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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Upon completion of the days of her purity for a son or for a daughter. (12:6)

The term "son" or "daughter" denotes a stronger, more definitive relationship than that implied by referring to a child as either one's male or female offspring. A son is the product of a viable, strong relationship, part of a legacy, who serves as a link in a generational chain. He identifies with his parent as the product of a relationship forged on the principles of devotion to a Higher Power, to Hashem. "Son" or "daughter" indicates pedigree. Thus, we call attention to the fact that previously, in pesukim 2 and 5, the Torah refers to the woman's offspring as a zachar, male, or a nekeivah, female, rather than a son or daughter, as it does here. Why did the Torah alter its vernacular?

Horav Shalom Schwadron, zl, suggests that the transformation from male/female to son/daughter occurs as a result of the phrase, "Upon the completion of the days of her purity." This is reference to the mother's (and father's) adherence to the laws of taharas ha'mishpachah, family purity. When a relationship is concretized in kedushah and taharah, sanctity and purity, the offspring produced by this union is a son/daughter, a link in the chain of mesorah, tradition, from Har Sinai. A human being is created with a purpose in life, with definite goals that he is to achieve. The Torah guides him and imbues him with Yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, which is the reason for his living a life of kedushah and taharah. A home without yiraas Shomayim lacks the resources for maintaining spiritual restraint, depriving the offspring of forging a greater, more profound relationship with his/her past and future. The nomenclature, son/daughter, is applied to one who plays an active and participatory role in maintaining the legacy of kedushah and taharah in his life - as did his parents.

A family which focuses its life goals on spiritual advancement will inculcate these values and goals into the next generation. If yiraas Shomayim is paramount in the home, their relationship is Heavenly-sanctioned, since kedushah and taharah are its mainstays. Why does yiraas Shomayim play such a critical role? One would conjecture that middos tovos - positive character traits, ethics and moral correctness - should have primacy. It seems that the power source of positive spiritual energy is fear of G-d, without which nothing else seems significant. Why? A number of years ago I wrote concerning a lecture given by Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, in the early 1930's to a group of German Rabbanim. It is certainly worth repeating for its timeless value and message.

This is a well-known insight by the Malbim, zl, which the Rosh Yeshivah quoted:

Going back to Parashas Vayeira, as Avimelech complains to Avraham Avinu for claiming that Sarah Imeinu was his sister when she was actually his wife, Avraham replied, Rak ein yiraas Elokim ba'makom hazeh, "Only because I said there is no fear of G-d in this place" (Ibid. 20:11). A lack of Heavenly fear was prevalent in Gerar. Thus, Avraham feared for his life. The Malbim underscores the Torah's use of the word rak, "only," as if intimating that, indeed, Gerar was a wonderful place. It had culture, refinement; its people were upstanding, kind and polite. Regardless of the community's exemplary qualities, however, at the end of the day one's life could still be forfeited, if he were to stand in the way of someone's desire. Why? "Only," because Gerar lacks yiraas Elokim, fear of G-d. When mortal, subjective, prejudicial man is the ultimate authority, if laws are manmade, then they have little value. Man makes the law; man can alter the law as he sees fit. The only law that will compel society to be disciplined and law-abiding is Heavenly Law, the code authored and regulated by Divine Authority.

Rav Elchanan spoke prior to the malignant change in Germany's government. When the Nazi party came to power, it was all too obvious that Rav Elchanan's message was on the mark. Suddenly, the polite, cultured, refined German became a cruel monster, capable of committing the most heinous atrocities.

A story related by Horav Yissachar Frand, Shlita, attributed to Horav Yitzchak Hutner, zl, gives practical expression to the above. When Rav Hutner was a student in Slabodka, he remembers that Horav Avraham Elya Kaplan, zl, who later became Rosh Yeshivah, director, of Hildesheimer seminary in Berlin, went to Germany. He returned before Rosh Hashanah. The Rosh Yeshivah, reverently known as the Alter m'Slabodka, asked Rav Avraham Elya for his impression of the German people.

Rav Avraham Elya raved about the German People's kindness, their impeccable manners and refinement of character. He even cited their manner of speech as demonstrating extreme politeness to one another. For instance, if someone asked for directions, the response would not simply be a curt set of directions; rather, after completing the directions, the man would politely ask, "Nicht wahr? Is this not correct?" This indicated his refinement. By refraining from asserting himself in a definitive manner, he would always conclude the sentence, "Nicht wahr?" In this manner, he maintained the dignity of the questioner.

