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The laws regarding the human being are consistent with those dealing with all other creatures. Rashi quotes the Midrash that notes that the creation of man mirrored the creation of animals and birds. In connection with this, the Midrash cites the pasuk in Tehillim (139:5), "Achor vokedem tzartani," "Behind and before You have fortified me." This pasuk can be read, "You have formed me," employing the root word "yatzar", creation, rather than "tzar" which means to fortify. The latter term is a reference to human creation, which took place both before and after that of other creatures. Man's neshamah predated Creation, whereas Hashem created his body on the sixth day. The laws that address man's spirit take precedence over the laws concerning animals which, in turn, precede the laws that address man's physical being. Man's laws bracket the works of Creation, alluding to an important lesson. Man's level of morality could distinguish him so that he stands above all the other creations. He can dominate the entire world from his exalted pedestal. He can also slip and fall backward. Indeed, a lowly gnat is considered more important than a man who has fallen - backwards.
Let us attempt to grasp the words of Chazal. Is a gnat - or any creature for that matter - more important than man, even when man is at the nadir of depravity? Man is the crown of Creation! The world was created for him. Can a lowly insect have more distinction than a human being? Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, explains that Hashem's value system is "somewhat" different than ours. Hashem views the fulfillment of one's purpose as the yardstick for measuring success. Thus, even if the difference between two creatures is vast, it is insignificant. The determining factor for achievement in life is the fruition of one's objective. The gnat has a purpose - to exist on this world - not to do anything - just merely to exist. That is its purpose - and it has achieved its objective in life. The human being who does not maintain a moral life, who does not live by a code of justice and decency; the Jew who does not fulfill his G-d-given purpose, is not as good as the gnat. The gnat made it - it has fulfilled its aim in life - man did not. We should view ourselves through the prism of the Torah, a perspective that looks at where we are in the context of where we should be.
On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. (12:3)
The mitzvah of Bris Milah, ritual circumcision, is unique in that it has been accepted throughout the generations with joy. Our people have responded to the call of Bris Milah with mesiras nefesh - self sacrifice. The imprint of the Bris Milah is a permanent imprimatur on the child, identifying him as a partner in the Covenant and a member of the Jewish Nation. It is a sign that stays with the child throughout his entire life. The circumcision is an event marked with pride and joy - regardless of the circumstances surrounding the event. It is one mitzvah that all Jews, even those who have otherwise become alienated from Jewish observance, have continued to embrace.
While we are proud to execute this mitzvah, it is regrettable that the actual circumcision - which has always been performed by a G-d -fearing, scholarly Jew - has been relegated to individuals who do not fit any of these criteria. It is not the purpose of this paper to be a sounding board, reacting to Klal Yisrael's ills. It is painful, however, to observe a mitzvah that for thousands of years has meant so much to us, a mitzvah for which so many Jews have risked their lives, carried out by professionals who are either not Jewish or who have no respect for the Torah. Our People have been persecuted throughout the millenia, but we have remained faithful throughout to this unique mitzvah. We should not destroy the halachic and moral essence of this mitzvah by having it performed by one who denigrates - or at best does not represent - the message of the covenant of Bris Milah.
Many stories relate the overwhelming mesiras nefesh our People have demonstrated for Bris Milah. There is one very poignant narrative that took place during the Holocaust that was told over many times by the Bluzhover Rebbe,zl. It is the hope of this writer that as a result of the world-wide dissemination of this paper to members of the entire Jewish spectrum of belief, someone who might otherwise not have chosen to have his son's ritual circumcision performed "ritually" by a G-d fearing mohel, will be moved to do so.
Rabbi Yisrael Spira,zl, the Bluzhover Rebbe, was sawing wood as a member of a slave-labor contingent in the notorious Janowska Road camp. One morning, on Hoshanah Rabah, the forest was filled with terrible, heartrending cries. It soon became known that a children's "aktion", selection, was occuring. The Nazi beasts were grabbing little children away from their mothers to be slaughtered like cattle in a nearby field. One can imagine the heartbroken mothers as their children were torn from them. The mothers knew it would only be a little while before they, too, would follow the tragic path of their children. As the procession of weeping, distraught mothers and children came closer to the Bluzhover's labor group, one mother broke ranks. Clutching her infant in her arms, she cried out, "Yidden! Have mercy, give me a knife!"
Assuming the woman sought to commit suicide, the Rebbe attempted to dissuade her. A Nazi officer, infamous for his sadistic behavior, approached the woman and handed her his penknife, hoping to enjoy the last moments of this hapless woman's life.
They did not know the Jewish spirit. Clutching the knife in her hand, the woman carefully placed her child on the ground and circumcised her baby son. In a clear, loud, emotion-filled voice she recited the Bircas Ha'milah, to the loud response of Amen by all those assembled.
This is the way one Jewish mother inducted her son into the covenant of our People. We should learn from the mesiras nefesh of our forbears to perform this most precious mitzvah according to Jewish law - not to our convenience.
And he shall call, "Unclean, unclean." (13:45)
The metzora is spiritually contaminated. He is to remain secluded from society, calling out to others not to come close to him. "Tamei, tamei," he calls out, notifying people of his present state. The Shelah Ha'Kadosh extends the interpretation of this pasuk by placing a "comma" between the first and second "tamei." The pasuk would now read, "V'tamei - tamei yikra." One who disparages others, who calls others tamei is generally projecting his own blemished character. In other words, the model behind most lashon hora is none other than oneself. He who has a character flaw will knowingly and unknowingly project this deficiency on to others. He will look for it, and if he does not find it, he will fabricate it.
