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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


If a person will have on the skin of his flesh a se'is, or a sapachas, or a beheres, and it will become a tzaraas affliction on the skin of his flesh. (13:2)

The plagues addressed in our parsha are clearly of a spiritual nature. They are Hashem's punishment for one who perverts his tongue, speaking lashon hora, slanderous speech. A number of halachos concerning tzaraas indicate the supernatural nature of this affliction. A chasan who sees an affliction can have his tumah, ritually impure, status delayed until after the Sheva Berachos, seven-days of nuptial blessings. Likewise, if a plague occurs on yom tov, he is not declared tamei until the conclusion of the festival. Such laws would not apply if the disease were infectious. We wonder why tzaraas does not exist in contemporary times. It is not as if people have stopped speaking lashon hora. Has there been a decrease in sinaas chinam, unwarranted hatred, and rechilus, tale-bearing?

The Alshich HaKadosh, zl, explains this pragmatically. When a person performs a mitzvah, the power of the mitzvah creates a Heavenly angel who intercedes on his behalf. Likewise, when he sins, the sin catalyzes the creation of impure forces which advocate negatively against the person. These impure forces punish the transgressor. This is what Yirmiyahu HaNavi means when he says (Yirmiyahu 2:19), "Your evil shall castigate you; your waywardness shall chasten you." It is not I (Hashem) who will punish you. It is your own actions, your sinful behavior, which brings punishment upon you. In other words, our actions are the source of our reward or punishment. We do it to ourselves. Our own behavior catalyzes our suffering and pleasure.

One specific criterion must be in place in order for this to work: the person must be an "adam," an individual who is worthy of being called a man in the true sense of the word. The taint of tumah, ritual contamination, can only be noticed on someone who is basically tahor, ritually clean. One who is not yet "there" does not have to worry about a "taint" of impurity. He is too far gone. A black spot shows up on a white garment. It does not significantly change a garment that is already soiled. The person who is filled with tzaraas, blemishes is not affected by the added tzaraas. He is too far gone. This is why the Torah preempts our pasuk with the word "adam," a person, someone about whom the Torah can refer to as an adam. Yes, in previous generations, when people were on the lofty spiritual plateau of "adam," tzaraas was an effective reminder of their indiscretions. Times have changed - and we have regrettably changed with the times.

The times, however, have not "changed" everyone. Some unique individuals are so inextricably bound with Hashem and His Torah that the mere thought of lashon hora constitutes a tragedy of epic proportions. The Manchester Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Yehudah Zev Segal, zl, was considered the embodiment of the principles which were the hallmark of the saintly Chafetz Chaim. He devised a yearly shemiras halashon calendar, whereby one would study a small amount of the hilchos shemiras halashon on a daily basis. He knew, however, that with all the effort one might expend in the performance of a given mitzvah, success is ultimately predicated upon siyata diShmaya, Divine assistance. This is especially true concerning shemiras halashon, such that a slip of the tongue or a seemingly innocuous remark can be the precursor of lashon hora. Keeping this in mind, the Chafetz Chaim composed a lengthy prayer entreating Hashem for Divine assistance in matters of speech. The Manchester Tzaddik drew on this prayer as he formulated his own - more concise - prayer.

Understanding the difficulty of guarding oneself from the pitfalls of lashon hora, the giants of Torah prayed for siyata diShmaya. The following vignette illustrates this idea. There was a certain talmid, student, at Beth Medrash Govoha who would bring the Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, a cup of coffee each day at a specific time. One day, the talmid brought the coffee as usual. Upon returning an hour later, he noticed that the coffee had not been touched. He returned with another steaming cup of coffee. This one, too, remained untouched. It was not as if Rav Aharon could not drink coffee and learn at the same time. The talmid was concerned, and he asked the Rosh Yeshivah if something was wrong. Rav Aharon replied, "I am aware of a certain family that is making inquiries concerning a young man who had once studied under me. If the family calls me, I will be in a difficult situation. I cannot say an untruth, nor can I say the truth, because it does not speak well of the young man. Therefore, I have accepted to fast today, in the hope that, in the merit of my deprivation, no inquiries will be made of me."

If a person will have on the skin of his flesh a se'is or a sapachas… He shall be brought to the Kohen… the Kohen shall look at the affliction. (13:2,3)

Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, was wont to say, "Officially, the Shulchan Aruch consists of four volumes. There really is a fifth volume: that is the one which exhorts us not to be a fool." Some of us spend a lifetime looking all over the world for answers to questions which trouble us, only to discover the answer right in front of us. We refuse to confront reality, because imagination is so much more appealing. It is amazing how often we act irrationally when, with a little forethought, we could have easily found an effective solution to our problem. Chazal relate the story of a kohen who was proficient in discerning the colors of a nega, plague. He was often called upon to determine whether a given skin blemish was, in fact, tzaraas. Regrettably, his success in this field did not put bread on his table. After a lengthy discussion with his wife, he decided to pack his bags and leave his family in search of a livelihood.

