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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARASHAS METZORA

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

Imagine working an entire lifetime on a project, building up a company from scratch until it is a global player, only to lose everything due to a simple, foolish error. It would be devastating. The Chovas HaLevavos writes that, when an individual speaks lashon hora against someone - even if the "someone" is evil - the one who speaks forfeits all of his mitzvos, which are, in turn, given to the person against whom he has spoken. The speaker becomes the sorry "beneficiary" of the slandered person. It seems like an unfair trade, but, unfortunately, it is what it is. He has lost it all. What is worse, the other fellow -- with whom he apparently has issues -- has just been bequeathed all of his mitzvos and zchusim, merits. The "speaker" is left spiritually devoid of anything, while the "other guy" has just won the spiritual lottery!

Horav Yehudah Tzedakah, zl, applies this thought to explain an ambiguous phrase, part of the Tefillah, prayer, recited in the Hadran, upon completion of a Tractate of Talmud. She'tehei Torascha umanuseinu b'olam ha'zeh, v'tehei imanu b'Olam Habba, "That your Torah will be our vocation in this world, and will be with us in the World to Come." What is the meaning of this phrase? If Torah is one's vocation in this world, if he devotes his time to studying Torah, why should it not accompany him, acting as his source of merit in the World to Come?

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that one can arrive in Olam Habba empty-handed, despite having lived a life replete with Torah study and mitzvah performance. It might have been one foolish envy, which spurred him to compound his senseless behavior with a few choice negative comments about the person who was the subject of his envy. An entire life of observance - gone. We ask Hashem to protect us, so that what we have achieved in olam hazeh accompanies us to Olam Habba. He had been insecure concerning his friend's success; he was troubled by an individual's lack of ethical/moral behavior. At the time, in his small mind, it might have seemed to be righteous indignation. Hashem considers it to be blatant lashon hora. The fellow whom he was trying to put down ultimately receives the reward and honor originally set aside for the one who ran off at the mouth. Now, he really has something about which to be jealous.

This shall be the law of the metzora on the day of his purification: He shall be brought to the Kohen. (14:2)

This pasuk is rendered homiletically by the Roshei Besamim, based on a statement made by the Zohar HaKadosh (Parashas Pekudei). The Zohar states that the merit of prayer and study of the individual who prays to Hashem without kavanah, proper intention and devotion, or studies Torah she'lo lishmah, not purely for the sake of learning Torah, hangs in limbo in a specially designated spiritual sphere. The first time that he prays with proper kavanah, or learns for the appropriate purpose of lishmah, this prayer or Torah-study will gather all of those other tefillos which hang in limbo and elevate them to their proper status.

Zos Toras ha'metzora, "This shall be the law of he who was a motzi-ra," the individual who opened his mouth in such a manner whereby the prayers and Torah that emanated from him were not "good." How can this be rectified? B'yom taharaso, "On the day of his purification," when he prays and studies properly, thereby repairing his past prayers and study, then, v'huvah el ha'kohen, "He shall be brought to the Kohen." At that time, his prayers and Torah study will be elevated and brought before Hashem.

One day a Tchortkover chasid, the son-in-law of a distinguished chasid who was a scholar, G-d-fearing and virtuous, came before the holy Tchortkover Rebbe, zl, with a complaint. Apparently, his revered father-in-law did not daven. The Rebbe listened intently and asked, "Forgive me for asking, but what time do you daven?" The young man replied that he fairly often davened late in the morning, since he had a study partner in the early morning that extended beyond the time that people ate their breakfast. The Rebbe countered, "Then your father-in-law is certainly davening." The Rebbe told the young man that, when he would be absolutely certain that his father-in-law does not daven, he could convey a message to him, "The Rebbe would like to see you."

The father-in-law entered the Rebbe's office in a very anxious state. It was not a common occurrence for the Rebbe to summon a chasid. "It has come to my attention that you are lax in your prayer service," the Rebbe began. The man did not deny the allegation. "It is true" the man replied. "How is this possible?" the Rebbe asked.

