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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male. (12:2)

The first eight pesukim of the parsha introduce the laws pertaining to a woman after childbirth. She was not permitted to visit the Bais Hamikdash for a set period of time following childbirth, after which she was to bring a korban, sacrifice. Once she had done this, she could reclaim her rights to visit the Sanctuary and be reinstated to eat kodoshim, consecrated flesh of a sacrifice. Indeed, this is expressed by the pasuk, "The Kohen shall atone for her (by offering the relevant sacrifice), and she shall be purified" (Vayikra 12:8).

The taharah, purification process, after childbirth is divided into three phases. For the first seven days, if she bore a boy-- or fourteen days, if her child was a girl-- she was neither to come into physical contact with her husband nor to eat Maaser Sheni, the second tithe of produce, which the owner was to eat in Yerushalayim. Forty days after a male birth or eighty days after a female birth, the yoledes, mother who gave birth, was permitted to partake of the Terumah, the primary tithe given to the Kohen. After this period, she was to bring the appropriate korban, and she was now permitted to enter the Sanctuary and eat kodoshim.

The Arizal compares the exodus from Egypt to the process following childbirth. Just as the pangs of a woman during childbirth become more intense as the moment of birth draws near, so did the plagues that devastated Egypt become more intense as the moment of liberation was quickly approaching. The Shem MiShmuel adds that this concept can be compared to the three-stage process of a woman's purification following childbirth. Just as a new mother must undergo three steps until she cleanses herself entirely, so, too, did Klal Yisrael experience three similar steps in the process of severing themselves from the spiritual contamination which characterized life in Egypt.

The Torah describes the Exodus in the following manner: "And it was when Pharaoh sent out the people" (Shemos 13:17). The Midrash teaches us that Pharaoh's "sending out" the people is a reference to his accompanying them out of the land. The Avnei Nezer explains that Pharaoh's "accompaniment" refers to the notion that Klal Yisrael "took" Pharaoh with them. In other words, they were not free of their Egyptian oppressors. Although they had left the land and were no longer under the whip of the taskmasters, they were still subject to the spiritual pollution that reigned in Egypt. The centuries of Egyptian culture and immorality were still entrenched in their national frame of mind. The dangers of Egypt were not left behind. They were still a critical reality which had to be addressed. Thus, the Egyptians pursued the Jews all the way to the Red Sea, at which point Hashem split the sea, drowning the Egyptians and finally liberating Klal Yisrael from their defilement.

The Shem MiShmuel views the seven days between the actual Exodus and the splitting of the Red Sea as parallel to the seven-day period during which a woman must wait for the purification process which allows her to eat Maaser Sheni and resume relations with her husband. During these seven days, for the woman-- and, by extension, for Klal Yisrael-- the tumah, ritual impurity, is in full force. Once the seven days have passed, similar to Klal Yisrael's passing through the Red Sea, the woman's tumah has decreased, and Klal Yisrael have shaken off much of their connection to Egypt, thereby improving their link to Hashem. Each member of Klal Yisrael became ready to develop his/her level of communion with Hashem as they all sang shirah, a song of praise, to the Almighty following the Egyptians demise. They also were now ready to eat the Heavenly bread, the Manna.

So ended the first stage in the process of the Jewish liberation from Egypt. They prepared themselves until Rosh Chodesh Sivan for the upcoming Revelation at Har Sinai, just like a woman following childbirth who waits out her forty days until she is permitted to eat Terumah. It was at this point that Klal Yisrael declared, "And all the things that G-d has said, we will do" (Shemos 24:3).

This declaration catapulted them into another realm, one of greater closeness to Hashem. Like the woman, who after forty days may now eat Terumah, Klal Yisrael had risen closer to their goal as they moved further away from the spiritual filth of Egypt.

The nation would have to experience yet another stage before it could achieve its final state of redemption. On the fifth of Sivan, the people brought offerings on the Altar, and they made a covenant with Hashem in which some of the animal's blood was sprinkled on them and some on the Altar. This paralleled the korban which the woman brought to conclude her purification process. Just as now she could partake of the holiest foods because her offering had been brought, so, too, was Klal Yisrael ready for the ultimate accord, the greatest communion with G-d in the history of mankind - Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah.

