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Parshat Tazria (5768)

This Shabbat we read the Torah portion called 'Tazria' which deals mostly with the laws of Tzoraat (improperly translated leprosy); a Torah impurity disease caused by the sin of saying harmful things.

And this coming week we begin the month of Nissan, the first Month of the Jewish calendar when G-d's 'chosen' people the Jews left Egypt over 3300 years ago.

Yes, the Jews are G-d's chosen. But it's not so clear what they were chosen for.

There are many that say, and it seems to be well supported by history, that they were chosen to suffer! Indeed, the subject of this week's Torah portion, Tzoraat is an example. The small sin of 'loshon hara' (evil talk) resulted in disease and ostracism (leaving the community).

For sure the Jews were chosen for more positive things (like educating and blessing the world) but why such suffering? What good is it?

Also, the word 'Torah' means 'teaching'. The punishment of Tzoraat does not exist today, so what can all this mean to us today? What is the Torah trying to teach us? And what connection does it have to the birth of the Jewish people.

To explain this, here is a story. (Chassidic Gems by Rabbi T. Litzman pg. 155)

In the year 1927 the sixth (and previous) Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbi Yosef Yitzchak, was miraculously released from Communist prison where he had been sentenced to death due to his 'Outreach' projects in Russia. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Jews directly owed their Judaism to his 'underground' Torah schools, 'illegal' synagogues and other 'counter-revolutionary' activities.

A little over a year later he made a visit to Israel to pray at the graves of the 'Tzadikim' (Holy Jews) and from there he made a ten month visit to America (he would return there permanently in 1940).

The unspoken motto of U.S. Jewry in those days was "America is not the 'Old Country'. America is different! They felt that in Russia and Europe Jews needed the Torah and its commandments but in the land of opportunity Jews must be the same as everyone else.

No Jew dreamed of walking the streets displaying a beard on his face or 'Tzitzis' on his four-cornered garments. Religious Jews fortressed themselves in Yeshivas while Reform and Conservative 'Temples' flourished and atheism ruled the streets.

Into this melting pot stepped the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe with a brave and fresh view. Upon his arrival he declared, 'I have come to 'melt the ice' of American Jewry" and to show that "America is NOT different! (Niet Anderesh)"

Several years ago the Jewish Press in New York ran an article about his life highlighting this visit to the U.S.A. and shortly afterward received the following response from one of their readers (loose translation).

Dear Editor,

I read with pleasure your article on Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. I had the great fortune to personally experience this remarkable Rabbi's dedication to helping Jews return to the observance of Commandments. Even today, many years later and despite the anemia of my old age I blush when I recall the chutzpa (disrespect) displayed by me and six of my friends toward Rabbi Schneerson back then and how he gently turned us around.

1929 was the best of times in America this was before the depression and World War Two. My friends and I had all but abandoned Judaism…occasionally attending Reform services, but we considered ourselves very progressive and complete, even superior, Jews.

One day we noticed several articles that appeared in some of the Jewish newspapers in Philadelphia that a Rabbi Schneerson, who called himself The Lubavitcher Rebbe, had been given the use of a house on 33rd street by Mrs Faggen Miller, a woman well known for her charity, and was acting like some sort of king.

My friends and I read these articles about how this Rebbe was blessing people, giving advice and encouraging religious observance and it made us mad. Who did this man think he was; G-d? Who was he to give blessings and tell people what to do?

We discussed this with an official of our synagogue and he suggested that we visit this Rebbe, confront him and ask him what he had in mind. We figured we'd show this old-fashioned fellow a few things!

So one Sunday, we all piled into a car and went to the 33rd Street address. As we climbed the steps to the front porch we saw through the window that the living room was crowded with men. We rang the doorbell and a dignified, bearded man came to the door and inquired what we wanted.

One of us responded, "We'd like to speak to the Rebbe. We have an important question to ask."

The man, took out a pad of paper and a pen and replied, "Please excuse me but the Rebbe must know the question before he can see you."

So we answered, "We'd like to know if he expects us to keep his old-fashioned religion in a modern country."

"You'll have to wait," he said. "You see there is quite a crowd before you. But come in."

We told him we'd wait on the porch because there was no room in the packed living room. We were surprised when, a few minutes later he returned and said that the Rebbe would see us as once. He ushered us into the house, through the crowd and up the stairs. We wondered why we had been admitted before all those people who had been there before us.

At the top of the stairs stood the saintly Rabbi; He was tall, and handsome with gleaming bright eyes and he wore a large fur hat. But what stood out most was his hand was outstretched in greeting. We were surprised because we never knew that Chassidic Jews shook hands.