The students who were privy to this exchange between Rav Avraham Elya and the Alter debated whether it was appropriate to praise the Germans. It was not as if we derived a way of life from other gentile nations. Why should the Germans be any different? What did they have to offer us that others did not? We do not learn how to live from the gentile world. Baruch Hashem, we have a Torah that guides our lifestyle. One student among them persisted in defending the Germans, maintaining that any people who ended their statements, "Nicht wahr?" indicated a sense of modesty and politeness worthy of emulating.

It took a half a century for the truth to be publicized, for that same student to declare his error publicly. Rav Hutner had just concluded his shiur, lecture, when a Jew walked in and asked, "Do you remember me? I was that student in Slabodka who complimented the German manner of speaking, who was amazed by their gentle manner and refinement of speech."

The Rosh Yeshivah said that he did remember the man and stuck out his hand to greet him, "Shalom aleichem." The Jew reciprocated, but, instead of a hand, he had a hook where his hand had been amputated. Apparently, he had lost his hand during his internment in the concentration camp.

The man looked at Rav Hutner and said, "When the Nazi cut off my hand, do you know what he said? He said, It hurts - Nicht wahr: Is this not correct? - You were right; I was wrong!"

Rav Elchanan observed that Hashem had created man after He had created all of the other creatures. Animals, both domesticated and wild, all fowl and beasts - all preceded mankind. Rav Elchanan commented that man is a composite of all of the preceding creations. He has in him the nature of every creature. Thus, at times, he may manifest the qualities of the most docile creation, while, at other times, he acts like a venomous snake or a vicious man-eating lion. What keeps all of these natural inclinations in check? What controls are in place to see to it that the man remains a decent, ethical and virtuous human being? Only one guarantee exists: yiraas Elokim, fear of G-d. With it - one is a mentch. Without it - he is, sadly, capable of the worst abominations and the most cruel, heinous brutalities against his fellow man.

And the Kohen shall look at the mark in the skin… and (he will) pronounce it unclean. (13:3)

One cannot study the laws of tzaraas and the reason for their occurrence and not be filled with pride that he is a Jew. Other religions pay lip service to social graces, human decency, and ethical behavior. Nonetheless, they are not part of their corpus of laws. One is encouraged to be ethical, distance himself from avarice, not commit social sins, but if he does, it is not the end of the world. Imagine censuring a politician for lying! We would have no government! On the other hand, our Torah's inclusion of Hilchos Negaim, laws concerning plagues, indicates that Hashem watches over us, as He educates each and every individual concerning how to live an ethical and moral life.

The Torah demonstrates for all to see that, in the Jewish community - whose laws are based upon the Law of Hashem - social sins and misdemeanors are brought out into the open, and the guilty party is held accountable. In the secular world, arrogance, falsehood, slander and character assassination escape the authority of civil courts. Sadly, no one really cares. Our world is governed by G-d's law and, in the case of the metzora who slanders his fellow, G-d Himself seems to be getting involved - as He does in other situations which, due to their subtlety or our obtuseness, we do not notice.

Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, speaks about Rav Avraham Hurwitz, zl, his uncle's father-in-law. Rav Avraham was a talmid, disciple, of the Alter, zl, m'Novaradok and himself a tzaddik, righteous person, of unquestionable virtue. He was a businessman, supporting his family from the proceeds of his mattress and linen store in Brownsville, New York. An individual who did not speak one word from Rosh Chodesh Elul until after Yom Kippur, he conversed with his customers by means of pen and paper. At his bar-mitzvah, he accepted upon himself never to speak lashon hora. He lived out his life in complete adherence to his promise.

Holy people are careful not to have false plaudits engraved on their head-stones. Apparently, if something untrue is engraved, the deceased will suffer from it. On the matzeivah of Rav Avraham Hurwitz, his name and the name of his father, the date of his passing, and three words were inscribed: Shomer piv u'leshono, "He guarded his mouth and tongue." To inscribe such a statement on a person's matzeivah is indicative of an elevated level of character. In fact, Rav Moshe Aharon attests that no other matzeivah in all of Har HaZeisim and Har Menuchos has such an inscription. It is dangerous to write such a statement if it is not true.