The man explained, "I am not the greatest of scholars, but I am an honest man. I have not been successful in maintaining the proper kavanah. Therefore, I feel to daven without kavanah would impugn my integrity."

With his kind and understanding heart, the Rebbe patiently explained to the man how our tefillah works. "A man walks into shul and prays. If the prayer lacks the appropriate kavanah, Hashem will mark a 'zero' next to it. Three-hundred-sixty-four days may elapse with nothing but zeros. Finally, one day, the man comes to shul greatly inspired - motivated to daven with devotion. That one day, Hashem gives him a 'one'! But where is the "one" placed: to the right of the zeros, making it a decimal point, fractionizing the zeros even more; or does He place it on the left side, elevating the zeros, to trillions and trillions?

"David Hamelech says in Sefer Tehillim, Hashem yispor b'chsov amim, zeh yulad sham selah, 'Hashem will count, when He records nations, this one was born here, selah' (Tehillim 87:6). The nations of the world write from left to right. We write from right to left. Hashem will count according to manner of the nations of the world.

"Thus, with one stroke, all of the zeros are transformed to thousands of billions." Hashem's counting according to the nations of the world will engender a new birth, the creation of millions of Tefillos! Therefore, you do yours, by davening to the best of your ability. Eventually, you will merit that one prayer that will draw all of the previous prayers in your favor."

The Kohen shall command, and for the person being purified there shall be taken two live, clean birds, cedar wood and crimson wool and hyssop… and the one bird shall be slaughtered into an earthenware vessel over spring water. (14:4, 5)

Horav Nosson Gestetner, zl, observes that the taharas, purification process, of the metzora involves the four yesodos, foundations, types of Creation: domeim, inanimate; tzomeiach, growing vegetation; chai, living creature; medaber, human who has the power of speech. The water and earthenware vessel are domemim, inanimate objects. The cedar wood and hyssop represent the tzomeiach, growing vegetation. The bird and crimson wool dyed from the blood of a worm, correspond to chai, living creatures. The Kohen who performs the purification is the medaber, symbolizes the human speaking creature. The lesson for us is straightforward: one who speaks lashon hora defiles every aspect of Creation. Thus, his purification must be effected by representations of all four yesodos of Creation.

This idea is expressed by the mitzvos surrounding the Festival of Pesach. Here, too, we use all four forms of Creation. The water which is used for the matzah is a domeim; the flour is derived from a tzomeiach; and the marror is a tzomeiach. The Korban Pesach, Pascal Sacrifice, is a chai; and the person who executes the Seder, relating the story of the liberation and exodus from Egypt, is the medaber. The mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim, relating the exodus from Egypt, is specifically carried out through the medium of the "mouth" - the peh - sach, mouth which speaks, because the liberation from Egypt involved all four yesodos of Creation, as the plagues that struck Egypt affected all four yesodos.

And he shall dip them and the live bird into the blood of the bird that was slaughtered… he shall purify him and he shall set the live bird free upon the open field. (14:6,7)

What else should he do with the live bird? It makes sense that if one bird dies and the other bird lives, the live bird be turned loose to live out its life. Simply, the reason the Torah underscores the freedom of the live bird is that originally it had been designated as a sacrifice. In the end, it worked out that it was not used for this purpose. I might think that once the term korban, sacrifice, has been designated on a bird, it has been spiritually elevated, thus prohibited for mundane use. The Torah is teaching us that, regardless of its original designation, the bird should be set free. It will never be used, allowing for its designation to dissipate.

Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, gives an inspirational explanation of why the Torah emphasizes the bird's freedom. It was "washed" in the blood of its co-bird. When one washes himself in his friend's "blood," a special pasuk is required to permit the bird for ritual use. What a powerful insight - and how (sadly) practical. Can we declare with clear conscience that our ascendency, success, good fortune did not come as a result of a friend, another person who did not make it? While this is not a reference to intentional harm, we cannot deny that, at times, the choice boils down to two people: one makes it; the other "also ran." We Jews believe that it is not due simply to the "toss of the dice;" rather, someone's shoulders became our stepstool. That should at least engender a sense of introspection and humility.