He showed us into his room and said, "This is the happiest moment I've had since I arrived in Philadelphia" and he began to arrange chairs around his desk. We tried to help him but he insisted that he do this task himself.

Once we were seated he took a long look at each of us, one at a time and said, "You look like very intelligent young men and therefore I must speak on your level. You are probably wondering about those people downstairs who were here before you and why I let you in first. Well, here are some of the problems for which they are asking help.

"One man's daughter is seriously ill. What can I do? Nothing more than he can do; provided he approaches G-d and asks for a complete recovery, and if he does so G-d will help him. Another has a lawsuit and wants me to pray that he will win. I don't know who is right in his lawsuit but perhaps I can convince him to pray for justice. There is a man who wants to buy a business and wants me to make it succeed. If I could do that, I myself would be a rich businessman, wouldn't I. But I'm taking you first because if I could not answer your question I'd have no right to be a Rabbi.

"First I must admit a great secret which you will most likely keep. There are 613 commandments. While the Lubavitcher Rebbe tries to keep them all, he finds it impossible to keep them all. (footnote: many commandments can only be done in the land of Israel, many require the Holy Temple etc.) So what does he do? Discard 613 Mitzvot? No, he keeps as many as he can."

With these few words he removed the venom we had brought with us.

Then he asked us to try to do the same as he did and keep as many Mitzvot as we could and assured us that if we did so, namely tried our best, then we would be doing the same thing as the Lubavitcher Rebbe!

He asked us for our Jewish names and the names of our mothers. We also offered our American, legal names and addresses but he said that he had no use for them. Several of my friends put their hands in their pockets to take out their wallets but he stopped them with a gesture, thanked us all and said he didn't want money… he wanted commandments.

He asked us whether we put on Tefillin every day and several admitted that they had given it up (in fact we all had but some were ashamed to say so). And the Rebbe even offered them Tefillin so they could fulfill the Mitzva then and there. All of us promised to try to live up to his suggestions. He then blessed us individually, shook hands again and we left.

We walked through the crowd and out the door to the front porch again but we didn't leave. We stood on that front porch for nearly two hours digesting the visit. Every one of us agreed to pray at least once a day. One said he would give up his Saturday work as a dental technician and some months later he even prevailed upon his employer to do the same.

One of us, Gabriel Lowenthal of blessed memory, attached himself to a synagogue and taught what he had learned from the Rebbe's philosophy to many others. I have lost track of some the boys but I am sure that the ten minutes we spent with the Rebbe strengthened the spirit of Judaism in all of us.

The depression and then World War II and all the confusion afterward gave me little hope of ever gaining more light from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak and he passed away in 1950. However I found the continued inspiration from his son-in-law the present Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel to keep as many of the 613 Mitzvot as I can.

This answers our questions

The plague of Tzoraat came as a result of evil speech, but the cause of such speech is even deeper; namely egotistical haughtiness and its cure was humility (see Rashi on Lev. 14:4 haughtiness caused Tzoraat ).

In fact the essence of Judaism is humility, it is the source of joy and without it the Jews can get become so selfish and negative they can reject Judaism. . [My teacher Rabbi Mendel Futerfass said "The cause of depression is trying to make yourself great ….. While the secret of Joy is trying to make G-d great."]

That is why G-d forced the Jews to leave Egypt after destroying it with ten plagues instead of allowing them to stay and rule; G-d doesn't want haughty rulers… He wants humble servants.

As G-d told Moses to command Pharaoh; "Release My people so they will SERVE ME (Ex. 4:23). That is the secret, the inner meaning of the 'birth of the Jewish people'. And why we begin it by eating Matzo: bread of humility (lechem Oni).

That's what happened to the men in our story; they haughtily considered themselves to be American 'Self-made men' (I read joke that an egotist is nothing more than a self-made man who loves his creator.)

But the Rebbe showed them true humility, and it was contagious.

His message was that humility comes by ADDING G-dliness; doing as much as possible.

Even a little light dispels much darkness.

As the present Lubavitcher Rebbe said many times: Total 'freedom' of all mankind can come only when we ADD holiness. Then miracles will occur (Add an 'Alef' to 'Gola' (exile) makes 'Geula' (redemption)).

This is the goal of Judaism and what the Jewish people were 'Chose' for; to bring Moshiach (Who is also called Metzora because he will be so unique; outside of the camp) who will transform the entire world from sadness to Joy and blessing and 'free' the uniqueness within each and every human being.

We just have to do all we can to ADD even one more good deed, word or even thought to tilt the scales bring.....

Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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