In the Talmud Arachin 15b, Chazal say that the sin of lashon hora is compared to the three cardinal sins: idol worship; licentiousness; and murder. Clearly, if the sin is so egregious, distancing oneself from its transgression can serve as an amazing zchus, merit. The following story underscores this idea.

It was Cheshvon, 5768/2008. Rebbetzin Kanievsky, a"h, had just returned from a wedding, and she felt obligated to publicize the story which was the backdrop for this wedding. Four years earlier, a terrible accident had occurred on the highway, which severely injured a fifteen- year-old girl. She was rushed to the hospital, where she lay unconscious for two weeks. This was in addition to the broken bones and internal injuries which she sustained. Her parents petitioned Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, and his Rebbetzin to please pray for their daughter. They prayed, and Hashem responded favorably, as the girl woke up and began to recognize her family. The joy was palpable. They prayed for a miracle, and Hashem sent them one. The first thing the girl wanted to know was, "Imma, how long was I in a coma?"

"What difference is it to you?" the mother replied, "The main thing is that you are alive and your brain function has returned."

The girl's response shook up all those who were there. "Two weeks prior to the accident, I accepted upon myself to study two halachos, laws, from the Chafetz Chaim's Shemiras HaLashon daily. I want to make up what I missed," the girl explained. This girl was not yet out of the woods. She would have to undergo a number of surgeries, much physical therapy, and then - they were still not sure of a positive outcome. Yet, this is all she thought about: making up the lost time from her shemiras halashon study program.

Rav Chaim and his Rebbetzin were greatly impressed by this girl's devotion. In fact, the Rebbetzin ensured the parents that she would dance with their daughter at her wedding - a promise which at that time was a mere dream. The last thing anyone believed was that this girl would one day be "whole."

Miracle of miracles, the girl finally left the hospital, and, in short time, she resumed her regular schedule; she was a healthy girl, with no sign whatsoever of her injuries!

"I have just returned from her wedding," said the Rebbetzin, "where I fulfilled my promise to dance with her!"

This is just one of many zchuyos attributed and recorded to shomer piv u'leshono.

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

Someone who lives in the dirt, whose garments are perpetually soiled, does not comprehend the ruckus made over a stain on one's shirt. Likewise, as Ramban explains, the parsha of negaim, plagues, applies only when Klal Yisrael is shleimim b'Hashem, whole, perfect with the Almighty, when the Ruach Elokim, Spirit of G-d, is always over them. It is then that they must maintain a pristine attitude and appearance in the external semblance of body, apparel and abode. Sforno writes that it is the Kohen, the spiritual mentor and exemplar of the Jewish People, who determines the viability of the plague and designates its ritual contamination status. Thus, his presence is in and of itself an admonishment to the sinner and serves as an inspiration for him to repent and to ask the Kohen to pray for him.

We are no longer visited by the Biblical plagues, since we are far removed from the spiritual level demanded of the Jewish People to be worthy of such supernatural treatment. Nonetheless, Hashem still speaks to us, admonishing us when our behavior is lacking. Every time something out of the ordinary happens to us - slipping on the ice, fender bender, illness, financial loss - we are experiencing some of the many instances during which Hashem speaks with us.

Sichah Naeh cites the Talmud Bava Basra 10a, in which the Talmud relates that Rav Papa slipped and fell on the steps, causing him great pain and anxiety. He remarked, "I am suffering punitively on the same nadir as those who profane Shabbos and Yom Tov." Chazal acknowledge that we are punished, even when we have committed no sin worthy of such punishments. Chiyah bar Rav Difti commented, "Perhaps a poor man came to you asking for alms and you did not support him." He added, "Whoever closes his eyes (turns his eyes away as if he does not see) from giving charity, it is considered as if he worshipped idols." Chazal view every occurrence in life, every circumstance which we experience, as Hashem's message that something is amiss in our lives.

In his Shemiras HaLashon, the Chafetz Chaim, zl, teaches us a frightening lesson. He quotes the pasuk in Mishlei 21:23, Shomer piv u'leshono, shomer mitzaros nafsho, "He who guards his mouth and tongue, guards his soul from troubles." The Midrash makes a play on words and teaches, "Do not read the word as tzaros, trouble; rather, (read it) mitzaraas nafsho, ie, one who guards his tongue spares his soul from developing (spiritual) leprosy!"