The Kohen could not ignore his responsibility to the many Jews who relied on his ability to decide the validity of a skin blemish. Therefore, he decided to instruct his wife in the halachos and how to distinguish between the various colors that manifest themselves on the skin. The first lesson began with the pasuk, "if hair in the affliction has turned white" (13:3). "If you notice that the skin from which a hair grows has become dry," the kohen began, "This is a clear indication that the individual has been stricken with tzaraas. Hashem has created each and every hair separately, each with its own individual root in the skin from where it receives its nourishment. If the source in the skin has dried, the hair which sprouts from it will also die."

When the kohen's wife heard these words, she looked at her husband with shock and skepticism, "Listen to what you are saying," she exclaimed. "There are thousands of hairs growing on a human body, each and every one supervised by Hashem. Each hair nourished from its individual source, overseen by Hashem. If Hashem has provided a source of sustenance for every individual hair on the human body, do you not think that He can provide for us also? I no longer agree to allow you to leave home to seek a livelihood. Hashem will provide for us."

The kohen listened to his wife and remained home. What did she say that was so earth-shattering? Nothing! She caused her husband to open his eyes for a change and look about him. The world was going on. Everything was being sustained. If Hashem could sustain the world, He certainly could support the kohen and his family. We just do not think. We are so obsessed with looking for solutions to self-created problems that we ignore the answer waving to us right in front of our face.

A wealthy man came to the Chafetz Chaim and asked for his advice concerning an inheritance issue. He had six children who were the designated heirs to his considerable estate. "Rebbe, I am not very old, nor am I still a spring chicken. I have to make plans for the inevitable. I would like to add another "heir" to my estate. There is a yeshivah in dire need of financial support. I would like to consider this yeshivah like my seventh child. Could the rav help me draw up a will to this effect?", the man asked the Chafetz Chaim.

"My friend," the Chafetz Chaim said, "Permit me to ask you two questions. I understand that if you have 700 ruble, you would like to give each child 100 ruble and also 100 to the yeshivah. This is a wonderful gesture on your part. But, I seem to have difficulty understanding why you are waiting until you die to give the money to the yeshivah? You have already conceded that the yeshivah is in dire need, and that you have the wherewithal to assist them, so why wait? Why delay until your death when your children will hire a good lawyer to represent them to invalidate your will?

"My second question," the Chafetz Chaim continued, "is, whether I am the one who should study Mishnayos for your neshamah; why do you not study Mishnayos for yourself? You are alive. What better time to study Torah than when you are alive! Do you think that everything must be done only after one has left this world?"

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, drives home the point. We all want to ensure ourselves through others, but what about ensuring ourselves through our own efforts? We worry about tomorrow; we write wills: set aside money: hire a Kaddish, and sit back and wait for the inevitable. What about taking care of ourselves: we should learn the Mishnayos, we should give the tzedakah, we should live today, and not worry about tomorrow. What we do on this world is all that we take with us to the next world. There are no Gemarros there; no money for tzedakah - nothing. We must act in this world if we are going to warrant any reward in the next world.

Returning to our opening paragraph; there is a fifth volume of Shulchan Aruch: not to act foolishly. How often have we decided to do the right thing, only to have our inspiration wane and cool off? The stimulant that sparked our desire for change lost its fire. But, during those few moments, those couple of days that we were "turned on", we felt good about our decision; we wanted to alter our ways; we were ready to ascend to a loftier, closer relationship with the Almighty. What happened? The fifth Shulchan Aruch. We allowed our lack of common sense, the foolishness that prevails in all of us, to overpower the clarity of vision we had for a short time. We ignored the fifth Shulchan Aruch.

This shall be the law of the metzora. (14:2)

In the Talmud Arachin 15b, Chazal teach that the word metzora is really an acronym for motzi shem ra, defamer. Chazal use this as an opportunity to elaborate upon the especially heinous nature of lashon hora, slander. Their expressions of revulsion with this sinful behavior not withstanding, perhaps no declaration of aversion is as strong as the comment in the Yerushalmi Peah 1, "Four sins for which Hashem penalizes a person in this world and the principle is set aside for him in the World to Come: idol-worship; immorality; murder; with the sin of lashon hora superseding them all." This statement tells it all. What really can be added? Lashon hora's evil transcends even that of the three cardinal sins.

