This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Metzora (5760)
This week's section continues and concludes the laws of the Torah impurity-disease 'Tzoraas' that we began reading about in last week's Torah portion "Tazria'.
At first glance all this information is totally obsolete. Tzoraas 'disease' does not exist today and even in the days of Moshiach it won't return. Tzoraas was caused by evil, harmful talk and in the days of Moshiach mankind will be perfected and such egotistical sins will be passé.
But, in fact, the Torah is a book of practical lessons (Torah means Teaching) so somehow this lesson of Tzoraas must be relevant to us now and especially to the approaching holiday of Passover (less than two weeks away) which is the birth and basis of the Jewish people. But how?
Here is a story that I hope will explain.
The scene is 250 years ago in the Ukrainian town of Braditchiv. It was well after midnight on the night of Passover and the great Tzaddik (Holy Man) Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Braditchev had just finished leading his pupils through the traditional Passover Seder according to all the mystical and esoteric principles found in the Kabalistic works of Judaism.
The pupils had never experienced such an evening. They felt as though they had gone out of all their limitations and entered a new world of pure G-dliness.
Suddenly the room filled with the sound of massive thunder, and an awesome voice announced, "Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, your Seder was pleasing to G-d, but there is a Jew in Braditchev called Shmerl-the-tailor who was better!!!!"
The Rebbe looked at his pupils to see how they reacted to this voice but they had heard nothing! Only he had heard the thunderous announcement.
"Have any of you heard of a Jew called Shmerl the tailor?" He asked.
After several minutes of silence one of the elderly Chassidim piped up and said, "There's no tailor here by that name. I know all the tailors here. But, if I remember correctly there used to be a tailor by that name about thirty years ago, but he only lasted for a month or so. He was terrible! All his garments fell apart. I think he's still alive though. If I'm not mistaken he's the one they call Shmerl-the-Shikkur (drunkard) and he and his wife live in a few old large shipping crates near the docks."
Rabbi Levi Yitchak was thinking to himself, 'Aha, this must be one of the hidden Mystics living here in my town and I knew nothing about it!'
In fifteen minutes, the Rabbi was standing in front of Shmerl's door, close to three in the morning, and when he heard what sounded like someone moving around inside, he knocked.
The door opened and an old Jewish lady poked her head out of the door. "Good Yom Tov!" said Rav Levi quietly," Please excuse me for the late hour but is your husband Shmerl awake?" " Rabbi! What are you doing here?! Ehh? Shmerl? My husband? You want Shmerl? Good!! Rebbe, wait right here. Don't go away. I'll bring him!"
She disappeared back into the house and the unmistakable sound of a bucket being filled with water was heard from inside followed by a minute or two of silence and suddenly… SPLASH! She threw the bucket of water on her sleeping husband!!
"Aaahh!!! Oyyy!!! Where am I?? OOIY VAI!!! The ship is sinking! We're all drowning!" He screamed, and then his wife chimed in shouting.
"Get up you drunk!!! The Rabbi has come to punish you!!! Wake up you good for nothing!!!!"
Poor Shmerl staggered, sopping wet, to the door and when he saw that it really was the Rabbi he fell at his feet and began weeping, "Please Rabbi don't punish me I didn't know better Please have mercy!!!"
The Rav of Braditchev was completely astounded at this bizarre scene. Could it be that this was the man that a heavenly voice announced made the best Seder?
The Rabbi bent down, lifted poor dripping Shmerl to his feet and said, "Listen, my friend, I didn't come to punish you, in fact I don't even know what you are talking about. Why should I punish you?? Please let me in, I only want to ask you something. Go put on a dry shirt and we'll talk."
Minutes later they sat facing each other over the small table in Shmerl's tiny 'living room'. The Rav looked at him kindly and softly said: "Shmerl, listen, I want you to tell me what you did in your Seder last night. Don't worry, I promise that I'm not going to punish you, I promise"
"Oooy!" moaned Shmerl and began weeping again, "I didn't mean it, I don't know any better, oooy!" It was obvious that Shmerl was drunk; 'probably from the four cups of wine'.
Gradually he calmed down and began speaking. "Well, it's like this. You see Rabbi, my father was killed by gentiles before I was born and my mother died a short time later and I got moved around from family to family. Anyway, I'm not so smart or talented either. So I never learned much of anything not even a trade. So I make a living by begging. But one thing I'm good at is drinking vodka, at that I'm very good!
Well, early this morning, that is…yesterday morning, I'm standing in the street asking for charity and suddenly I notice that people are rushing, rushing around. This one has a broom this one is carrying a box, this one something else, everyone is rushing except me.
So I stopped someone I knew and asked, 'What is everyone rushing for? Where are they all going?'
So he answers me, 'Oy Shmerl, are you so drunk that you forgot that tonight is Pesach?! Tonight is Pesach! Do you remember what Pesach is??'
I tried thinking but my mind wouldn't work, 'Pesach, Pesach, I…I can't remember. It sounds very important though; I remember something about Egypt. 'Listen' I asked him, 'please, do me a favor and remind me.'