The Chafetz Chaim explains that, although today we no longer have negaim, plagues, which are visited upon a person, this applies only with regard to their external manifestations on his body. We do, however, have tzaraas which strikes a person's soul. Therefore, when a person leaves this world (and he has spoken lashon hora, slander), this tzaraas will be revealed on his spiritual soul when he arrives in Heaven. All will see the effects of his evil speech. Imagine the shame that he will suffer. Just as, in this world, one is isolated from the community as a result of tzaraas, so, too, will he be compelled to sit separate in Heaven, not allowed to gravitate and join others.

Thus, we see that the plague which "surfaces" on one's skin is a gift from G-d. It surely incurs many more benefits and much less embarrassment than the leprosy that is manifest spiritually. Since we are no longer worthy of tzaraas on our body, we are relegated to suffer the internal shame of tzaraas ha'nefesh.

Unfortunately, we do not give much thought to what we will look like in the eternal world. We are concerned with the sham of this world, what people will say, how they will judge us, how it will affect our future. What will take place following our mortal stay in this world is an experience too far removed from our thought process. It is specifically how we relate to the ultimate future which distinguishes the observant Jew from his non-practicing brother. An observant Jew realizes that there is much more to living than "life" on this world. There is Olam Habba, the World to Come, the true world, the world where all appearances count.

Chazal enjoin us to penetrate beyond the fa?ade of this world, to perceive a world of reality in which we will have to answer for our behavior, one where the scale of justice is quite unlike the one which we think prevails here. Nochum Ish Gamzu was a holy man who lived a life of suffering - one, for which, interestingly, he had asked. He lay blind, without hands and legs, his entire body covered with painful boils, lying on a bed lowered onto water, so that ants could not crawl up the legs of the bed and bite him. Without hands, he was helpless against the ants. His house was a ramshackle, shaky hut, which should have been condemned. Yet, he was a righteous, virtuous, devout and pious individual, Rebbe to Rabbi Akiva. What egregious sin could he have committed that Hashem was exacting such punishment from him?

Shocked to see their revered mentor in such a sorry state, his disciples asked him the same question, "What could you have done to warrant such Heavenly reaction? (They were acutely aware that nothing - absolutely nothing - "just happens." It is all part of a Divine Plan.)

Rav Nachum Ish Gamzu explained that he had been approached for alms by a poor man. He had food which had to be unloaded from his donkey. He asked the poor man to wait a moment. During this time, the man died. Rav Nachum blamed himself, and, for penance, he asked Hashem to strike various parts of his body, because he had been slow in responding to the needs of the poor man.

We are unable to fathom the depth of sin committed by the sage. Yet, he was certain that he deserved such a painful reaction from Heaven. He understood the value of yissurim, affliction/pain/troubles. He comprehended their purifying value and how they spare the penitent from more intense punishment in the World to Come.

The Tchebiner Rav, Horav Dov Berish Weidenfeld, zl, was a gaon, brilliant Torah scholar, without peer. A saintly individual, he accepted the painful loss of four of his sons and their families during the Holocaust. Originally, following the Holocaust, he thought that they might have survived, but, with increasing time, it became apparent that his hope was without foundation. Alas, the Tchebiner's loss - his sons and their families, his yeshivah, his writings - was but a small part of the suffering that the greater Klal Yisrael had sustained. He wrote, "The pain and heartache over what befell our brothers in Klal Yisrael is constant. May Hashem heal our brother's hearts and may He raise up the glory of the Torah and the glory of Am Yisrael."

He rarely discussed his personal tragedies. Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, related that he had once discussed the tragedy of the Tchebiner Rav's sons murder with the Rav, and how, if they had survived, it would have greatly altered the spiritual panorama of the world of Torah. Rav Shlomo Zalman continued, "When I left Rav Dov Berish that night, I burst into tears. This was not because his sons had been murdered, for many other gedolei Yisrael, Torah giants, had suffered a similar fate. I wept at the sight of this great and heroic man accepting his yissurim b'ahavah, with love. I cried when I heard him declare, 'Our G-d is a merciful Father.'"