Why is it then that this is a sin that is prevalent more so than most others? Chazal teach us that everyone in one way or another is somehow pulled into this sin. If it is so baneful, why is it so popular? One would think that the greater the evil, the more reason one would distance himself from the sin. Is there some mystique about lashon hora that attracts so many?

Horav Shimon Pincus, zl, addresses this double-edged question. Why is lashon hora, in fact, such a compelling sin, and why is it so common? He explains that man is called a medaber, animate creation. Indeed, dibur, the power of speech, is essentially the essence of man. A person is comprised of remach eivarim, 248 organs, each one having its own unique qualities which it manifests as a component of the human body. Eyes manifest the power of sight; ears are the organs through which we are able to hear; legs give us the power of movement. The mouth/tongue is different. When a person speaks, he can express what he thinks with his mind, what he sees with his eyes, what he heard with his ears, what he felt with his heart, where he went, whom he met, and the list goes on. The mouth is the essence of man, the capstone of all his organs.

Lashon hora is the expression of an individual's ani, "I/me." When a person speaks lashon hora, he makes a statement about himself. Rav Pincus cites the Shev Shmaitsa who makes the following comment in the hakdamah, preface, to his magnum opus: If a person were to be able to ascend to Heaven, see and develop an understanding of the workings of Creation and the esoteric secrets of this world, he would not be satisfied until he could return to this world and share with his friends all that he had learned in Heaven. His new-found knowledge has little value if he cannot tell everybody about it. For man not to be able to speak is a form of death. He must speak. That is man's essence.

There is a well-known incident which occurred with the Chafetz Chaim one Purim. One of the students in the yeshivah became inebriated, and during his period of inebriation pleaded with the Chafetz Chaim to promise him that he could sit near him in Gan Eden. Perhaps this might have been a ludicrous request, but it indicates what a student in Radin thought about when he was in a drunken stupor. The Chafetz Chaim attempted to dissuade the student, to no avail. The young man would not budge from his request. After attempts to "ease" the young man out of the house, to no success, the Chafetz Chaim relented, and asked the young man if he could make him a promise. "Yes, Rebbe, anything, as long as I can be near the Rebbe in Olam Haba," he replied. "If you assure me that you will guard your tongue from ever speaking lashon hora, I will guarantee you a place in my vicinity in the World to Come," said the Chafetz Chaim.

It seemed pretty simple; cut and dried. They young man made a request. The Chafetz Chaim responded with the kind of assurance that we all dream about. For what more could one ask? Well, the Chafetz Chaim's response seemed to have a powerful effect on the student's drunken stupor. His mind immediately cleared, and he said, "Rebbe, that is impossible. How can I promise never to speak lashon hora?" "I am truly sorry for you," replied the Chafetz Chaim. "I was prepared to grant your wish if only you could make me this promise. What a wasted opportunity."

What prompted the student's negative response? To be able to be near the Chafetz Chaim in Olam Haba is an unprecedented opportunity. How could he emphatically turn it down? Rav Pincus explains that to promise to refrain from speaking lashon hora meant for this young man that he could no longer open up his mouth. It was inevitable; if he spoke, he would end up uttering lashon hora. There might be variations in the level of malevolence, but it would be lashon hora, no less. To refrain from speaking was tantamount to death. He was not yet prepared to die. The Chafetz Chaim's response, as Rav Pincus sees it: "Such a death is missas neshikah, a kiss from Hashem!"

Now we can understand why this transgression is so prevalent. None of us are prepared to die - to live a life in which we must control our every word. No speech - no life! So, is it so terrible if a person chooses life? We are here to live - not to die. Is that not the purpose of our existence?

One who makes such a statement should have his pedigree researched. Being a Jew means that one is prepared to be mevatel, abrogate, his entire metzius, essence, for Hashem. A Jew does not view himself as an entity in his own right, but, rather, as a Yehudi, soldier in Hashem's Army, a cog in the great wheel of Hashem's universe. He is ready to do whatever the situation demands in order to elevate kavod Shomayim, the glory of Heaven. A Jew who is not willing to nullify his entire being for Hashem has a greater problem than the sin of lashon hora. This is why the sin of lashon hora is more demanding than the three cardinal sins which lead to capital punishment. A person who is immoral, a murderer, or worships idols, is still a Yehudi. He does not reject his Jewish essence by transgressing these sins. A Jew, however, who speaks lashon hora, rejects his Jewish essence, by showing that he is not willing to give up his most identifying Jewish quality, himself, for Hashem.