When you arrive in the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I will place a tzaraas affliction upon a house. In the land of your possession (14:34)

Rashi teaches us that Moshe Rabbeinu brought good tidings when he informed the people that they would be subject to nigei battim, plagues that would strike their homes. Apparently, when the Emorites heard that the Jews were coming to attack them, they hid their gold, silver and jewelry in the walls of their homes. As a result of the negaim, the homes had to be dismantled, exposing the hidden treasures. To recap, the individual who acted inappropriately was punished with the destruction of his home. As a result of the punishment, he became the lucky winner of a hidden treasure which otherwise would never have been discovered.

The Sefer Moshav Zekeinim asks the obvious question. Negaim are Heaven-sent as a punishment for a stingy eye, a penurious attitude towards helping others. Why should the punishment be the harbinger and catalyst for reward? The Aruch HaShulchan asks a similar question. Does Hashem not have another way of rewarding this person? Why does the individual have to lose his home, just to have the hidden treasure revealed?

We must say that this is an indication of Hashem's overriding love for His People. Even when they deserve punishment, Hashem eases off - and when it is absolutely necessary that extreme suffering be a part of the punishment, Hashem "finds" a way to somehow ameliorate the difficulty. Everything that might appear as outrageously challenging has a silver lining. We do not always see it, however, because, for the most part, we are not looking.

L'Hisaden Ba'ahavasecha quotes Horav Shmuel Abba Deutch, who expounds on the concept of "patience" during periods of travail, relying on our deep-rooted faith to give the situation/challenge that we are confronting time to play itself out. The Mechaber, in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 230:5, writes: "A person should be accustomed to say, 'Whatever Hashem does is for the good.'" What is the meaning of "be accustomed"? Does a person undergo trials and tribulations daily, that he should get used to articulating this statement? Furthermore, why is it essential that one vocalize this statement? Is thinking about it, accepting it in one's heart, not sufficient? What happened to emunah, faith?

Horav Moshe, zl, m'Kubrin interprets the pasuk, Atzabeihem kessef v'zahav, "Their idols are silver and gold, maasei y'dei adam, 'handiwork of man' (Tehillim 115:3). Atzabeihem, their atzvus, (source of) their sadness, is (because they think that) their silver and gold is the handiwork of man." They think that the material success which they enjoy is the result of their own prowess and brilliance. Thus, peh lahem v'lo yidabeiru (which is usually translated as), "They have a mouth, but cannot speak," (is homiletically rendered as) "they feel that they have reason to use their mouth in prayer. Why pray if the success if self-generated?"

An inspiring homily, but why should one be sad just because he believes in his own success? Just because he does not see whatever success he has achieved as a gift from Hashem does not necessarily engender sadness. Furthermore, should the sadness catalyze a lack of prayer? Rav Deutch quotes the Baal Shem Tov, zl, who interprets the pasuk, "He'emanti ki adaber, "I have kept faith, although I say" (Tehillim 116:10), the faith which I have; my entire conviction is in the merit of my dibur, speech, my constant articulation and reiteration of my belief in Hashem. Otherwise, his emunah will wane. One must speak emunah. Thinking, believing in one's heart, is insufficient. It must be constantly repeated.

Returning to the pasuk, atzvus is the result of a lack of faith. How does one fall to such a nadir that sadness becomes his companion? The answer is: They do not use their mouths to articulate their emunah in Hashem, allowing them to fall into the trap of believing that their silver and gold are self-generated.

Having said this, we understand why one should become accustomed to a positive outlook concerning everything in life. When a person confronts a nisayon, challenge/test, the yetzer tov, good inclination, is removed from him, so that the challenge can be "challenging." All he has in his arsenal to combat the yetzer hora, evil inclination, is his yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, which he has stored and with which he has been able to fortify himself. This is very much like a vaccine used to prevent an illness. Therefore, even when life appears to be good, when the sun of good fortune seems to be smiling on him, he should fortify himself with the constant repetition of a positive outlook. This will forearm his resolve and give him the strength to overcome the potential obstacles to his faith.