The Kohen shall look at it again on the seventh day…and the affliction has not spread on the skin, then the Kohen shall declare him pure, it is a mispachas. (13:6)

There are sins, and there are "almost sins." When one sins, Hashem punishes him. What about when one "almost sins"? Is he "almost punished"? We see from the parsha, claims Horav David Shneuer, Shlita, that kimaat chatah, "almost sin," is punishable behavior. A person develops what appears to be a skin disease of questionable origin. He is isolated, after which the Kohen views the disease in question. If it has dimmed in color and not spread, it is nothing more than a mispachas, which is some sort of skin disease, but not tzaraas. Now the individual who had been isolated must immerse his garments, and then he is considered ritually clean. Why? What did he do? He had never been tamei, ritually unclean.

This teaches us that nothing "just happens," nor does it occur in a vacuum. Plagues are a therapeutic punishment for one who sins inadvertently. This individual who had been isolated did something inappropriate. Perhaps, he is unaware of his deed or-- quite possibly--he did not really do anything wrong. He only "almost sinned." Even if he had repented, the mere fact that for a period of time he was in a state of spiritual flux, he is rendered tamei. The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh writes that a plague which causes a person to have his clothes immersed is a plague that requires the Kohen to pronounce the word, tahor, clean, on him. The Ramban writes that plagues are Hashem's communication that something is not right. The person's behavior may not yet be sinful, but it is pointing in that direction. Do something about it now.

We have to take this to heart. We may act in a manner unbecoming a Torah Jew. It is not a sin, but it is an "almost" sin. It is not full-fledged lashon hora, but it is avak, the dust of lashon hora. It is a semblance of the real sin, enough for which to be chastised, in order to keep him from fully transgressing. It certainly makes a difference what spiritual plane one occupies; sin is relative, as is the "dust." This gives us an entirely new perspective on sin and punishment. At times, we find it difficult to introspect in order to find out what we did wrong. Now we see that we are held accountable for those areas in which we have almost sinned, when we have acted inappropriately, but not sinfully. Hashem protects us by sending a little "reminder," a message that we are traveling in the wrong direction. Turn back before it is too late.

If a tzaraas affliction will be in a person, he shall be brought to the Kohen. (13:9)

Chazal teach us that tzaraas, commonly mistranslated as leprosy, is really the physical manifestation of a spiritual malady, a punishment designed to teach the perpetrator that he has sinned in a certain area which requires atonement. The primary cause of tzaraas is slanderous speech, lashon hora. The spiritual malaise of lashon hora has been with us since the serpent convinced Chavah to eat of the Eitz Hadaas, Tree of Knowledge. Furthermore, in the Talmud Bava Basra 164b, Chazal state: "Most people fall prey to the sin of theft, while a minority stumble in the sin of immoral behavior, but everyone sins with lashon hora." Clearly, this is not a problem that has recently surfaced. It has been around for quite some time, and its tentacles ensnare everyone in one way or another.

In the Talmud Shabbos 155b, Chazal comment: "There is no creature poorer than a dog and none as rich as a pig." Clearly, Chazal are not concerned about the animal's economic portfolio. The commentators explain that people revile a dog which is a stray, who has no owner. No one cares about its needs, and no one feeds it. A pig, however, eats out of the dung heap. It always finds a satisfying meal wherever it is. While this is understandable, why did Chazal have to search for a paradigm of poverty and wealth in the animal world? What are they trying to teach us?

The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna, explains that Hashem gave us all of the mitzvos at Har Sinai. All mitzvos originate from the same Heavenly Source - Hashem. Why is it then that some mitzvos have more "mazal," luck, are more fortunate than others? Certain prohibitions are accepted across the board by all observant Jews, while some prohibitions just do not "make it." For instance, in the area of maachalos asuros, forbidden foods, the archetype is pork. Everybody is meticulous in observance of this prohibition. No one even remotely thinks of eating pork in any way, shape, or form. It goes so far that if a Jew is suspected of eating chazir, pork, he is considered to be an anathema of the lowest order.

Nonetheless, we do not realize that the sin of speaking lashon hora is much more serious and its transgression is a much graver offense. Yet, people laugh at one who gives them mussar, rebukes them, for speaking lashon hora. In other words, chazir, which is a sin of lesser weight in comparison with lashon hora, is given much greater "respect" and viewed in a much more negative light than lashon hora, which is a much more serious breach of observance.

