Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@juno.com

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Vayikra (Leviticus) 12:1 - 13:59
Haftorah - II Kings 4:42 - 5:19

This "Vortify" is dedicated to my dear and longtime friends Rabbi Neal and Carol Rose of Winnipeg, Manitoba, who will bring their son Or-Nistar under the Chupah (canopy) of marriage to Yonina Dorph this weekend. Let us bless them, and all the fruits of this marriage with health, happiness and all of Hashem's blessings. Mazel Tov.

Our Pasha this week deals primarily with Tzara'at (spiritual leprosy). Unlike physical leprosy, this ailment is caused by speaking Lashon Hara (gossip). Just as we can pollute our bodies by bad eating habits we can also harm ourselves spiritually in ways that can be manifested in physical form. For instance, in Bamidbar (Numbers) 12:1-10, when Miriam (the sister of Moshe) gossiped about his relationship with his wife, she was stricken by Tzara'at. This concept is so important that in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 24:8-9, we are commanded always to remember WHY Miriam got Tzara'at.

In the introduction to the procedure for curing Tzara'at, the Torah commands: "When a person will have on the skin of their flesh a Se'ayt or a Sapachat [differing types of a whitening of the skin, though today we don't really know what these forms exactly are]...then he shall be brought to Aharon (Aaron) the Kohen (priest), or to one of his sons the Kohanim (priests). Vayikra 13:2

At the root of this Mitzvah (commandment) lies its purpose, to establish firmly that the watchful care of the Eternal G-d is on each and every individual, and that His eyes are open to observe all their ways, as it is written, For His eyes are upon the ways of man and He sees all his steps... The Torah therefore cautioned us that when this horrible disease appears on a person...he should not take it as a chance happening, but rather, know that his transgressions caused it. Let him draw apart from the community, like an outcast. And let him associate with the priest who brings atonement, who heals the injury of the transgression, and let [the priest] show him his affliction. By the priests counsel and his advice, and by examinating his own deeds, the affliction will be removed from him: for Hashem, Blessed is He, keeps a constant surveillance over him. The Sefer Hachinuch (the Book of Education), Mitzvah 169

Midrash Rabbah says about this verse:
"When Israel heard the portion of the law on Tzara'at, they became afraid. But Moshe said to them: ‘Do not be afraid. The nations of the world should be afraid, but you should eat drink and be merry, for it is written: Much can harm the wicked man but he who puts his trust in Hashem will be surrounded by lovingkindness.' There are two ways to come close to Hashem: through plagues and suffering (which remind mankind that there is a Supreme Being who will demand a strict accounting for all of one's deeds and to whom he must return in Teshuva [repentance]), or through Hashem's Cheyn (Divine Grace) - which focuses the eye of mankind so that he will perceive the deeper meaning of his purpose. Such encouragement from above most frequently comes during the observance of Shabbat and the Mikra'ey Kodesh (the holy convocations), which summon man to draw near to sanctity."

There is a famous story in Tractate Chulin 60a:
A Roman princess said to Reb Yehoshua ben Chananya, "Your G-d is a carpenter, for it is written, ‘[He] Who lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters' (Psalms 104:3). Tell Him to make me a spindle."

"By my life!" said Reb Yehoshua. He prayed, and she was stricken with leprosy.

The Roman princess sat in the marketplace of Rome, and a spindle was brought to her, for it was customary in Rome that whoever was stricken with leprosy received a spindle and sat in the marketplace and spun, so that people would see them and pray for them.

One day Reb Yehoshua passed by while the princess was sitting and spinning in the marketplace of Rome. He said to her, "Good is the spindle that my G-d gave you!"

She replied, "Tell your G-d to take back what he gave me."

He said to her, "Our G-d gives but does not take back."

The great Chacham (Rabbi) from Bagdad, Rabbi Yosef Chaim, also know as the "Ben Ish Chai" commented on this story and wrote in his famous work Od Yosef Chai - Derushim:

"This episode raises a few questions. To begin with, how did the princess dare to speak so brazenly, and why didn't Reb Yehoshua rebuke her outright for her insolence?

Also, why did she ask for a spindle - a tool of the poor - rather than, say, a jewelry box or an armchair? To answer these questions, let us take a deeper look at the passage.

The princess did not believe in Divine Providence - that G-d watches over people.

