Parashat Tazria Messora
TURNING "NEGA" INTO "ONEG"
The Ar"i zs"l writes that when one suffers, Heaven forbid, from any sort of
crisis and consults a sadik, the sadik can intervene and thus transform the
"nega" (affliction) into "oneg" (delight), and the "sarah" (crisis) into
"rasah" (that which is pleasing). The Ben Ish Hai zs"l adds that this
concept is alluded to in our parashah. Describing the leprous affliction
("sara'at") that has been cured, the Torah writes, "vehinei hafach hanega
eno," "The affliction has changed color." The word used for "color" in
pasuk is "eno," a contraction for "ayin shelo," its color. However, it may
also be understood as the letter "ayin." Thus, the pasuk tells us that the
"ayin" of the word "nega" should be switched and moved from the back of the
word to the beginning, thus forming the word "oneg." The "Zecher Haim"
suggests that this idea is alluded to as well in the poem of the Ar"i,
"Azamer Bishvahin," recited by many on Friday night. One line in the poem
reads, "Beshavin iturin de'al gabei hamshin," "the seventy crowns on top of
the fifty." This may refer to the letter "ayin" - whose numerical value is
seventy - placed behind the "nun," whose numerical value is fifty.
This may also serve as a reminder to us that everything the Al-mighty does
is, ultimately, for the best: "It is a time of crisis for Yaakov - and from
it they shall be saved." The Midrash relates the incident of one whose cow
broke its leg and, as the owner went through the trouble to pick it up, he
disclosed a hidden treasure in that spot. Here, too, one will at first
despondent over having been inflicted by sara'at. However, in the end he
will discover the "ayin," and then when he looks back he will recognize the
"oneg," the delight of divine salvation. The mourning will soon turn into
celebration, the melancholy into joy, and the one who has suffered will
sing songs of praise and thanks to Hashem.
THE MERCHANT AND HIS MERCHANDISE
The Midrash in our parashah comments that the affliction of "sara'at"
as divine punishment for the sin of "lashon hara," inappropriate speech
about others. The Midrash then tells the story of Rabbi Yannai who was
learning in his home when suddenly he heard the voice of the merchant in
street advertising his merchandise: "Who wants to live? Who desires life?"
His shouting caught the attention of those around him, and soon a
considerable audience crowded around. Rabbi Yannai, too, looked out from
his window. Turning to the merchant, he said, "Come, come sell me your
merchandise!" The merchant looked up at Rabbi Yannai and answered, "The
rabbi does not need my merchandise, nor do his friends." "Still," insisted
Rabbi Yannai, "show me what it is you're selling." The merchant pulled out
from his pocket a Tehillim and turned to the pesukim, "Who is the person
desires life, who loves days in which to see good? Guard your tongue from
evil, and your lips from speaking trickery." Rabbi Yannai then exclaimed,
"All my life I have been reading this pasuk, and I never knew just how
simple it is until this merchant came along and told me!"
Many scholars throughout the ages have written lengthy essays about this
Midrash. Why was Rabbi Yannai so taken aback? He had studied this pasuk
many times, and certainly he analyzed it thoroghly. What exactly did he
learn from this merchant? What issue suddenly became clear?
It would seem that all his life, Rabbi Yannai understood the pasuk in
accordance with his own, exalted stature. He understood the "person" in
pasuk as one on a lofty spiritual level, "who desires life" as spiritual
life, "who loves days" -filled with sanctity and purity - "in which to see
good" - the goodness of the Torah. In short, the pasuk, as initially
understood by Rabbi Yannai, speaks of a life similar to the life of the
World to Come, a life infused with the Shechinah. A necessary prerequisite
to such a life is "Guard your tongue from evil," for one who speaks lashon
hara does not merit to behold the Shechinah, "and your lips from speaking
trickery," for liars, too, are denied the experience of the Shechinah
However, it never occurred to Rabbi Yannai that the pasuk may also refer to
a commoner, who works day and night for a living. He assumed that the
perspective of the common people is too shallow and simple. Give them
bread, wine and entertainment, and that is "life" for them, these are the
"days in which to see good." They don't look for wonder-drugs, for magical
potions to solve all their problems. They are too preoccupied. But then
recognized his mistake. He saw how everyone crowded around the merchant
once he announced that he was selling a life-preserving wonder-drug. Rabbi
Yannai realized at that moment that the pasuk in Tehillim spoke to each and
every one of us. If you are willing to try special potions and the
merchant's guarantee, why don't you just take the wonder-drug of the
Al-mighty Himself? Why not fill the eternal prescription, prescribed by
"All my life I have been reading this pasuk, and I never knew just how
simple it is..."