This, explains the Gaon, is what Chazal were lamenting. Although the Torah takes an extremely dim view of sins of the "tongue", to the point that Chazal in the Talmud Pesachim 118A say, "One who speaks lashon hora is worthy of being thrown to the dogs," since he is just like them., nonetheless, this prohibitive commandment is considered "poor" compared to the negative commandment concerning eating pork. People tend to ignore and humiliate the sin of lashon hora, while these same people take great care in observing the prohibition against eating pork. No, lashon hora is not something new. Even in the time of the Talmud, it was considered a formidable-unavoidable-transgression.

For some reason, the fear factor that once seemed to work as a deterrent no longer has the same effect. The inspirations and the shmuessen, ethical discourses, the stories of faith and episodes of punishment, do not hinder this generation from refraining to engage in slanderous speech. There is always an excuse to speak. In addition, because we are living in a democracy, the very notion that there is something that we are not permitted to say just does not sit very well with contemporary society. Of course, the Torah is immutable and the laws that were given to us on Har Sinai are as effective today as they were then - regardless of contemporary society's failings or progressiveness. The problem still exists: people do not seem to take the prohibition against lashon hora seriously.

One who is concerned about the cleanliness of his mouth should first and foremost be aware of the causes of lashon hora, what catalyzes this spiritual deficiency that manifests itself in the way in which one speaks and what he expresses. For some reason, studying the halachos concerning lashon hora no longer seems to provide us with a strong enough deterrent. Acting passively by locking oneself in the house and never speaking to anybody might prove to be a temporary panacea, but it will not cure the disease. The ability to speak is what distinguishes man from animal. It is certainly not a skill which one wishes to defer. The Torah is not commanding that we be silent, only astute and proper in what we say. It all reverts back to an examination of the causes of our need to speak lashon hora.

Horav Moshe Reis, Shlita, suggests looking no further than oneself for one of the primary catalysts of lashon hora: personal deficiencies. Rather than correct our own shortcomings, we look for our neighbor's inadequacies. It does not remove our faults, but it makes us feel better to know that someone else also has imperfections. Rav Reis cites the Shalah HaKadosh, who interprets this idea in the pasuk: V'tameh, tamei yikra, "He is to call out: Contaminated, contaminated!" (Vayikra13:45) Explained homiletically, this means that he who is himself contaminated tends to label others contaminated. The one who is tahor, ritually clean, does not have to be hypercritical of others. He does not have to look for another person's failings. Indeed, it is as Chazal posit, Kol ha'posel - b'mumo posel, "He who finds fault - finds fault in an area of his own shortcoming." It is usually the individual who is bothered by his own insufficiencies that finds fault in others. Therefore, if we work on ourselves and rectify our own faults, we will have no problem with others. This is especially true when the person who speaks lashon hora realizes that by slandering others, he is really issuing a public declaration that he manifests this same failing.

Rav Reis derives a powerful lesson from the first incident of slanderous speech in the Torah: the episode involving the serpent, the prime example of the holech rachil, tale-bearer. The serpent was very crafty, applying his acumen to ensnare, defame and destroy others. He had to be involved in everything. Therefore, it agitated him that-- according to his deduction-- the first couple was forbidden to eat of the Eitz Hadaas. This bothered him, because he did not know why Hashem had restricted the fruit of this tree from their diet. He was going to make them sin. Adam and Chavah ate from the tree and were subject to the consequences of their misdeed. Why was the serpent punished? He did not eat, nor had he ever been commanded not to eat. Hashem placed the restraint only on Adam and Chavah. Furthermore, it almost seems as if his punishment was the most stringent of all of them.

The serpent's punishment was twofold: He would always eat dirt; and he lost his legs. The serpent would no longer walk; he would slither on the ground, his face in the earth. How are we to understand all of this, and what is its lesson for us?

Man's position in the world is defined by his erect physical stance, standing on two feet, head up, face forward-- in contrast to the animal who walks on all fours and whose face points to the ground. In the scheme of the world, man certainly has a more honorable, eminent position than the animal. While man may stand "taller" because he faces up, the animal has its legs to give it "height," to give it stature. The serpent attempted to go beyond its G-d-given position, to elevate itself by putting man down. It was, therefore, punished with the loss of its legs, to decrease its stature, to lower its position to the ground. From then on, it has slithered across the ground.

