Torah Insights for Shabbat
Parashat Tazriah-Metzorah 5758
April 25, 1998 - Israel
May 2, 1998 - Diaspora
Whenever I review the laws of gittin, a majority of those in attendance are in disbelief that Halachah would permit this principle to be exercised, to apply severe physical duress, albeit only in certain situations, toward a person who refuses to give his wife a divorce.
This power of the courts seemingly violates an elementary principle of the get, namely, that the man divorce his wife willingly. Any type of coercion invalidates the process.
The Rambams famous answer to this conundrum is that the innate personality of every Jew is to do the right thing. The Court merely assists him to act on his own natural impulses. Halachah maintains, in these instances, that it may take a series of lashes to the body to bring sense to the mind.
The Court can be adequately assured that after a few lashes the Jew has become sufficiently "inspired" to remove the yetzer hara from his subconscious and do the right thing. He is now ready to performing a meritorious task, which, were it not for the impediment of an evil impulse, he would have been willing to do all along.
Where is the Biblical source for the Rambams opinion?
Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt"l, argued that the law of tzoraas is Biblical proof for the superficial nature of sin. Tzoraas, the leprosy-like affliction that comes to punish such sins as slander and illicit relations, is a skin-deep spiritual malady and testifies to the sinners lack of spiritual depth.
Introducing the laws of the sacrifices at the beginning of Vayikra, the Torah begins, "Adam ki yakriv mikem...." When the Torah reports on the punishment of a Jew, it begins with a similar phrase, "Adam ki yihiyeh beor besaro...." But the word mikem is not used.
For a Jew to elevate his soul, notes Rav Soloveitchik, the sacrifice he brings must come from within, mikem. But when he sins, it has its roots elsewhere. It never comes from within; it is not mikem.
This idea, said the Rav, also allows us to understand the Kohein Gadols request on Yom Kippur. He asks Hashem to forgive the Jewish people: "Kaper na." Why these words?
Because the expression kaper means to wipe away, without leaving any telltale marks. The sin of the Jew is merely on the surface, it can therefore be cleanly wiped away. The Kohein Gadol beseeches Hashem to use the mildest form of "detergent" in cleansing His nation. The Kohein Gadol knows that a mere "dusting"--a gentle reminder to do the right thing--and the pure, Jewish soul returns.
The principle of kofin oso ad sheyomar rotzeh ani is not so much a testimony to the power of the Court as it is to the enduring purity of the Jewish soul. Our souls have been covered with a Divinely manufactured form of Teflon. It can be soiled, but it doesnt take much to wipe away the sin, to make it as clean as it was when given to us by our Creator.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berkowitz
Rabbi Berkowitz is the rav of Congregation Shaarei Tefila in Los Angeles, California
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