• Dvar for Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33)

    Both Parshat Tazria and Metzora discuss skin ailments on one’s flesh, who to see about it (the Priest), how to treat it (isolate it), what to do if it spreads (isolate yourself), and so on. While we get caught up in the details of the treatments, we might fail to realize how strange all of this is. This is the first time the Torah discusses personal physical hygiene. Why would the Torah spend almost  two entire Parshiot (multiple Parshas) on personal hygiene?

    Rabbi Munk in The Call of The Torah explains that by giving these afflictions so much attention, the Torah points to them as examples of the spiritual causes at the root of many illnesses (in our case, Tzaraas – the affliction discussed in the Parsha – is caused by one of seven sins: Slander, murder, perjury, debauchery, pride, theft and jealousy (Talmud Arachim 16a)). As the Rambam (Maimonides) asserts, the best medication is based on ethical values, helping to re-establish harmonies between spiritual and physical forces (Guide to the Perplexed 3:27). That way, even if our physical ailments aren’t ultimately cured, at least we’re in harmony within ourselves. This discussion is meant to remind us that illness is sometimes spiritual, and that it’s connected to our physical well-being. As such, we should feed our bodies, so long as we nurture our souls.

  • Dvar for Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33)

    The primary subject of Parshat Tazria is tzara’at, a supernatural skin disease that, according to the Sages, was a punishment for speaking ill about other people.  A person who habitually spoke ill about others would be struck with tzara’at and would then be quarantined outside the city as a divine warning to improve their behavior and make themselves more worthy of dwelling within the community.  Although the symptoms of tzara’at were fairly straightforward, the official diagnosis could only be made by a kohen, who would declare whether a given patch of skin contained tzara’at or not.  The Torah describes one type of skin lesion called a “bohak” that is not tzara’at, but is required to be shown to a kohen as well.  R’ Moshe Feinstein asks about the purpose of this – if it is not tzara’at, why does the Torah trouble people to show it to the kohen?

    R’ Moshe Feinstein explains based on the insight mentioned earlier.  The purpose of tzara’at is to cause a person to evaluate their behavior and to make improvements.  The trauma of being quarantined outside the city for a week or more is clearly a strong catalyst for such self-examination, similar to the way serious illness or loss of a job triggers self-examination in our day.  But we must not wait for such dramatic events to examine our actions.  The law of the bohak teaches us that even smaller events in our lives should be seen as catalysts for introspection and self-improvement.  We can never know for certain what messages G-d is trying to send us, but we should always be listening, whether the message is loud or not.

  • Dvar for Metzora (Leviticus 14:1-15:33)

    Parshat Metzora discusses the subject of a supernatural discoloration of the walls of a house that renders the house and its contents ritually impure. An individual who suspects such a problem in his house must go to a kohen and say “it appears that I have a nega in the house.” They must go themselves, and cannot send an agent. The Ktav Sofer points out that the phrase “the house” is somewhat inappropriate in this context, especially given the fact that the owner must go himself.
    We would have expected the phrase to read “in MY house” not “THE house.”

    The Ktav Sofer explains the choice of words:  The Sages teach that house discolorations is a punishment intended to help make stingy people more generous.  Many details of its laws serve this purpose.  Even the choice of words reinforces this message. To a stingy person, it is MY house, MY car, MY money.  The Torah requires this person to say “in THE house” to begin teaching them that their possessions are not truly theirs, but rather gifts from G-d with which to do good.

  • Daily Aliya for Tazria-Metzora, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: This section discusses the ritual impurity contracted by a man who issues a (normal) seminal discharge, the ritual impurity of a menstruating woman, and of a man who cohabits with her. All such people must immerse in a mikvah (ritual pool) in order to be purified. Under certain circumstances a menstruating woman was required to bring to the Temple two bird offerings in order to attain purity.

    People might say (or think) that most of Tazria-M’tzora is complex, confusing, non-applicable, why do I need to study it, boring… but the interplay between the physical and spiritual, the functioning of Jewish society in the context of the topics of the Parsha and other themes are timeless, and the contemplation provides much food for thought and possibly even discussion around the Shabbat table.

  • Daily Aliya for Tazria-Metzora, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Homes, too, can be afflicted with tzara’at. If bricks on a home become discolored — acquiring a strong red or green pigment — a priest is summoned. If indeed the discoloration seems to be tzara’at, the priest quarantines the home for up to three weeks. Depending on the spread of the discoloration, the home is either declared to be pure, or the specific bricks are removed from the house, or, in the most extreme situations, the house is demolished. The Torah then describes the purification process for such a home — which is very similar to the initial stage of the purification of the human afflicted with tzara’at (described in the First Aliyah). After concluding the subject of tzara’at, the Torah discusses the ritual impurity of a man who issues a sickly and unnatural seminal discharge, as well as the method by which this person attains purity when the condition passes.