She attributed all occurrences, happy or sad, to nature or chance. But we Jews believe in Providence; we know that it is G-d Who turns the wheels that set events in motion. For instance, if G-d wishes to give Reuven ten thousand dinars, He will not drop the coins down from heaven but arrange for his holdings to go up. And if He wishes to relocate Shimon to Algiers, He will not send a wind to carry him there but arrange an urgent business deal that will draw him. And if He wishes to break Levi's leg, He will not throw down a stone from heaven but arrange for him to fall from a ladder. The holdings, the business deal, and the ladder were intermediate occurrences that caused G-d's will to be carried out.

Now Reb Yehoshua was wont to debate with nonbelievers in the king's palace. He had taken the stand that it is G-d Who turns the wheels that cause events to take place. The princess, contending that it was nature or chance, said: "Tell Him to cause an event that is extremely unlikely to occur. Then, I will acknowledge that this event was caused by G-d, not by chance or nature." This unlikely event she called a "spindle," which turns round and round, spinning threads - an allusion to G-d's turning of wheels.

Reb Yehoshua indeed prayed that some intermediate event should cause the princess to sit in a place unsuitable for royalty and engage in labor that is also unsuitable for royalty. His prayer was answered. The intermediate cause turned out to be leprosy, which was unlikely to afflict a princess living in a palace under the cleanest, healthiest, most protected conditions. The leprosy caused her to sit in the marketplace and spin.

Reb Yehoshua then came and told her, "The device - which you called a spindle - of leprosy that G-d employed was an excellent one, for now you must acknowledge that the world is not run by nature or chance, but by G-d."

She replied, "Yes, I acknowledge that you are right. But I did not ask for a proof that would hurt me. Tell Him to take away what He gave me; it has already accomplished its purpose."

Reb Yehoshua gave her a stinging reply, saying, "Our G-d gives but does not take back." After that, however, out of respect for her father the king, he surely prayed that she be healed."

Hashem uses suffering to bring us to accept His supremacy over life. The Metzorah (leper) must ask himself why this is happening and his answer could either be that Hashem is not a just G-d, or, that he, the Metzorah, must correct some of the imperfections in his behavior towards Hashem.

Often I hear people complain about the suffering in the world. We hear of hunger, floods, disease and even homelessness daily in the news. People are troubled and ask how a merciful G-d could allow such misery to take place? That question is unanswerable unless we also ask: How can I be changed through this? How can I, one who recognizes this suffering, bring goodness into the world?

The sages say:

Bishvi'li Novrah Ha'olam (the world was created for me). One can bring relief from the suffering in the world by one's acceptance of Hashem as the Supreme Force. If one is troubled by other's suffering and therefore tries to change some of the evil in world, it can actually help alleviate the suffering by forcing Hashem's Cheyn (Grace) upon mankind.

The above method may be effective, but it attacks the problem from the negative. The Midrash teaches us that there is also a more joyful way to affect Hashem's Cheyn: by observing His Sabbaths and Holy Days. On Shabbat we can virtually taste Olam Habba (the world to come); on Pesach (Passover) we can actualize freedom and redemption; on Shavu'ot (Pentacost) we can actually be recipients of Torah; on Rosh Hashanah (the new year) we celebrate Hashem's coronation as King of kings; on Yom Kippur (the day of atonement) we can be forgiven our indiscretions; and on Sukkot (tabernacles) we rejoice realizing Hashem's abundant bounty.

Again and again the Torah tells us that if we follow His commandments and His Mikra'ey Kodesh (Holy Days), peace will come into the world. Our sages tell us that if we keep just two consecutive Sabbaths, the Mashiach would come bringing peace and harmony to all living creatures. While this may not sound logical, it is a basic premise of Judaism. Hashem will bestow peace upon the nation of Israel and through them, the world by our observance of the Holy Days.

Our Parsha teaches us that when you personally experience suffering, or observe the suffering of others, you must come before the Kohen, as the first step in looking deep inside yourself, then, you can make the changes necessary to rectify the failings of our world. But even more powerful is the joy one brings to the world through observing "the days of convocation" that Hashem has graciously given us. In the Talmud Megillah we are taught that the time between the redemption of Purim (just two weeks ago), and the redemption of Pesach (just two weeks hence), is also called "days of convocation;" and therefore is a time when our actions can cause Hashem's Cheyn to settle upon the Earth. Then we can bring all nations to the realization that He is One and His name is One, thereby contributing to the end of world suffering.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

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