During the twenty years that the Tchebiner lived in Yerushalayim, it was his custom to recite the Pesukei D'Zimra, opening Morning Prayer service, out loud. Every word was read from the siddur without raising his voice or intonation. There were two verses, however, over which he would pause. One could see him ruminating over them, the expression on his face changing ever so slightly. Then he would recite them calmly and pleasantly. The first verse was: HaRofei l'shevurei lev, u'mechabesh l'atzvosam, "He Who heals the broken-hearted and binds up the wounds," (Tehillim 147:3); and Ad yaavor amcha Hashem, ad yaaavor am zu kanissa, "Until Your nation, G-d, shall pass over, until this nation that You have acquired will pass" (Shemos 15:16).

Despite his personal losses, he was beside himself suffering over the collective pain of his people and over the pain of the Shechinah which was relegated to continue its exile. He waited constantly for the clarion call that would herald an end to the bitter exile with the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

And the person with tzaraas in whom there is the affliction… he is to call out: "Contaminated, contaminated…" "He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (13:45,46)

Horav Yehoshua Shklar, Shlita, writes that he heard from one of the contemporary Mashgichim an explanation why lashon hora is different than all other sins. When a person sins, it affects a certain part of his body. When a person slanders his fellowman, regardless of the nature of the slander, it affects the entire human being. The entire subject of the lashon hora has been transformed, diminished by the slander. For instance, if one were to allege that an individual was guilty of a sin - ie, theft, moral turpitude, ethical impairment - it is not just one specific point about this person which is affected. The entire individual has been transformed. He is a thief! A liar! A scoundrel! He is no longer the same person.

Thus, one who speaks lashon hora is punished in an external manner. He is isolated from everyone - even other sinners. Since, with his words, he has transformed a person, he, too, must be transformed through isolation which leads to introspection, the catalyst for teshuvah, repentance.

Perhaps we must take this idea a step further. A skin disease begins with a slight spot, a discoloration, a mole. For all intents and purposes, to the spectator it is nothing more than an isolated external disfigurement. Sadly, we know that this is not always true. The mole may be an external indication of a serious disease. It appears to be an isolated mole, but it is the first sign of what could be a disease, that, if left unchecked, can prove fatal. Tzaraas begins with a skin discoloration which bespeaks a dramatic change in a previously healthy person. He is now a (spiritual) leper. That little spot declares that the person you knew is no longer the same person. He is gravely ill. All because of one spot. Just like lashon hora; one word destroys an entire person. The slanderer asks: "What did I do?" We reply: "You destroyed a person." One little mole indicates a sudden and extreme transformation.

This might be the reason the slanderer is punished with tzaraas. It teaches him that one little external disfigurement can be devastating - just as one harmful slander can destroy an individual. There is nothing small or innocuous about slander, as there is nothing insignificant about a skin discoloration. It could be deadly.

Va'ani Tefillah

Gomel chassadim tovim. Who bestows good kindnesses. The word gomel, which is translated as bestows, is akin to gomer, completes/ends. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, observes this relationship between words from the phrase, Vayigdal ha'yeled va'yigamal, "The child grew and was weaned" (Bereishis 21:8). Likewise, we find va'yigmal shekeidim, "It bloomed and produced almonds" (Bamidbar 17:23). The almonds were completed; ie. they were ripe. To be gomel is to repay, because payment is the completion of a transaction. Here, the expression, "bestows good kindness," denotes completeness of giving, both in abundance and also in quality, meaning that Hashem has given all there is to be given. The Almighty gives the very greatest gift and the greatest of delights that can be found. Therefore, His gift is the complete gift. Perhaps this could be used as a spring board for explaining the term, gemillas chassadim. Our goal when performing kindness for our fellow man should be to carry out the most complete act of kindness - not performing half a job. People often have good intentions, but do not complete them, leaving the beneficiary stranded. Gemillas chesed strives to complete the job, to carry out one's intention in totality.

In memory of our beloved parents
Rabbi Dr. Avrohom Yitzchok Wolf
Rebbetzin Anna Moses
Sruly and Chaya Wolf and Family
Ari and Rivky Wolf and Family

Abba and Sarah Spero and Family
Pesach and Esther Ostroy and Family
Sruly and Chaya Wolf and Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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