You shall separate the Bnei Yisrael from their contamination; and they shall not die as a result of their contamination if they contaminated My Sanctuary that is among them. (15:31)

The laws concerning tumah and taharah, ritual contamination and purity, are applicable to all Jews and their observance are predicated upon the individual's ability to police himself. The commandment commends the observance of the laws of tumah to the nation's meticulous self-discipline. We are exhorted not only to avoid the existing tumah, but to avoid proximity to it in time and space where and when it is likely to occur.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, notes that the mitzvah to distance oneself from tumah is not addressed directly to the nation but, rather, to its spiritual leadership, Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen who were assigned the task of teaching and training the nation so that they will stay away from anything tamei. He explains that the mission of Moshe and Aharon: to spread the theoretical knowledge and practical observance of the Torah and to labor constantly at training the nation for that purpose, is essentially and wholly dependent on the assumption that the nation will be aware at all times of the concepts of tumah and taharah. To put it simply: a people that does not restrict themselves in the areas of ritual purity, will ultimately find it difficult to observe the laws of the Torah. I realize that this opens up a Pandoras box concerning shemiras hamitzvos, especially in light of what so many observant Jews are exposed to vis-?-vis the media and the electronic information superhighway. Therefore, I will leave the rest unsaid and allow the reader to use his imagination.

Since a ritually clean nation plays such a crucial role in mitzvah observance, we understand why the law is motivated by the statement, "And they shall not die as a result of their contamination if they contaminate My Sanctuary that is among them." By observing each and every one of the laws of tumah and taharah, each and every member of the nation, from the most distinguished to the common man, is placed into a direct relationship with the Sanctuary and Hashem's Presence that reposes therein. Every law relating to tumah speaks to every member of the nation, declaring that Hashem seeks His place not among the "Moshe and Aharons'," not exclusively among the spiritual elite, but, "in their midst," among all Jews. It also intimates quite clearly that the first prerequisite for all moral ennoblement is the free-willed transcendence of one's self beyond the constraints of tumah.

Another powerful lesson to be derived from the fact that Hashem placed His Sanctuary, His place of repose, with all of the restrictions that can be fulfilled only on the basis of purity and free-willed morality, in the midst of the people. It shows us that - yes - it can be done! These laws do not presuppose a utopian, superhuman state which does not exist on earth. People can be moral. They can maintain ritual purity with all its strictures and regulations. Hashem resides among us, even, b'soch tumasam, "In the midst of their defilements (ibid 15:16)." Hashem is quite aware of man's sensual nature, all of the various stimuli that can arouse and tempt him to relinquish his moral constraints. Indeed, it is precisely in light of this tumah aspect of human nature that He gave the Torah as a condition for His Shechinah, Divine Presence, to literally be a shachein, neighbor, standing "beside" human nature in all of its phases - both ups and downs.

Why would Hashem do this? Does it not go counter to what Sanctuary represents? Rav Hirsch explains that this was done so that the Torah which gives meaning to life and illuminates the path one should follow, should stimulate that other aspect of a human being: his neshamah, soul, so that the G-dliness within him will prevail over anything which is fettered by his physical bonds. This will guide him to elevate all aspects of his life, including the most physical ones, to become free-willed, moral, G-d-serving acts, focused on achieving moral success.

There is a flip side to this wonderful opportunity of having the Sanctuary within our midst: we must maintain a high level of morality, and not associate with anything which will bring about tumah. We will either allow for the Torah to guide us to moral and ritual purity, or we will abscond to the tumah which stands in direct opposition to having Hashem's Sanctuary within our midst - either - or. It is that simple.

Va'ani Tefillah

Halleluhu b'seika shofar, Halleluhu b'neival v'chinor.
Praise Him with the blast of the Shofar, Praise Him with the lyre and harp.

David Hamelech goes on to list various musical instruments: wind, percussion, stringed instruments and cymbals, all of which give forth their own unique sound. Together they create a harmonious sound which reaches a final crescendo of praise to the Almighty. The Shlah HaKadosh explains the variety of instruments and the necessity of contrasting sounds all balancing each other. There are sounds that create a somber mood, and there are sounds that invoke joy and celebration. Likewise, these sounds emanate from various instruments which also create variegated moods. When a person serves Hashem through prayer or song, it is essential that he have the proper kavanah, intention, accompanying his service. Music can inspire and have an enormous influence on a person's kavanah, but, it must be balanced. Too much somber music catalyzes depression in tefillah, while music too heavy on the joy and celebration detracts from the solemnity of the prayer. This is why David Hamelech lists instruments which have contrasting sounds, that create divergent moods - but, when they are opposite each other, they construct a harmonious balance. The Shofar catalyzes trembling and fear, while the lyre and harp are used to inspire joy. This continues up until the varied cymbals whose opposing sounds also balance each other's effect.

l'ilui nishmas hrh"tz
R' Chaim Tzvi ben Betzalel HaCohen Katz zt"l
niftar 5 Iyar 5755

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