Now, in Israel, the same act is repeating itself once again. Different
candidates are getting up on stage to offer their merchandise to their
audiences, the masses blindly willing to buy. One announces that within a
year the troops will return from Lebanon. How they will pull out, with an
agreement or without an agreement? Will the enemy soon follow into our
territory, thus endangering the lives of thousands of our people? Another
announces his guarantee of peace. How will he accomplish this, when all it
takes is one suicide bomber to ruin everything? One says that he's okay,
he's somewhere in the middle. Still another insists that he won't give up
on a thing, as if he can take on the entire world. Even Quadaffi - not to
make any comparison - gave into the pressures of the embargo. But this
candidate is confident that he will stand tough. Indeed, that merchant in
the Midrash is correct: Jews, if you want the proper remedy for the
situation, why surround people who cannot guarantee their merchandise, who
sell that which is not theirs to sell? Turn to the source, to the eternal
promise of the Torah: "If you walk in My ways...I will give your rains in
their proper time...I will make peace in the land...and you will dwell
securely in your land."
If one truly wants to improve the current situation, then he must realize
that each Torah class, each Torah organization that opens, each Torah
educational system, mikveh and Bet Kenesset brings added blessing and
success. These measures will yield great reward, securing a promising
future of blessing and prosperity.
FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"On the eighth day, his foreskin shall be circumcised"
The Midrash, commenting on this pasuk, cites another pasuk from Kohellet
(11:2), and interprets it accordingly: "Give a portion to seven" -
to the seven days of the week, "and also to eight" - the eight days before
"berit", "for you do not know what evil will befall the earth." What does
the Midrash mean?
Hacham Avraham Ben Azaryah zs"l, rabbi of Carmenshaah, Persia, told the
story of a certain Jewish doctor who left Judaism together with his family.
The rabbi once asked him why he decided to abandon the faith of his
forefathers and cut himself off from the eternal life of the World to Come.
The physician answered that he once read that when Yonah was cast into the
sea and swallowed by a fish, the fish asked him, "How unfortunate it is for
you that it was I who swallowed you!" "Why?" Yonah asked. "Because,"
answered the fish, "today it is my turn to stand before the Leviathan so it
can eat me." "Do not worry," responded Yonah. "As soon as it sees that I
am circumcised, it will not want to eat me, and thus you, too, will be
saved!" Indeed, this is what happened. The doctor then continued, "When I
read this story, I thought, what nonsense! Fish do not speak, and why in
the world would the Leviathan be intimidated by a circumcision? I decided
that there is no point to this, and I left the religion." The rabbi
answered, "You fool! Just because you were unable to understand the
and message behind this parable you left the fountain and life, and brought
your entire family with you in your sacrifice of both worlds! Let me
explain to you a little bit of what this Midrash is saying, and you will
the great wisdom of our Sages. The world was created in seven days.
Circumcision occurs on the eighth day. The Sages have explained that seven
thus represents nature, whereas the number eight symbolizes that which lies
beyond nature. The ability of parents to have their young, week-old child
circumcised testifies to their preparedness to sacrifice everything for the
sake of G-d and His misvot. This power enables us to overcome our natural
drives and thereby merit a portion in the World to Come. Now the Leviathan
is the largest creature in all of creation. Even the largest, most
man is but a tiny seed in comparison with the Leviathan. Yet, as soon as
the largest creature confronts the circumcision, he retreats. When he sees
the circumcision he beholds the power to overcome and overpower nature, a
capability granted to man alone.
