to understand what he did wrong and learn how to correct his ways, the Torah teaches us that nobody could be more important and deserving of our respect.

V’ra’ah HaKohen es ha’nega b’or ha’basar v’seiar b’nega hafach lavan u’mareh ha’nega amok me’or besaro nega tzara’as hu v’ra’ahu HaKohen v’timei oso (13:3)

Most impurities are physical realities which immediately take effect upon contact with the impure item (e.g. a dead body, an impure person). On the other hand, the determination of the status of tzara’as isn’t dependent upon the onset of the skin affliction or even upon the evaluation of the Kohen. It depends solely upon the verbal proclamation of the Kohen, “Tamei,” which causes the commencement of the tzara’as. Why is this type of impurity determined in this unique manner?

The following powerful story will help us understand what makes tzara’as different. One day in Yerushalayim, two old friends encountered one another on the bus. Excited at the opportunity to catch up with one another, they sat down together and began talking. In the course of their conversation, one of them casually mentioned the name of an old friend. The other replied, “You didn’t hear? She just got engaged last week to so-and-so.”

This news left her friend both elated and shocked. “That’s so wonderful that she finally got engaged … but to him!? Who would have ever thought that she would settle for a person with so many problems?” Taking the bait, the one who shared the news agreed and proceeded to list problems not only with the chosson, but also with his family’s reputation. The conversation went back-and-forth, with each of them heaping more and more question-marks on the match.

After five minutes, a woman who was sitting behind them turned to the gossipers and remarked, “I know you didn’t realize this, but I’m the aunt of the kallah you’ve been discussing. We obviously didn’t know about these serious allegations against the chosson and his family. As soon as I get home, I’m going to call my niece to convince her to break the engagement.”

Aghast at the unexpected turn of events, the friends begged her not to do so. They explained, “We were just innocently chatting about recent events. We didn’t mean many of the things that we said, and most of them were exaggerated. Please don’t break-up this shidduch because of our poor judgment.” Just then, the bus reached the woman’s stop. The wise woman paused before exiting and taught them an invaluable lesson. “You have nothing to worry about. I’m not really her aunt … but I could have been!”

The Chofetz Chaim explains that because one of the primary causes of tzara’as is speaking lashon hara, the status of its impurity is specifically dependent upon the speech of the Kohen. Many times a gossiper rationalizes his actions by claiming that mere words can’t inflict any harm. Therefore, just as the two friends learned on the bus, we hint to him how much damage words can cause by showing him that his impure status hinges upon the verbal proclamation of the Kohen.

V’ra’ah HaKohen acharei hukabeis es ha’nega v’hinei lo hafach ha’nega es eino v’ha’nega lo fasa tamei hu ba’eish tisrefunu (13:55)

If a garment made of wool, linen, or leather develops a green or red affliction, it must be shown to a Kohen. The Kohen quarantines the garment for seven days, after which he examines it to see if the affliction has spread during this period. If it has spread, the garment must be burned, but if it has not, the garment is washed and locked up for a second seven-day period. If at the end of this period the affliction has dimmed, it is ripped out of the garment, the remainder of which may then be used. However, the Torah decrees that if the Kohen sees that during this second seven-day period the color of the garment remains the same, the entire garment must be burned in fire and destroyed.

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that during the time that the garment is quarantined, its owner should be focused on repenting the sin which caused it to be afflicted in the first place. The Gemora in Arachin (16a) lists seven sins which can cause tzara’as, one of which is tzaros ayin – viewing others with a narrow and stingy eye. If a person is stricken with an affliction on one of his garments as a result of this sin, it is incumbent upon him to work on relating to others with a more generous spirit in order to rectify his sin and prevent his garment from being destroyed.

In light of this, the expression “lo hafach ha’nega es eino” – the affliction did not change its color – can also be understood as an allusion to the reason that such a garment must be burned. Instead of utilizing the seven-day period to change his outlook toward others and to develop within himself a positive and giving attitude, “lo hafach ha’nega es eino” – the stingy eye with which he viewed others didn’t change, and he still possesses the same miserly worldview which brought about the initial affliction. As a result, the Torah gives no choice but to burn his garment and remove it from the world.

Rav Leib Lopian points out that the letters in the words “nega” – affliction – and “oneg” – pleasure – are identical. The only difference between them is the location of the letter ò. Shlomo HaMelech writes that “he’chochom einav b’rosho” – a wise person places his eyes in front (Koheles 2:14). This can be homiletically interpreted as teaching that by training one’s eyes to focus on the strengths and talents of others, which correspond to the front, a person can place the letter “ayin” at the beginning of the word, and he will become a happy person whose life will be joyful oneg. However, if he puts the letter “ayin” at the end of the word by allowing himself to always seek out other people’s shortcomings and weaknesses, he will become a bitter and stingy person whose life will be transformed into a nega, one full of afflictions and suffering.

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

1)     The Gemora in Shabbos (132a) derives from 12:3 that circumcision is done even on Shabbos. However, the Shulchan Aruch rules (Yoreh Deah 266:2) that this is only the case for a circumcision being performed on an 8-day-old boy. If somebody transgressed and circumcised a boy who was older than eight days, does he fulfill his obligation? (Shu”t Rav Akiva Eiger Kesavim 174, Pischei Teshuvah Yoreh Deah 266:1, Shu”t K’sav Sofer Orach Chaim 35, Shu”t Toras Chesed Orach Chaim 58)

2)     Is tzara’as contagious? (Ramban Bereishis 19:17, Daas Z’keinim 13:46, Ibn Ezra, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Meshech Chochmah Derech Sicha)

3)     Is a Kohen permitted to examine a skin affliction while wearing glasses, or must he see it directly with his eyes? (Boaz Nega’im 2:4, Shu”t Tzafnas Paneiach 13, Ayeles HaShachar 13:12)

4)     Is a person obligated to own the matzah that he eats to fulfill his obligation at the Seder (12:15), and if so, if he is a guest at somebody else’s house, is he required to perform an action to acquire the matzahs that he will eat? (S’fas Emes Sukkah 35a, Imrei Binah Hilchos Pesach 24, Mishnah Berurah 454:15. Shu”t B’tzeil HaChochmah 4:172, Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 2:37 and 13:15, Moadim U’Zmanim 3:266, Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 8:191, Piskei Teshuvos 454:2)

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