And I will place a tzaraas affliction upon a house in the land of your possession. (14:34)

Chazal teach that, when Klal Yisrael was informed that their homes in Eretz Yisrael would be visited with plagues, it was actually good news. Apparently, when the Emorites who had inhabited the Holy Land heard that the Jews were coming, they hid all of their treasures in the walls of the houses. For forty years, as the Jews sojourned in the wilderness, the Emorites occupied themselves with hiding their gold and silver, lest the Jews find them. Now, when a Jew acts in such a manner that he deserves that a plague be delivered upon his house, it will ultimately be destroyed, revealing the hidden treasures. In other words, the individual is first issued a warning concerning his behavior. Then, Hashem strikes his material assets, and, if the man does not take the hint, Hashem metes out His punishment on his body. Here, we have a unique situation in which the punishment is the catalyst for reward. How are we to understand this?

Horav Reuven Karlinstein, Shlita, explains that no person leaves this world without his designated dose of yissurim, troubles. He might go through "dry" spells where everything seems to be going his way. Sooner or later, however, something will surface to spoil the "fun." The question is how one views the challenges, trials and tribulations which ruin his day. Chazal teach us a practical approach towards viewing yissurim, a positive perspective to adopt in life.

A man notes what seems to be a plague on the wall of his house. He summons the Kohen, who informs him that it be best that he remove everything from his house, lest it become tamei, impure. The man must leave his house, move into a motel and wait. The Kohen returns, looks at the plague, and notices that it appears to have spread. Removing a few bricks will not suffice. The malignancy has metastasized throughout the house. There is only one option: destroy the house. The man must be miserable. Try living in a cramped motel room with a family. The lack of comforts, the expense, can be overwhelming. All this, only to discover that, at the end of the day, he no longer has a house in which to live. Then, all of a sudden, he discovers gold! His entire attitude has changed. It has all been worth it.

Did it have to be this way? If Hashem had wanted to reward him, He could have given him the winning powerball ticket. That certainly would have been easier than waiting in a motel for a few weeks, not knowing what the next day would bring. Rav Karlinstein explains that Hashem wants to give this man a reward, but first, he has to pass the test of faith in Hashem. The Almighty subjects him to yissurim. How will he react? Will he rebel, or will he remain faithful, accepting, acquiescing to whatever Hashem throws at him? It has all been a test. If he fails the test, if every step of the way every time something goes wrong he complains, gives up hope, blames everyone and everything for his bad luck, then he has indicated that he reserved his faith in Hashem for happy times. When the going becomes rough, he is gone, his commitment has waned. Hashem will change the plague, so that the Kohen will purify the house. This will save the man's house, but he will lose out on the treasure. He does not deserve it.

We cannot run away from challenge; trial and tribulation are integral parts of life. One receives a "grade" for passing a test. Without the test, there can be no grade. Avraham Avinu passed ten tests, emerging triumphant, thus earning a place as our nation's Patriarch. Every great leader has his share of trials. These are the stepping stones in his ascension as leader. When a person observes the back of a needlepoint, he sees disheveled threads every which way. Nothing seems to be placed in an organized manner. Yet, when he turns it over, he sees a beautiful image, a multicolored mosaic which captivates him. Life is like that. In this world, we see the disheveled, non-sequentially laid-out threads. One day, we will be given the opportunity to look at the other side, filled with beauty and in perfect order.

In other words, a test/challenge, is an opportunity for growth. If one passes the test with flying colors, exhibiting his faith and commitment, despite being subject to pain and anxiety, he will be rewarded with incredible reward - often discovering the hidden treasure which has previously been unbeknownst --and otherwise elusive -- to him.

The name Brisk conjures up images of Torah eminence at the highest level. The yeshivah world has been totally transformed by the Brisker derech, analytical approach to study. One can say that no area of Torah erudition has not in some way been affected by the House of Brisk. The z'chus, merit, of serving as progenitor of this extraordinary Torah dynasty is awesome - especially since this individual started out neither as a Rav or as a Rosh Yeshivah, but as a G-d-fearing, Torah committed, wealthy layman.