The physician heard the rabbi's wisdom, and admitted his having made a
THE GOLDEN COLUMN
Rabbi Yihyeh Umisi zs"l
Rabbi Yihyeh Umisi zs"l was the leader of the community of Rada, Yemen. He
worked tirelessly to appease the local governor who never seemed satisfied.
Once he had to travel to the capital city and appointed someone to take his
place in his absence. Soon after Rabbi Yihyeh's departure, the governor
decided he wanted a chicken, so he sent the order to the interim leader of
the Jewish community to fulfill his request. As he brought the chicken to
the governor, the rabbi's substitute, in his innocence, presented the
governor with a bill. The governor's face turned red with anger. He paid
the bill in full, but as soon as the Jewish leader came home, the police
knocked at his door. The governor had suddenly "discovered" that the
community owed an enormous sum of money to the government, and the leader
was personally responsible for the payment. The man explained that he was
just a substitute and he therefore knew nothing about the community's dues.
But his pleas were to no avail, and he was imprisoned and sentenced to
torture. Fortunately, Rabbi Yihyeh unexpectedly returned and quickly heard
about what had happened. He hurried to the governor who presented the
his complaint: "Do you believe the nerve of this man - he demanded a
payment! From me!!"
"Of course," said Rabbi Yihyeh, "I asked him to do so."
The governor couldn't believe his ears. "You!? You??"
"Yes," confirmed Rabbi Yihyeh. "Let me explain why. Only the two of us
really know what kind of a relationship we have. He is just a stranger. I
didn't want him to know that you take gifts, especially from the Jews. I
therefore asked him to ask you for the money, with the understanding that I
would return to you every last penny."
The governor was satisfied with the rabbi's response and agreed to free the
Rabbi Yihyeh would conclude his story with a sigh: "What can I say? We
to know the right way to give them poison, too..."
THE ALLUSIONS TO DESTRUCTION AND REDEMPTION IN THE PARASHAH
The Alshich zs"l cites the Midrash which views the "sara'at" of the home as
symbolic of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash: "In a house of the land
your residence" - referring to the Bet Hamikdash; "and the one who owns the
house shall come" - meaning, the Al-mighty; "and will tell the kohen" -
referring to the prophet Yirmiyahu, who was a kohen; "like an affliction I
have seen in the house" - symbolizing Hashem's anger (see Yehezkel 8) that
led to the ultimate destruction of the house.
The Alshich adds that in fact our parashah contains allusions also to the
destruction of the second Bet Hamikdash and Jewish history until the
"The kohen shall instruct" - referring to Yirmiyahu, the prophet of the
destruction; "that they shall empty the house" - from idolatry; "before the
kohen comes to see the house" - referring to Hashem, Who is compared to a
kohen (Sanhedrin 39a). Before the destruction He comes down, as it were,
observe and judge, as we find before the scattering of the builders of the
tower of Bavel - "Hashem came down to see the city and tower that the
had built." If the people do not clear out the house from their idolatry,
then "everything in the house will be defiled," Heaven forbid.
Because the people failed to obey the warning of the prophet and did not
remove their idols, Hashem comes, as it were - "And the kohen sees the
affliction in the walls of the house" - thereby arousing the Attribute of
Justice: "depressed...deep reds." "The kohen shall leave the house" - the
Shechinah leaves and abandons the sacred abode. Indeed, as Nevuchadnessar
destroyed the Bet Hamikdash, a Heavenly voice declared, "You burnt a house
that was already burnt, you destroyed a Temple that was already destroyed."
Meaning, the Bet Hamikdash had already been devoid of the Shechinah, and,
such, there was really nothing left for the Babylonian king to destroy.
