Metzora: The Blessing of Detection

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10 Apr 2008

A video I recently received of the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l moves me greatly. In those crazy dollar days, when a daily Sunday saw thousands of people streaming through Crown Heights to receive a bracha and a buck, a remarkable encounter ensues: A man, apparently in his early 60’s, grayish beard, somewhat disheveled, pensively approaches the Rebbe to give him a book – one that explores the deep Jewish roots of Catholicism. With a tinge of pride, he relates to the Rebbe that he was from a Jewish family but had converted at the age of 29 to Christianity. His new mission: to forge unity between Jews and Christians by teaching Catholics their Jewish roots. Here the conversation picks up:

A few more moments of conversation with the Rebbe and a visible metamorphosis envelopes our story’s protagonist until the Rebbe blesses him that he should be a Yehudi b’galui – an open Jew.

In pondering this remarkable physical-spiritual disease known as Tzara’at (and poorly translated as leprosy), with its sundry details and immense complexities, Sefat Emet provides a panorama of incredible notions (1):

עור Or – the Hebrew word for skin, is comprised of the same letters as blind (iveir). Post primordial sin, God clothes man with a covering that blinds us from mortality and frames our new world order. As Adam HaRishon hid Hashem’s presence – creating darkness and cover in the world, our job becomes to seek the light in the darkest of places.

The Or itself possess holes, or pores, that represent the hidden windows of light that we must search for. Man’s goal forevermore: Revelation! The Tzara’as sufferer, possessor of lesions and blotches is effectively cut off from his light (2) and distanced from God. Thus Onkelos translates our disease as segiru – the malady of being closed.

All is not yet lost! Ultimately it is the Kohein that declares him pure. It is the role of the spiritual guide to reconnect the wayward neshamakah-incidence; to help demonstrate Hashem in the world to the one who has become closed and diminished. Thus the Zohar considers the Kohein’s declaration a Chessed Keil – a Divine gift (I have often maintained that the Kohein is God’s gift to humanity – but that’s a different story)

It is self evident why the Kohen’s tahor (pure) declaration is the gift of reconnection – but why must the Kohen also declare the metzora’s impure status? Why davka the Kohen – why not go to any Torah authority. Perhaps even a simple 573 page english-hebrew Artscroll Leprosy guide might be enough? Where’s the gift in the Kohen’s impure declaration?

Here Sefat Emet guides us to our original notion. The Kohen contribution begins way before he heals/purifies the patient. A clear declaration of impurity may even be a greater present. One can only get better if one acknowledges sickness. Common knowledge and good sense declare that one’s prognosis of recovery from a major illness is directly related to the stage of detection. At some point, it becomes too late. Early detection then becomes a first step towards healing. Rabbi Hanoch Teller relates a story of a young man who considered the notion of donating his kidney to his ailing cousin.

His wife greatly discouraged him – but after a wrenching internal debate and plagued by inner torment, he underwent the operation. When the cousin awoke in the hospital after the operation, he saw the doctor standing over him. The doctor said that the operation was a success, but not in the way they had planned. Because when they removed the donor’s kidney (“randomly” choosing one side), they discovered a cancerous tumor (undetected by the x-ray) that had it developed more possessed a near 100% mortality rate The doctor told the man: ‘You came to the hospital today expecting to save a life. It turns out that through your generosity, the life you saved was your own.’

The Bartenura teaches that a chaver tov – a good friend, is one who does not withhold criticism. [I have many good friends!] Zeresh and her group of “friends” provide fair weather counseling to Haman. When Haman is riding the wave, they counsel him to get rid of Mordechai and when he washes up, they chide him for the futility of the effort.

As we go through the challenges that form the essence of lives, let us find the right Kohen, the one who has the courage to say what needs to be said. In the words of the Rebbe: One who is sick and does not know it is even sicker than he thinks. The blessing of detection and the fortune of knowing what is wrong allows the metzora to get to work.

In a world devoid of tzara’at, work remains to be done.

Let the healing begin!

Good Shabbos, Asher Brander

1. אדם כי יהי’ בעור בשרו כו’. כי אחר חטא האדם כ’ ויעש כו’ כתנות עור. והוא שניתן להם מסך והסתר בכל דבר כמ”ש בזוה”ק שהוא ממשכא דחויא. ועור מלשון עיור שאחר החטא א”י להכיר האור מתוך החושך רק בעבודה ויגיעה להסיר מסך המבדיל. והנגעים באים רק מכח עור הזה. וידוע כי יש בעור נקבים דקים. כי בכ”מ הקליפות יש נקודה גנוזה ג”כ. רק שע”י עונות נסתמו החלונות ובאים הנגעים. כדאיתא מה נגע סגירו כו’. אך גוף הנגע הוא לרפואה. והנה גזה”כ שטומאתן וטהרתן ע”י כהן. ובשלמא הטהרה ניתן במתנה לאהרן. על כי הנגעים באים על לה”ר ואהרן הי’ אוהב ורודף שלום. אך מה טעם שיהי’ הטומאה בראיית הכהן. והלא טוב עין הוא יבורך. רק כנ”ל שהנגע רפואה הוא. כדאיתא מצורע מוציא רע. פי’ שע”י הנגע נמשך הרע מפנימיות האדם לחוץ. כ”פ בס’ כלי יקר ע”ש. ובוודאי אדם השלם ראוי לו לשמוח בזה שרואה שפלותו. ושעי”ז יזכה להתטהר מלהיות הטומאה טמונה בפנימיותו. ולכן ע”י ראיית הכהן נמשך הטומאה לחוץ. בזוה”ק פי’ והובא אל הכהן. הוא חסד אל. מה שהקב”ה חפץ לטהר אותו. לכן מביא הטומאה לחוץ. וצריך האדם לקבל זאת באהבה ועי”ז בא לטהרה. וז”ש והובא אל הכהן
2. Thus the Torah precedes its introduction of Tzara’as by presenting the yoledes – the mother who just gave birth – who must bring a sacrifice, one of which is a chatas in order to atone mimekor dameha – from the source of her blood. That source, states R. Bechayei, Kli Yakar, Ohr HaChaim and so many others, is the first sin – one which according to classic midrash created dam nidah, menstrual blood. Ensconced in the text is the imperative of bris, removal of the foreskin that the midrash states only came after the Adam’s sin. The common denominator of both is the removal of forces and impurities in order to reveal life itself.

Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.