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Parshat Metzora (5763)
This week's section which deals in great detail with an obscure skin-disease' called Tzoraas seems to provide one of the best 'proofs' that the Torah is outdated; the disease hasn't been around for at least two thousand years!.
But really the Torah is eternal and vitally relevant to every instant of our lives. And this section especially proves it.
To understand, here is a story.
Rabbi Shlomo was a Talmudic genius renowned for his piety and austere devotion to G-d. Every waking moment of his day whether eating or just walking in the street he was always deeply immersed in some Talmudic problem. But for the last few days he was pondering a different problem…. should he murder his son in law!
And all because of a book!
The scene; Vilna about 250 years ago. Orthodox Judaism was in turmoil over a new, Messianic movement called 'Chassidim' that seemed dangerously similar to the destructive heresies of Shabbai Tzvi some ninety years earlier.
This evil charismatic Jew also got people exited about the Messiah, promised the redemption of the Jewish people and ended up trying to destroy Judaism and abrogate the holy commandments.
But unlike Tzvi's movement the Chassidim were attracting some very serious Rabbis to their ranks and almost everyone that seriously investigated this new way became a follower!
The ranks of the Chassidim were swelling and the Rabbis of Vilna decided to take drastic action. They declared it an official obligation to hate the Chasidim and pursue them whenever possible. So you can imagine how Rav Shlomo, reacted when one of 'their' books was discovered under his own son in law's pillow!!
This dreaded book, "Toldot Yaakov Yosef", was the product of one Rabbi Yakov Yosef who had once been the chief Rabbi of Polnoy before he defected to the Chassidim. It was filled with such strange teachings as; we give G-d pleasure, G-d creates everything constantly, and even the totally righteous must repent. Ideas that (then) sent shivers down the spine of all 'normal' G-d fearing Jews.
But what to do? How could he save his daughter? Despite the arguments, bribery and threats his son in law refused to divorce her and on the other hand declared eternal allegiance to the Chassidim. Rab Shlomo was actually considering murder.
The entire town of Vilna was in an uproar, even the gentiles began to take interest until finally the word got around to the old Baron who owned all the lands in the area, and he decided to arbitrate. He demanded that both parties appear before him for trial and that Rab Shlomo bring the book.
The next day they were all standing before the seated Baron in his study in his huge castle as he was looking through the book.
"Hmmm". He said out loud as he turned the pages filled with Hebrew script. "Aha!" On the bottom of the front page was written a few lines in Russian; "Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy!
He fell into deep thought for several minutes, smiled, looked up at Rab Shlomo and said, "The man who wrote this book is a holy man. You should be proud to have a son-in-law that follows him. I see the time has come to tell the story, please be seated."
Rab Shlomo shot a menacing look at his son in law. They all pulled up chairs, sat down and turned their attention to the Baron. What did he mean by 'the time has come'? He cleared his throat and began.
"Almost fifty years ago when I was a colonel in the Czar's army with two thousand men under my command we were encamped near the town of Polnoy. It was the first night of your Passover holiday and several of the soldiers requested permission to enter the city and have a look how the Jews celebrated.
"I granted permission to some fifty of them on the condition that they return one hour after midnight, but when the time arrived three soldiers were missing. I sent three more to find them and they returned with the strangest news: They had gone from house to house calling out and peeking in windows with no luck until they came to one a small wooden hut whose door was wide open.
Candles lit up the room brightly. An old bearded Jew sat at the table swaying back and forth with his eyes closed in deep contemplation completely oblivious to his surroundings. And standing in the middle of the room, paralyzed like statues, were our three soldiers!
"The men I sent rushed from the house in fear and reported the news to me. I mounted my horse, took a few mounted soldiers with me to see for myself. I returned to the house they spoke of, entered and it was just as they said; the old man was sitting there deep in thought, oblivious of everything around him.
"I cleared my throat loudly, begged the old man's pardon and introduced myself. He turned to me, smiled, nodded and motioned for me to have a seat. 'I've come for my men' I told him. 'What have you done to them?'
"He looked at them as though for the first time and calmly answered. 'You have my word that I had nothing to do with this. They must have stolen something from the table, have your men check them.' Sure enough when my men made the check they found that each had taken silverware and when it had all been returned two of them returned to normal.
"'What about him?' I asked pointing to the third one, 'Oh' the old Jew replied, ' perhaps he put something in his boot.' Sure enough the old man was right. He had stolen a silver spoon and when it was removed from his boot he too returned to his former self.
"The soldiers were really shaken up and after they recovered a bit they told me what had happened.
Earlier that night, after they finished looking through windows at the various 'Seders' and were about to return to the camp, they noticed one house with its door wide open so they entered. When they saw only the old man with his eyes closed they figured he was asleep so they first ate all leftovers on the table and then, unable to control themselves, began filling their pockets with silverware. But as they turned to leave they suddenly discovered that they couldn't, they were paralyzed!
I ordered the men to apologize, put them under arrest and to return to the camp and as soon as they all left I sat back down and asked the old man if he would bless me. He looked so friendly and well, holy, that I couldn't resist; I had been married for years with no children. He blessed me with children and with long life.
"That was fifty years ago, today I am ninety years old with children and grandchildren thanks to the blessing of that holy man. But he also told me that I would know that my end was near when I had to advertise this story… and now I see the time has come.
"Now just ask yourself." The Baron concluded. "That Rabbi had the power to grant long life and children and he didn't ask for any reward! Nothing at all for himself!! Could that be an evil man? Certainly not!! You should be happy that you have such a son in law!"
Rab Shlomo had become purified of hatred.
This explains the importance of this week's Torah portion. The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that ours is the generation of Moshiach; the last generation of exile and the first of redemption through Moshiach. At any instant the Moshiach will be revealed.
The Moshiach is also called a Metzora (Sanhedren 98b) because his job is to purify all evil from the world and that can only be done if the evil first comes to the surface; Tzoraat is a SKIN disease.
Just as Rab Shomo would never have been able to purify himself had 'the book' not first aroused his hatred for his son in law and brought it to the surface.
This is the importance of our section and why we are reading it on this Shabbat (Shabbat Ha Gadol). Because this is the Shabbat that prepares us for the future redemption (see Micha (7:15)).
May HaShem purify us this Shabbos from anything (Tzoraat) that prevents us from getting excited about Moshiach (Metzora). And may we all dance in the complete redemption with……
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