"The kohen qurantines the house" - meaning, Hashem gives the house over to
the hands of the enemy, Heaven forbid; "seven days" - representing the
seventy years of the first exile, in Babylonia; "The kohen shall return on
the seventh day" - when the people returned after seventy years in exile,
the Shechinah returned to the Bet Hamikdash. However, the Greeks soon took
control of the sacred house - "and behold, the affliction spread in the
walls of the house." "The kohen instructs" - referring once again to
Hashem; "that they shall remove the stones on which there is the
- the Hasmoneans waged war against the Greeks and defeated them; "and they
shall cast them [the stones] outside the city" - the Hasmoneans drove the
Greeks from the Land of Israel; "and the house shall be plastered on the
inside, all around" - referring to the dedication of the Bet Hamikdash
during the time of the Hasmoneans; "and they shall take other stones" -
referring to the renewed construction of the altar completed by the
"And should the affliction return and blossom in the house" - when the
Sadducees took power, mutual hatred surfaced and the sins became great;
"then the kohen shall come" - Hashem once again comes to destroy, as Hazal
comment that forty years prior to the destruction of the second Bet
Hamikdash, the walls of the Mikdash would open by themselves, as if
the enemy. "And he shall take apart the home" - Heaven forbid; "its stones
and wood" - symbolizing the sacred utensils of the Bet Hamikdash that Titus
took with him back to Rome; "and take them outside the city" - in the
humiliating victory march conducted by the Roman armies.
"And should the kohen come and see that, behold, the affliction has not
spread in the house" - when the Al-mighty sees that the heresy has come to
an end, and mutual hatred no longer abounds, then "the kohen shall purify
the house" - He will bring down for us a pure Bet Hamikdash, overflowing
with spirituality and sanctity. When will this occur? "That the
has been cured" - when the sin and curse of mutual hatred has been cured,
when the affliction of sin has disappeared. For Yisrael can be redeemed
only through the process of redemption.
ASKING AND EXPOUNDING
A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch,
the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Daat
Chapter 5: The Laws of Concentration When Reciting Berachot
When one recites the name of Hashem - A-D-N-Y - he should concentrate on
meaning of this Name as it is pronounced, that the Al-mighty is the Master
over everything. ("A-D-N-Y" comes from the expression "adnut," dominion
control.) He must also concentrate on the meaning of the Name as it is
written - "H-V-Y-H - that Hashem always was, is and will be. (This word
comes from the Hebrew verb of being.) When one recites the Name "Elokim,"
he must concentrate on the G-d's limitless power. One must concentrate on
these ideas each time he recites G-d's Name in a berachah and the first
pasuk of Shema. However, strictly speaking, one needs not have this
concentration during the other recitations of G-d's Name in tefilah. One
should preferably concentrate on all this before he begins reciting G-d's
According to the Kabbalists, one must concentrate on other ideas, as well,
while reciting G-d's Name. He should picture in his mind the Name of
"H-V-Y-H," and in the final letter "heh" he should picture the Name
"A-D-N-Y." (These images have been printed in a lot of the recently
published Siddurim for the Sefaradim.) One should also concentrate on the
combination of the two Names of "H-V-Y-H" and "A-D-N-Y": "Y-A-H-D-N-H-Y."
Preferably, when reciting the Name of "H-V-Y-H" one should also concentrate
on the spelled-out Name with the vowels. That is, one should think of the
"sheva" under the "yud," the "holam" over the "heh" and a "kammass" under
the "vav," like the vowel sounds in the word "le'olam." (This punctuation,
too, appears in many Siddurim published for the Sefaradim.)
However, when one recites the Name of A-D-N-Y when it is written that way,
not Y-H-V-H, then he should he only concentrate on G-d's quality of Master
over all creation.
When reciting the Name of G-d, one should be careful to recite it with the
proper punctuation and vowel sounds. That is, one should recite the Name
with a "hataf-patah" under the "alef," so the sound is a combination of the
"patah" and "sheva." The "dalet" should be pronounced with a "holam" over
it (and the "dalet" itself has no "dagesh"). Unfortunately, many hurry
through the recitation of Hashem's Name and mistakenly recite the "dalet"
if there were a "sheva," "hirik" or "shuruk."