The man looked at me in a strange way, and answered 'Listen, Shmerl, tonight you have to make a Seder, you know, eat three matzos, four cups of wine. You'll enjoy the wine Shmerl' he said with a sad smile, 'but one thing that is very important to you is that you can't drink your foul vodka for eight days.'
'Eight days!!!?' I said, 'Why?? Why can't I drink for eight days?' I was trembling and beginning to remember a little.
'Because that's the law!' he answered, 'Eight days you can't eat Chumatz (leavened grains) and Vodka is Chumatz. If you can't take eight 'dry' days, maybe go to Israel,' he laughed, 'there it's only forbidden seven days! Here,' he said reaching into his pocket, 'Take this money, buy your wife a present and buy some matzos and wine. Chag Smeach! (Happy Holiday)'.
I was stunned. But I knew I had to act fast, so I begged for a while longer, and people gave very nicely, and I bought the things he said; the matzos and wine and other things. Then with the money left I bought a big bottle of Vodka, big enough to keep me drunk for eight days, and drank the entire thing and went home and went to bed, totally drunk. Then just a few hours ago suddenly my wife throws a bucket of water on me, you saw how she does it, and starts screaming: 'Shmerl, you bum! You drunk! You good for nothing! All the Jewish men in the whole world are making a Passover 'Seder' and YOU are lying like a drunken ox. Wake up and make a Seder!!!!'.
So I staggered to my feet, put on some dry clothes and stumbled over to the table and sat down.
My head was spinning but suddenly everything cleared up, I rubbed my eyes and saw that everything was different. The candles were shining up the room and sparkling from the plates and silverware. Everything was new, clean, I felt… well, almost holy. I looked at the wine and the Matzos, the Haggada (prayer book for Passover night) was open in front of me, and my wife was sitting in her place opposite me in a new dress….. like a queen, she was even smiling. Everything was so quiet. She nodded to me and said encouragingly; 'nu Shmerl, say the Hagadda.'
But… I don't know how to read. So you know what I did?
I looked up and I started talking to G-d. Just like I'm talking to you now. I started talking to G-d and I said, 'G-d… listen…I don't know you, but you know me. You know that, well, I'm not so smart and I never had parents and ….. well I never had time to learn. So I don't know how to read this book, in fact I can't read anything! And I don't know what I'm supposed to do tonight either; in fact I never really know what to do.
But one thing I do know…I know that a long time ago You took us out of Egypt. You sent Moses who took us out. So I'm sure that you will send Moshiach to take us out of all our troubles now!!'
Then I drank the four cups, ate some Matzas and went back to sleep. That is what I did. Please don't be mad Rabbi."
Rav Levi Yitzchak closed his eyes and began rocking from side to side.
"Now I know why your Seder was better than mine. I had other things on my mind as well as Moshiach I had all the Kabalistic secrets and ideas. In fact I felt really great.
But you, Shmerel, you felt terrible; like being in Egypt all over again……. and you wanted freedom with all your heart."
This answers our questions
The Torah compares Tzoraas to death and considers it to be one of the most severe types of impurity and curses; A house that had it had to be torn down and a Jew afflicted with it had to live 'outside of the camp'.
But often this was a hidden blessing; by tearing down the house they would find treasures that were plastered into the walls by the Amorites before they were driven out of the land. And through his isolation the Metzora could become cured and declared 'Pure' by a Cohen (priest); an accomplishment not achieved by many people!
Just as one who 'repents' from his mistakes is, in many ways, actually HIGHER than one who never made a mistake.
Much as in our story; poor Shmerl the drunkard achieved something that was even higher than the holiest of Tzadikim.
The reason for all this is that the spiritual origin of all difficulties, Tzoraat included, is really very high and pure (Likuti Torah Tazria 22b and more). But through our efforts we can 'fix it' and declare it pure.
Therefore we find something very strange; both the Holy Temple and even the Moshiach are called Tzoraas and Metzoras! (Eicha Raba p'ticha 21, Yalkut Shimoni Tazria, Sanhedren 98b).
And the reason is because both the Holy Temple and Moshiach are 'outside the camp'; they can bring a tremendous purity and spiritual richness that till now the world has had difficulty accepting.
The lesson to us is simple; Remember that if we confront difficulties or if we have character flaws or even have done terrible sins, these all can be transformed into high and pure blessings!
Of course we must change our attitudes, our emotions our thought speech and deeds (especially through the Teachings of the Chabad Rebbes called Chassidut (see your local Chabad House for details) but with effort, patience and optimism we will see that our 'Tzoraas' and hardships were really blessings in disguise.
That is the connection of Tzoraas to Passover: just as Moshe took us out of Egypt, the Moshiach will take us out of the terrible exile we are in, with great miracles (both personal and external), and in an instant all the sufferings of thousands of years will be transformed to richness, blessing, joy and purity,
But it all depends on us. Just one more good deed, word or even thought (and how much more two or more) can tilt the scales and bring …….
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.