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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Metzora (71)

Leviticus 14:4

And the priest shall command; and he shall take for the person being purified two live, pure birds cedar wood and crimson wool and hyssop.


Cedar wood: Rashi: Because the plague comes because of haughtiness and red wool: Rashi: what is the remedy? He shall lower himself from his conceit as a worm and as a hyssop.


The person who had tzoraas is commanded to bring a sacrifice on the day he is healed - purified - from his affliction. The sacrifice - two pure birds, a cedar wood branch, a thread of red wool and a hyssop plant - are interpreted as symbols by Rashi and the Talmud. The birds who chatter Rashi tells us in verse 3, symbolize the chattering of gossip, wood of the tall cedar tree, the haughtiness of the individual, the red thread (Hebrew: Sh'ni tolaas) a worm (in Hebrew the word tolaas also means worm ) and the small hyssop plant, the person with lowly demeanor.

When we remember that these offerings are brought once the person is already cured we could have a question;

Your Question:


A Question: Once the person has already been "lowered' by his embarrassing illness and even cured of it - why does Rashi tell us what his remedy is? He is already better and back in society?

Can you think of an explanation?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The Avnei Nezer, the Rebbi of Sochochov, ( late 19th century) suggests the following answer. A person may renounce his personal arrogance as a result of two possible developments. He may naturally, through reflection, realize his own finiteness particularly vis a vis the Almighty. This leads to an understanding that conceit of any kind is totally inappropriate. Or he may arrive at the same realization through illness. Being sick exposes the person directly to his finiteness and his ultimate vulnerability - a person then realizes that arrogance, conceit and haughtiness are ridiculous under any circumstance. But there is an important difference between these two paths to the same realization. The first path is true inner change that will withstand changes in one's life circumstances. The second, coming as a result of illness, may dissipate with time once the person is healthy again. Such achieved humility is not the real thing. The person still has a way to go.

So our case of the person, who is healed of his tzoraas, falls into the latter category. Once he is again returned to health he may, after time, regain some conceit, a very human quality.

Rashi tells us that even though this man is now healthy and has been brought down from his arrogance through his illness, nevertheless he must still strive for true inner humility and understanding - thus Rashi says: "What is the remedy [ to achieve this]? He shall lower himself from his conceit as a worm and as a hyssop." The symbols of the sacrifice are there to help him remember to continue to strive even in his health, to reach the true inner feeling of humility.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.

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