The "nun" should be recited with a "kammass." The custom of the Sefaradim
is to pronounce the "kammass" similar to a "patah," the only difference
being that the "kammass" is a slightly longer vowel. Those proficient in
Hebrew grammar know to differentiate between them, and everyone should make
an effort to learn this difference, so at least when reciting the Name of
God one pronounces the "kammass" properly. The Ashkenazim pronounce the
"kammass" somewhat similar to the "holam." A Sefaradi who wishes to change
his family custom and pronounce the "kammass" like the Ashkenazim for
tefilah and berachot may not to so; he must adhere to his family custom.
The "yud" at the end of Hashem's Name must be pronounced in a way so that
can be recognized, even though there is no vowel attached to it. The
on Hashem's Name should be placed on the final syllable, not on the first
second. Hazanim who sing melodies while leading the services must be
especially careful not to place the stress on the wrong syllable in order
accommodate the melody.
One should concentrate on the word "amen" when answering to a berachah.
proper concentration depends upon the type of recitation. The first
category we will discuss are the blessings of praise and thanks to the
Al-mighty, namely, birchot hashahar, "baruch she'amar" and "yishtabah," the
first three berachot of Shemoneh Esrei and the berachah of "modim," as well
as the second berachah of birkat hamazon. When responding "amen" to these
berachot, one should have in mind, "What has been said is true, and I
FROM THE WONDERS OF CREATION
Life in the Desert
The word "desert" is generally considered synonymous with desolation and
emptiness; it generally implies a barren wasteland where nothing grows.
And, indeed, a desert is a large area without water and, consequently,
without vegetation. Human beings are generally unable to live under such
conditions, and the hot sand covers everything. However, one should not
think that a desert is devoid of living organisms. There are several
creatures that are naturally capable of adapting to the conditions of
life and surviving. Although several years can pass without a single drop
of rain in a desert, on occasion a storm cloud will suddenly appear and
These precious drops of rain are quickly absorbed into the ground, and in a
matter of a day or two -- certainly no longer than a week -- the desert
ground turns green from the various types of vegetation that emerge. These
plants grow very rapidly but soon dry out. The seeds then wait in between
the grains of sand, waiting for the next rains to come. Among the plants
suited for survival in the desert is the well-known cactus which, through
its long roots, absorbs moisture and stores it in its thick leaves.
interesting plant is nicknamed "the desert well" and also excels in its
ability to store water. If one would cut a crevice into the skin of this
plant it would immediately fill with water. It is told of a man who was
unaware of this phenomenon and died of thirst in the desert. Little did he
know that around him lay dozens of large plants filled with water.
The most famous animal suited for desert life is, of course, the camel. A
camel can drink in one sitting enough water to last a week or more. A
certain type of frog found in the Australian desert fills itself with water
with the help of a special container that the Al-mighty implanted in its
stomach. When it fills with water, the container resembles a balloon.
For us Jews, the desert has earned special significance - the Torah was
given to us in the desert of Sinai. The Al-mighty did not wait until Benei
Yisrael entered the Land if Israel before giving us the Torah, lest we
that misvot are relevant only in the Holy Land. As we know, the
applicability of Torah transcends time and place. We must study Torah and
perform misvot at all times and in every place - even in a desert.
FATHER AND SON
a continuing saga
(parts ten AND eleven)
Flashback: Two brothers supported their families by managing the store
inherited from their father, until their families grew too large. The
younger son - a Torah scholar - thus set out with his family to find a
position in the rabbinate, but could not find one. Their wanderings
them to an inn hosted by a generous man who treated them for a few days
of charge. Just before their departure, the brother asked the host how he
could bless him, and the host replied that the only thing he lacked and
yearned for in the world is to have a son, for he was childless. The
brother confidently gave over the blessing, and went on his way. He found
an honorable position as a rabbi in a distant town, and respectfully led
community, and a year passed by.
About a year later, early one morning, everyone was very shocked and
to hear by word of mouth that a midwife was summoned to the home of the
prominent and well-respected innkeeper. Due to his well standings
throughout the community, his plight was pretty well known and his burden
being childless slightly weighed on the shoulders of many. So when the
that a new baby boy was born pierced the early morning air, it raised a lot
of spirits. People were very excited for him and his wife, and felt that
they were a part of his happiness. Of course, the most happy of all, was
the innkeeper and his wife. There are no words to describe the delight
both experienced, and they made a public feast to properly celebrate the
arrival of this unexpected newest family member. To this feast they
anyone and everyone that they could think of, and among the guests were a
multitude of poor from many neighboring villages, and they too joined the
festivities, and ate to their heart's content.