An individual sees himself reflected in his friends' behavior. The Baal Shem Tov says that one who is inherently good perceives good wherever he goes. One who is flawed sees flaws in everyone. Moreover, whatever we see is essentially a message for us regarding our own behavior. Nothing is coincidental. Indeed, we should look for Hashem's message thoughout our every endeavor.
QUESTIONS and ANSWERS
This shall be the law of the metzora. (14:2)
Chazal say that the word metzora is an acronym for "motzi ra," "(he) brings forth evil." This is a reference to lashon hora, evil tongue/speech which is the source of tzaraas. Nowhere do we find a sin such as lashon hora, in which the punitive efforts to cleanse the individual and bring him to teshuvah are visited upon him in a descending order. First, his house is struck; then, his begadim, clothes, became tamei until eventually he himself is struck by Hashem. In the process, terrible pain is inflicted upon him. Moreover, the pain of loneliness, the humiliation of being cast away from the community to live alone as a recluse, is all a result of his disparaging talk. The rifts that he has caused with his foul speech are now returning to haunt him.
Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, contends that the severe punishment in store for the baal lashon hora is reserved for one who spreads evil through his mouth. While one must not hurt or defame another Jew through any means of communication, it is only for the wrongful use of his "tongue" that he is punished to such an extreme. Why does the Torah demand so much from the power of speech? What evokes such a drastic punitive response?
Horav Shmuel Truvitz, Shlita, explains that the power of speech, the ability to communicate and articulate thoughts, distinguishes man from the animal world. Regarding the pasuk in Bereshis 2:7, "And He (Hashem) blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living being"; Targum Unkelos defines the phrase, "living being", as a "speaking spirit." Furthermore, to paraphrase the Zohar Hakadosh, "One who blows, blows from within himself," indicating that man's soul, the life of this living spirit, is in essence part of Hashem Yisborach. Since man's most significant characteristic is the power of speech, it makes sense that this gift be set aside to be used only for Torah study, prayer and other communications designated for a holy and virtuous purpose. Truly, lashon hora does not conform to this criterim. To defame one's speech is to take that part of him which is most G-d-like and contaminate it. Is there any wonder that the baal lashon hora deserves such a grave punishment?
While the most sinful form of lashon hora is expressed through speech, it does not decrease the impact of lashon hora that is effected through other means of communication. The story is told that Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, was once eating breakfast together with a visitor who had come to speak to him. It so happened that there were two containers of milk on the table, both from reputable dairies who adhered to the strictest standards of kashrus. Horav Feinstein picked up one container and was about to pour milk into his coffee, when he suddenly stopped, put down the container and used the other one. The visitor who observed this thought that something was wrong with the kashrus of the first company. Following the "natural" procedure for spreading lashon hora, this thoughtless visitor took it upon himself to publicize throughout America that Rav Moshe prefers the kashrus standards of the second company. Word spread. In no time, vendors, hotels, caterers - everyone refrained from purchasing milk from the first company - all because of what one person saw, did not have the common sense to question, but had the audacity to spread lashon hora about.
The owners of the first company asked Rav Moshe what there was about their milk that did not live up to his standards. Rav Moshe had no idea what they were saying. In fact, that very day he had drunk that milk. What was it that made them think he did not accept their kashrus? When they told him about the incident involving the visitor at his home, he was shocked. He said, "I put down that container because it was empty!" Needless to say, this response was immediately publicized, to the satisfaction of the relieved owners. We see the evil workings of lashon hora - even when one does not mean to do any harm. This also attests to the importance of using seichel, common sense, before one opens his mouth.
This shall be the law of the metzora on the day of his purification. He shall be brought to the Kohen. (14:2)
The Torah commands the people to bring a metzora to the Kohen. This implies that the metzora is brought even by force, if necessary. The Ibn Ezra explains that human nature's control over a person is compelling. The moment that he is healed from his illness, he no longer senses the urgency to attain his purity. Thus, he must be brought to the Kohen.
Horav Mordechai Gifter, Shlita, feels that this applies to all areas of human endeavor. When the metzora is in pain, when he suffers various afflictions, he does anything to effect a release from his anguish. Yet, once his sickness has faded, and he has performed teshuvah, repentence, he is no longer as eager to complete the process to attain purity. Once the suffering is over, his attitude changes. He must now be compelled to go to the Kohen.
Is it any different with us? Do we pray only when it hurts, becoming lax in our attitude as soon as the circumstances have changed? Perhaps if our attitude throughout our avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty, would be consistent, Hashem would not need to send us "little reminders."
And he shall let the living bird loose into the open field. (14:7)
The process of purifying a metzora involves taking two live birds and following a detailed procedure with each of them. The Kohen slaughters one bird, while he sets the other bird free. This procedure is unique to the concept of sacrifices, which previously had been applied only to offerings brought and sacrificed upon the Mizbayach, Altar. This is indeed a radical concept that begs elucidation.
Horav Baruch Halevi Epstein, zl, in his Tosefes Brachah gives a noteworthy explanation. Until now, the victim was known as a tamei, impure person. He was an outcast who was relegated to cry out, "Tamei, tamei!" in order to ward off anyone else who might come near him. It was also done to encourage others to pray in his behalf. In any event, he was certainly not the most popular person in town. Now, however, he is released, he is clean, and he may return to society. By sending away the bird free and clear, he is publicly announcing his newly-found freedom. He, however, needs acceptance. All too often, one who has erred and has repented experiences difficulty reentering society. People tend to have long memories. Some do not forget; others do not forgive. This person is no longer confined by the Torah. He should, likewise, no longer be confined by us.
QUESTIONS and ANSWERS
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