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Parshat Tazria-Metzora (5761)
This week’s twin-portion deals with the unusual subject of "Tzoraas", a now-extinct "disease" caused by "Loshon HaRa" - evil, damaging speech.
This "disease" often was no more than a discoloration of the skin, but its implications were severe; one stricken could not live among normal people until the signs disappeared and he underwent a purifying process:
The punishment for causing separation between people is being separated from everyone.
One of the interesting details of Tzoraas is that even in a case where all the signs of the sickness were clearly present, or conversely, absent, nevertheless only a Cohen (priest), could declare that person diseased or healed.
What is the reason for this? And what, if anything, does all this mean to us today?
To answer this, here is a story.
About thirty years ago a Chabad Chassid, Rabbi Shalom Ber Segal (I heard the story a week ago from his brother, Rav Pinchas) worked as a headmaster in a Non-Chabad Yeshiva(Chasam Sofer) in Bnei Brak.
One day he noticed an unusual thing; one of the young pupils there was studying from the book ‘Tanya’.
Now, The Tanya is universally accepted as a masterpiece but it is usually studied only by Chassidim, and generally the followers of Chabad. So Rabbi Segal asked him for an explanation.
"The Lubavitch Rebbe told me to a year ago to start learning Tanya because, of a miracle that occurred." Was the answer.
With a bit of prodding the young man continued.
"My fifteen-year-old sister (then aged thirteen) was the pride of her school; she was active, intelligent and a very talented speaker.
But one morning, with no warning, she woke up unable to utter a sound. At first my mother was calm and encouraging, then she begged, finally even tried threatening, but my sister only wept and wrote on a page,
‘I want to talk, but nothing comes out.’
My mother called my father from work S.O.S. and he too tried to be calm, "It's probably just laryngitis or fatigue or even nerves. No sense rushing to the doctor, just a little rest will do the trick".
But after three days the entire family was hysterical.
Finally they contacted a Professor in Tel-Aviv and, although his secretary at first told them that they would have to wait four months, when she heard their story the Professor agreed to see them immediately and in a half hour they were knocking at his door.
The Professor received them cordially, showed them in and asked my sister to sit down. But as he began to examine her, the expression on his face turned to anger.
He looked up at my parents, furiously threw his wooden tongue-depressor into the garbage pail, leaned toward them and shouted,
"Who do you think you are trying to fool?!!! Do you think I am some child that you can play games with me??!!"
They were astounded; their eyes wide in amazement…. What did they do wrong? "We don’t understand," Stammered her mother. "What?"
“Don't understand, is it?!!" the Doctor sputtered.
“My dear lady, your daughter was born with no vocal chords! She has never spoken a word in her entire life!!!"
My parents looked at each other in shock. What was going on here!??
"But" Stammered my father "It can't be! Why just three days ago she spoke perfectly! For years... all her life... she spoke beautifully! Here, you can ask the Principal of her school. She was the prize student, I promise you!!"
In minutes, the doctor’s secretary had the Principal on the phone and the Professor was grilling him. But after a few minutes the Professor thanked him, hung up the phone, and turned to the parents.
“It's impossible! I never saw anything like it in my life!! I swear, I stake my reputation on it, that it is physically impossible that this girl..."
He began pacing back and forth deep in thought. Suddenly he stopped, turned to my parents and said:
"Listen, I don’t understand what is happening here. I apologize for what I said to you earlier, and for getting angry. I’m sorry.. but there is absolutely nothing that can be done, or at least that I can do."
But they did not give up. There is more than one doctor in the world, they thought. So for the next few months they travelled from doctor to doctor hearing the same story, until finally they ended up in the office of a Professor in England who was supposed to be the foremost in the field. He was their last medical hope...and he too, disappointed them.
Now it just so happened that while in England they were staying by a cousin of theirs, who, when he saw the looks on their faces when they returned from the Professor, suggested that they go to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe, "If anyone can help he can."
But my father wanted no part of it. "No sense in getting desperate" he said, "we aren’t Chabadnicks. This is obviously a thing from G-d and only HaShem can help, and I’m sure He will help, etc. etc."
But his arguments didn't work. My mother was all for it. That day they bought the plane tickets and two days later they were at the Rebbe`s headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn N.Y.
Back in those days there wasn’t such a line to see the Rebbe and because of the urgent nature of their visit, the next evening they were scheduled for "Yechidus"; the Rebbe would see them privately.
Later, my mother told me that the moment they entered the Rebbe’s room she felt for the first time there was really hope; there was someone who really cared, and she couldn't restrain her aching heart. For five minutes she wept and poured out her soul until, when she finished, the Rebbe requested that, if they didn't mind, he would like to speak with my sister alone.
When they closed the door behind them, the Rebbe looked deeply at my sister and said:
“I know that you are an intelligent and mature girl and that is why I’m going to tell you this.
In your previous incarnation (Gilgul) you did things that were not good. (I always imagined it was Loshon HaRa). It’s not important what they were, but the only way to correct them was to have your soul come into this world and be mute from birth. But in heaven you have some very holy relatives and on their merit you were given the power to speak... until three days ago."
The Rebbe paused until it was clear that she understood and then continued.
"Now, this is where you come in. If you are willing to accept on yourself to make Shabbat parties every Shabbat, invite all the non-observant children in your area, and talk to them about Judaism, you will be able to talk again. Do you understand?"
She nodded her head, "yes".
"Do you agree?" She again nodded "yes".
"If so" continued the Rebbe, "Say yes."
Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she gazed into the pure blue eyes of the Rebbe. Without hesitating she clearly said...
From that moment on my sister spoke normally, and every Shabbot she makes a party with more than 50 girls from all over.
The next year my parents took me to receive the Rebbe’s blessing. He asked me where I'm going to learn Torah, and when I told him he answered: "Because you are going to be learning in a Chassidic yeshiva, it is a good idea that you should learn Tanya a half-hour each day." And that is why I learn Tanya."
This answers our question. The main aspect of the Cohen is love. He is commanded to bless others, "in love." And the Torah tells us in Shemot (19:6) that the Jewish people are called a nation of Priests (Cohanim) because every Jew has this love.
Only a Cohen can free a person from being a Metzora because he has this unconditional, holy love.
And this love is the only cure for the disease caused by Loshon HaRa.
That is what the story of the Lubavitch Rebbe comes to teach us, the positive power of unconditional, Jewish love; The Rebbe is the perfect example of this love that is in each of us.
[But oppositely, the Torah is also letting us know that only a Cohen can declare the disease; namely, when you do find fault in others, make sure that, like a Cohen, you have unconditional love and are interested only in his good, because if not, it is probably your own faults that you are seeing.]
This is the secret of bringing Moshiach.
The reason for the destruction of our Holy Temple and the 2000 years of Jewish suffering (Metzora) that followed, is meaningless hatred. The Moshiach will change all this through unconditional love.
And the way to bring him, says the Rebbe, is also through learning Torah and fulfilling it with unconditional love. Let us all pray for, and do all we can to bring, the Moshiach NOW with unconditional, Jewish, love!!
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