Soon, the excitement wore off, and life returned to normal in the
innkeeper's town, and they were left alone to tend to and bring up this
bundle of joy. Or so they thought. After just a little while, even though
the child was still at a young age, they realized that this child was not
heading in the right direction. Each year of the boy's life was more
frightening than the previous. From the tender age of 9 he started
out around a moderately rowdy group of older boys - the bums of the city.
He followed their habits exactly; he learned how to smoke, he started being
disrespectful to the older citizens of the town and the sages, and he
started using foul language. All of this did not go unnoticed by his
parents. In fact, they realized right away, when the rebbi at the yeshiva
told them that their son barely showed up. The spoke to him. They tried
bribe him. They walked him up to the doorstep of the yeshiva and made
believe they were waiting, and watching through the back window, but no
matter what they tried, the next day the rebbi would sadly report that
son had somehow sneaked out behind his back.
The innkeeper - not a young man at all - tried threatening him. But the
young boy shamelessly mocked and ridiculed his father in a terrifying
display of disobedience. Not only would he scream and shout back at the
innkeeper, but he would actually clench his fists and strike him. And each
day was worse than the day before. And now he found new and more fun
contemporaries - a band of villains who were adept at thievery, and taught
him the ropes till he was a excellent thief. One can't even imagine the
pain and sorrow the innkeeper and his wife felt from all these experiences.
Each day was torture, as they sat and waited for the news to roll in about
what scrape their son got himself into that day. The suffering and anguish
was just too much for the innkeepers wife, and the day-in-day-out schedule
of waiting for disasters finally wore her down, and she fell deathly sick.
As she was lying on her deathbed, the innkeeper was unable to keep both
misfortunes in his head simultaneously. He hovered over her bed day and
night, and his problematic son was temporarily forgotten. But pretty soon
During the week of shivah, the son was rarely seen, as he stopped by only
when he hadn't stolen anything to eat. But when he did stop by, anyone
present couldn't help but to notice the blaze of anger, but mostly pain and
despair in the innkeeper's blood-shot eyes. He now could only think about
what his son had caused, what his son had become, and what misfortunes the
future would bring. The thoughts overwhelmed him too, and exactly one
after his wife's death, he too returned his soul to his maker.
The old innkeeper had earned great honor during his lifetime, and upon his
passing people everywhere showed their great appreciation for who he was.
good family adopted the orphan and tried, unsuccessfully, to teach the boy
to recite the mourner's kaddish. His mind simply could not catch on.
Whenever they would try to teach him some prayer or berachah, they would
quickly give up. They tried to have him sit in class with the other
children, but he would quickly and noisily leave the Bet Midrash, insisting
that it was just not the place for him. He would walk around aimlessly,
soon earned a reputation for being a walking disaster. The family finally
gave up, so they gave him over to a group of poor people who had come
through the town, so that the boy would accompany them on their journey,
help them and serve them, so that eventually he will learn to live civilly.
The boy was overjoyed at the idea, as now he could live without rules of
dress or behavior. Nobody would make him wear shoes or normal clothing.
could grow his hair and fingernails as long as he wanted and no one would
care. Nobody would comment about his foul language or inappropriate eating
habits. He would just wander from town to town, city to city, he would see
new places, beautiful landscapes, here today gone tomorrow, not bound to
anybody or anything. He has no obligations, no rules to follow. He can
like an animal in the jungle, as he desires without restraint.
And so, he joined the caravan of poor people. He went around collecting
small portions of food for the group and served them with dedication like
one of them. He ate gluttonously, he would stick his hands anywhere he
could, and this is the way he spent his months and years, until they
eventually reached the town whose rabbi, that same Torah scholar who stayed
in his father's inn, was responsible for his birth...
to be continued