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Parshat Metzora (5768)

This week's Torah portion contains the strange, extinct laws of "House Leprosy'. As we mentioned last week Tzoraat (loosely translated as 'leprosy'.) is a Torah disease caused by haughtiness and malicious talk whose ugly symptoms appear on the skin, the garments or even house of the offender!

But here it doesn't seem so bad. G-d tells the Jews: "And when you enter the land of Canaan that I give to you as a possession …. I will put the plague of Tzoraat in the houses etc." (Lev. 14:34)

According to the commentary of Rashi, when the Amorites heard the Jews were coming to drive them out of Israel they hid their valuables in their walls hoping to reclaim it when the Jews would get evicted themselves because of their sins (see Lev. Raba 17:6).

But man plans and G-d laughs; G-d put 'Tzoraat in the Amorite's houses so when their walls were torn down (one of the laws of 'house leprosy') the Jews would claim the hidden treasures.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks several questions on this. First; how did the Amorites know the Jews would conquer the land? Maybe not? Second, there were several nationalities in Canaan, why did only the Amorites hide their valuables and why were only their homes affected with Tzoraat? And finally, what does this teach us today when there is no Tzoraat?

To answer this, here is a story about the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe DovBer (who was born some 200 years ago and passed away on the same date he was born only 54 years later).

He was an awesomely holy person who knew every book of the Torah by heart, But he visibly lived much more in the spiritual realms than in the physical. For instance; there were times that during his morning prayers or when he publicly spoke a Chassidic discourse, he would be totally oblivious to the world or even any bodily sensations for hours on end. Indeed once he spoke to his Chassidim for some thirteen hours straight about the loftiest mystical subjects without taking a break.

But he also had unusual 'worldly' customs. For instance, he encouraged the more musically inclined Chassidim to form a musical entourage that sang and played instruments before him when he desired. And even stranger, he encouraged others to ride horses and do various tricks to accompany the music. And regularly he would order a performance, stand in his office and view the entire show though his open window.

Now, usually this entertainment was reserved for holidays like Purim, Chanukah or the Chassidic holiday of 19th of Kislev (when the first Chabad Rebbe was released from certain death in Czarist imprisonment) and the Chassidim would practice and look forward to these holidays with extra optimism.

[The Rebbe explained that because he was an extremely serious person he needed an 'additional lift' to do his job as a Rebbe helping Jews and "Joy sweetens the bitterest situations".]

But it so happened that once the Rebbe sent out word that he wanted the 'Circus' to take place immediately… on an ordinary weekday!

Surprise!! In no time the musicians and equestrians were there, arranging themselves outside the Rebbe's window waiting for the sign while the other Chassidim, dressed in their best clothes, full of wonder and apprehension, tried to find places around the yard to see the sight. Sure enough, the Rebbe appeared at his window, gave the signal and the show began.

The music began blaring, the Choir sang and the riders galloped and jumped and everyone was smiling! It was marvelous, just like a holiday. Everyone was involved in the action they forgot it was a weekday; it was a joyous sight to see!

Suddenly one of the horses stumbled. The crowd gasped, women screamed as his rider was tossed high in the air and fell with a thud under the hooves of the other horses! It was complete confusion! But … oh no!! In the dust and noise another horse also fell with a sickening blow....on top of the helpless rider lying on the ground! People were screaming, pandemonium … it looked very serious; he was clearly unconscious.

But imagine the horror when it became clear that the fallen rider was none other than Nachum....the Rebbe's own beloved son!

He had been one of the more talented riders but now … this!! If he was alive at all, which was very improbable, he certainly was in very critical condition.

There was nothing anyone could do! It looked lost! The eyes of the crowd turned to the Rebbe, two Chassidim ran to him perhaps to comfort him, perhaps for orders, but the Rebbe seemed completely calm and simply signaled that the performance should… Continue!

The performers could not understand but they complied. Two burly fellows dragged the Rebbe's son off to a side and the singing, music and horses began again… nothing was missing. The Rebbe even raised his hand several times indicating that music and joy should be no less than before.

Then, when things were going full steam again the Rebbe turned from the window and went back to his room.

Meanwhile a doctor had been called and a crowd gathered around him as he began to check the boy.

But to everyone's amazement he scratched his head in wonder, turned to the immediate family, shrugged his shouders and declared that except for a broken leg the boy seemed to be completely healthy!

In fact after he rubbed some ointment and applying a compress or two to the broken leg, the boy was able to stand on his own power and limp home … almost completely on his own.

After several days the Chassidim and the Rebbe's family couldn't hold themselves back. They were amazed at the miracle but were also curious; why did the Rebbe insist on continuing the festivities when he saw his son's condition?

The Rebbe answered, "Why don't you ask why I made the performance on a regular weekday in the first place? Doesn't that surprise you?

"Well, I'll explain." He continued.

"The fact is, I saw that misfortune and severity were decreed from heaven for my son Nachum on that day. I knew that something terrible was about to happen to him.

"So that is why I called for the celebration; because joy (and only joy) has the power to counteract even the worst heavenly decrees.

"And it worked! That is why when he fell and the horse fell on him he did not die, G-d forbid; the joy saved him. But when I saw that the fall left him in critical condition I told everyone to resume the celebration… against everyone's natural feelings (including my own) and the joy cured that also.

"His broken leg is just a trace of what could have happened.. and G-d willing, if we continue the joy and optimism, that will also pass. (Otzer Sipurei Chabad vol 16 pg 55)

This answers our questions.

The word 'Amor' in Hebrew means "To speak". The Amorites represent the evil trait of malicious speech; the opposite of what man was designed for. Namely, just as G-d 'spoke' (and speaks) to create the world anew every instant, so man is 'created in G-d's image' to say positive and constructive things and improve the world constantly.

Therefore the Amorites were the only nation mentioned in G-d's covenant with Abraham to give him the land of Canaan: "The fourth generation (in Egypt) will return to Israel when the sin of the AMORITES will end"(Gen. 15:16). Because they were the worst of all the races inhabiting Canaan and they knew it. That is why G-d put Tzoraat, the punishment for evil speech, only in their homes

They also knew of G-d's promise to Abraham, but their evil pessimistic nature made them sure that the Jews couldn't change: that they would sin just like all the other nations.

But they were wrong. And it made the Jews rich.

This is the lesson for us today

Curses can be blessings in disguise. But the only the way to find out and claim the blessings is through joy.

Joy breaks barriers, changes the world for the good and transforms a dead past to a live and flowing future. We only have to believe that G-d wants us to (and gives us the power to) effect this change in ourselves and the world around us. And, of course, we must force ourselves (if necessary) to be happy.

And we have a LOT to be happy for: That we are alive, that we can improve the world with just one good word (or even thought), that G-d is giving us power and energy constantly to do so. But, most important, we should be happy that we are living in the generation of Moshiach and before we know it all the walls, diseases, plagues and misfortunes will be transformed into joyous treasures with....

Moshiach NOW!!

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