In Williampole, a district of Kovno, there lived Rav Moshe Soloveitzchik, a wealthy industrialist, who had inherited large hardwood forests from his parents. He entered into the lumber business, which, at the time, was quite profitable. Despite his great wealth, he never forgot his less-than-successful brethren; his home became a beacon for tzedakah and chesed, charity and kindness, to all who entered it. All went well until, one day, he made a bad investment. In the space of virtually overnight, he was transformed into a penniless person, who himself required tzedakah to support his mere existence. When the richest man in the community suddenly became a pauper, the people were left dumbstruck. What was the reason for this Divine Justice? Why did such a good man become the victim of misfortune? Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, convened a special bais din, court, to determine the cause of Rav Moshe's sudden bankruptcy. After meticulous examination, it was determined that Rav Moshe had done one thing wrong. He had gone against Chazal's teachings that one not give more than twenty percent of his fortune to charity. Rav Moshe gave far beyond the twenty percent. Although this was the decision rendered by the bais din, Rav Chaim could not reconcile himself to it. Thus, he left the matter hanging, waiting to see what would happen.

In the meantime, not having a business to attend to, Rav Moshe did not fall into deep depression (as many would do). He took out his Gemorah and sat and learned all day in the bais hamedrash. Slowly, hidden talents began to surface, and, in a short period of time, he became recognized as an erudite Torah scholar. Eventually, he achieved the position of Av Bais Din of Kovno! Years went by, and he encouraged his sons to follow in his path by devoting their lives to Torah study and dissemination. They listened and became accomplished talmidei chachamim.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner commented, "Now I understand why Rav Moshe lost his fortune virtually overnight. His great acts of tzedakah earned a formidable reward: to sire a dynasty of extraordinary talmidei chachamim. Such a family finds it very challenging to achieve such an extreme level of erudition amid the material comforts that accompany wealth. Thus, he had to lose his money in order to pave the way for the dynasty of which he would be the progenitor. Rav Moshe Soloveitchik's son, Yosef, married the daughter of Rav Chaim Volozhiner. After his father's passing, he assumed the position of Av Bais Din of Kovno. He became sick shortly thereafter, leaving this world as a young man, passing the baton of leadership to his young son, Yitzchak Ze'ev. The young boy grew up and married his stepsister, Rivka Shapiro. Their son was Yosef Dov HaLevi, the famous Bais HaLevi. Rav Yitzchak Ze'ev chose to be the consummate baal habayis, lay person - an outstanding talmid chacham, as well as a dedicated public servant.

The rest is history. We must remember that this history was made possible only because, upon losing his fortune, Rav Moshe did not descend into a deep depression. Rather, he immersed himself in learning - accepting Rashi's decree. It was his acquiescence that catalyzed the metamorphosis of Torah learning for all time.

V'zocheir chasdei Avos.

The Yerushalmi Berachos 4:1 relates that, when Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah was appointed Nasi, Rabbi Akiva bemoaned the fact, saying, "It is not that he is a greater ben Torah than I (more erudite) (in fact, he was much younger). It is because he is the son of great ones. Praised is he whose forebears served in his merit. Fortunate is he who has a peg on which to hang (something)." What was Rabbi Elazar's yaseid, peg? What constituted his illustrious lineage? He was the tenth generation following Ezra HaSofer.

Chazal teach that although Rabbi Akiva was the greatest scholar of his day, because he lacked yichus, worthy pedigree, he could not be appointed as Nasi. No one can expect to lead the Jewish People successfully without the added support of the zechus avos, heralding back to the Patriarchs. In his Michtav MeiEliyahu, Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, explains that the benefit of the merit of the Patriarchs and the previous generations of illustrious forebears is not that we receive Hashem's favoritism because we are the sons of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Nepotism is not something that Judaism lauds. Zechus avos means that we have inherited the unique middos, character traits, spiritual strengths and talents, of our Patriarchs and other forebears. These inherent qualities are part of our DNA; thus, they bolster our strength and ability to survive during difficult times. We have that added "peg" on which to support ourselves. Without that extra benefit, Rabbi Elazar could not have become the leader of the nation.


In loving memory of
Mrs. Fanny (Brunner) Feldman
by her family


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