    Not only does a person’s body contain elements of spirituality, but even his home – specifically in Eretz Yisrael. Although we do not “practice” this whole topic today, the lessons of the bridge and connection between the physical world and the spiritual one cannot be overlooked. A person whose home is a meeting placefor Torah scholars, a launching pad for acts of charity and kindness, a training ground for a new generation of sensitive, feeling, enthusiastic Jews, such a home cannot be infected by spiritual plague. A home devoid of spirituality is a prime target for Nig’ei HaBayit. In this case, it is not the anti-rust and anti-moldpaint that makes the difference. It is the values that a Jew lives by and their affect on the next generation.

  • Daily Aliya for Tazria-Metzora, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    A person who cannot afford the animals for the sacrifices, is to bring one sheep and two birds as his offering. The Torah describes the rituals involved in these offerings.

    It is not important how much the sacrifice is worth on a dollars and cents basis (shekels and agorot), but what is relative to the means of the atoner. Thus ends the section of the Torah dealing with afflictions to the individual. ZOT TORAT… this is the body of law of one afflicted who cannot afford the full set of korbanot.

  • Dvar for Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33)

    Both Parshat Tazria and Metzora discuss skin ailments on one’s flesh, who to see about it (the Priest), how to treat it (isolate it), what to do if it spreads (isolate yourself), and so on. While we get caught up in the details of the treatments, we might fail to realize how strange all of this is. This is the first time the Torah discusses personal physical hygiene. Why would the Torah spend almost  two entire Parshiot (multiple Parshas) on personal hygiene?

    Rabbi Munk in The Call of The Torah explains that by giving these afflictions so much attention, the Torah points to them as examples of the spiritual causes at the root of many illnesses (in our case, Tzaraas – the affliction discussed in the Parsha – is caused by one of seven sins: Slander, murder, perjury, debauchery, pride, theft and jealousy (Talmud Arachim 16a)). As the Rambam (Maimonides) asserts, the best medication is based on ethical values, helping to re-establish harmonies between spiritual and physical forces (Guide to the Perplexed 3:27). That way, even if our physical ailments aren’t ultimately cured, at least we’re in harmony within ourselves. This discussion is meant to remind us that illness is sometimes spiritual, and that it’s connected to our physical well-being. As such, we should feed our bodies, so long as we nurture our souls.

  • Daily Aliya for Metzora, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Under certain circumstances a menstruating woman was required to bring to the Temple two bird offerings in order to attain purity. These sacrifices are described in this Aliya.

    Commentaries note that the laws pertaining to human beings follow the laws pertaining to animals (chronologically, in the Torah). This corresponds to the sequence of creation – animals were created before humans. If a person behaves in an improper manner, they are lower than an animal, and are reminded that “the mosquito preceded him”. If however, we behave properly, keep the Torah and mitzvot, rise to the challenge of being holy, then we are worthy of having been created in the image of G-d.

  • Daily Aliya for Metzora, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: This Aliya discusses the ritual impurity contracted by a man who issues a (normal) seminal discharge, the ritual impurity of a menstruating woman, and of a man who cohabits with her. All such people must immerse in a mikvah (ritual pool) in order to be purified.

    Sitting on the same bed or chair as an impure woman renders you impure as well, a unique law designed to separate married people for part of a normal monthly cycle. While there might be some psychological advantages to this law (abstinence makes the heart grow fonder?), it’s also important to keep the original text in mind. Otherwise one might theorize that because we are already so connected and close these laws shouldn’t apply to us, which would be a faulty argument. It’s a law, fringe benefits aside.

  • Daily Aliya for Metzora, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: After concluding the subject of tzara’at, the Torah discusses the ritual impurity of a man who issues a sickly and unnatural seminal discharge, as well as the method by which this person attains purity when the condition passes.

    Rashi points out that the discharge contaminates only if it’s on a portion of the body, but if the entire body is discharging, the person is still pure. Logic would dictate otherwise, unless you view it as an indicator of specific internal issues that need to be addressed, and having an entire body secrete anything is not operable or helpful. You can’t tell someone “everything is wrong with you” and expect them to be able to do anything about it. Being “impure” means that the person needs to fix something about their character traits, and that just isn’t possible with a full-body discharge (a separate question would be why a full-body discharge would ever happen, if it’s inoperable). 

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