Slithering across the ground, biting at man's heel, surreptitiously ensnaring man, all of this defines the nachash, serpent, and, by extension, the slanderer and talebearer. They have no legs to stand on. They creep across the ground and, at the very first opportunity; their heads are crushed into the ground. This is what ultimately happens to the talebearer. Sooner or later he is discovered, and when the proper time comes along, he is crushed to the ground. The slanderer has no real friends, only those who fear his evil tongue. At the first opportunity, they will desert him like a snake. When they see what the slanderer does to the people, they begin to wonder: "When will I be his next victim?" It is only through meticulous care concerning what comes out of our mouths that we will be able to maintain friendships and continue to exhibit respect of others.

If flesh will have an inflammation on its skin, (13:18)
If a person will have a burn from fire on his skin (13:24)

Rashi teaches us that the signs of impurity for shechin, inflammation of the skin, and michveh, burn of the skin, are identical. Why then did the Torah differentiate between them? He explains that it is to teach us that they do not combine with one another. For instance, if there developed half a gris, a type of large bean, which is considered the minimum size for an affliction to cause impurity of baheres, impure spot, in the shechin where it healed, and a half gris of baheres in the michveh, where it healed, they are not to be considered as one full gris of baheres. The combined afflictions do not cause impurity.

We wonder why these two measurements are not cumulative. After all, their signs are the same, and the rule is that objects which have the same shiurim, measurements, and characteristics do combine to complement one measurement. Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, renders a response that goes to the root of Heavenly response to our actions.

The popular contemporary belief is that some things "just happen." The Torah Jew does not believe in this misconception. We affirm in our belief in Hashem that there is no such thing as coincidence; everything occurs for a reason. "One does not stub his finger in this world unless it has been preordained in Heaven," is a Rabbinic maxim that bespeaks this notion. Therefore, we are acutely aware that the plague on this person's skin did not "just happen." It is a Heavenly message, conveying to the individual that something is not right. He has deviated and must alter his course before the plague begins to grow and ultimately claim much more than a small patch of skin. Furthermore, where the plague occurs, its size as well as its intensity, tells us something about the individual's behavior, pointing to the area that must be rectified. One area can focus on the evil tongue, while a fiery plague can allude to unbridled passion, with the list going on.

We firmly believe that Hashem is meticulous in His punishment. Therefore, He does not punish a person one iota more than he deserves. Likewise, His "message" to him will be succinct and to the point - no overkill. Thus, the size of the punishment is a tell-tale sign of the intensity of the misdemeanor. If there is a chatzi shiur, half-measure, it is a clear indication that the person's sin is one of a half-measure. In other words, he has not yet crossed the boundary of irreversible sin. He has deviated and acted inappropriately, warranting Hashem's warning, but he has not committed a full shiur of sin. If there are two half-measures, it indicates that this individual has doubly incurred Hashem's anger, but it does not mean that it went so far as a real sin. Since a complete transgression did not occur, this man should not be held liable for what he did not do. Hashem's ways are just, righteous and perfect. A person receives retribution only for what he has actually done. This is one situation in which a half and a half do not add up to a whole.

Va'ani Tefillah

Hashem melech olam va'ed, avdu goyim meiartzo.
G-d is king at all times, even nations lost from His earth.

The commentators question the connection between the end of this pasuk and its beginning. What is the relationship between Hashem's monarchy extending forever and the nations that will ultimately be lost from the earth? Rashi explains simply that Hashem's reign will endure once the nations on the earth have been addressed. The Shevet Sofer distinguishes between Hashem's monarchy and the kingdom of mortal kings. The power of the average king rests in the size of his kingdom, in the number of people over whom he rules. Without a nation, he is no king. Not so Hashem, Who is Melech, King, forever, even if avdu goyim meiartzo, "the nations are lost from the earth." His kingdom is not based on a nation. Rather, the nation derives its significance from its connection to Him.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that Hashem is King, and He rules over the world at all times. The earth is His earth; not only the individual, but all of the nations of the earth are insignificant in comparison to Hashem. One day, the Kingdom of Hashem will be universally recognized, and all of the earth will become artzo, His earth, in the true sense of the word. At that time, the national differences which plague society will disappear, because we will all be under the rule of the one Supreme Sovereign.

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