This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Tazria-Metzora (5762)
This week's double portion explains the laws of Metzora; a spiritual impurity loosely translated as "leprosy" indicated by a strange discoloration of the skin.
For instance white blotches are a sign of "Metzora". If the skin turned white, the victim was locked away and examined for one week and if the color remained for a second week he was declared a "Metzora" and had to leave society until the "disease" healed.
But the Torah tells us a very strange law; whiteness is impure only if it covers part of the body. But if it spreads over the entire body....it is pure! (Our section 13:12).
Why would a little discoloration be impure and total discoloration is pure?
But even a more; what do we care? Today there is no such ‘disease’ as Metzora so why learn about it? What does it have to do with us today?
Here is a story to help us understand.
Some one hundred and fifty years ago there lived a simple innkeeper in Russia, by the name of Yaakov.
There were no other Jews in his town, so he had to import someone from another town to teach his children Torah, his wife had no Jewish friends and he had no ‘minyan’ (ten Jews) to pray with. But he considered himself lucky; his inn provided him with a decent livelihood and the villagers all liked him...with one exception.
Father Stefan the local priest who was a an excellent speaker, a shrewd manipulator and a rabid anti-Semite.
Whenever possible he would pour out his wrath in public against the Jews, warn his congregation not to do business with them and He even went so far as to open a tavern of his own in order force Yaakov out of business, but all his tricks bore no fruit.
No one could figure out why he was making such a fuss about one little Jew. And they didn't change bars because they were ashamed to get drunk in front of a priest.
When Father Stephen saw the people were ignoring him he cooked up a really diabolical plot. He visited Yaakov's place, offered to buy him out and when Yaakov, as he expected, refused he pretended to be his best friend,
"Ahhh, Yes! You are right! Why should you trust me after I’ve treated you so terribly? AHHH… I've been such a fool! Why, I have been doing the opposite of what the Good Book teaches; mercy, kindness!! You know what? I have decided this moment to close my inn and let you succeed. I WANT you to succeed! Come! Let us forget our differences and let us drink a toast to BROTHERHOOD! Bring a bottle of Vodka! The best you have! I will pay!" And he slapped several golden coins loudly on the table.
Yaakov brought the bottle and opened it, but before he could pour the priest stopped him, "Why should we drink alone?! Invite some of our friends from outside, let them all come! Let them be witnesses to our new pact! This will begin a new era of partnership!"
As soon as Yaakov went outside, the priest took out a small vial from his pocket, poured some in to the vodka bottle, shook it up and returned the cork. Minutes later Yaakov returned with several villagers, sat them down and filled the cups. Suddenly one of the men who couldn't wait, excitedly lifted his cup, yelled out joyously "To Brotherhood!!" downed the contents, grabbed his throat, began gasping for breath and fell to the floor.
The priest jumped from his place, ran over to the still twitching body and after a short examination stood to his full height, pointed his finger like a prophet of doom at poor Yaakov and roared solemnly, "GRAB THE MURDERER!"
The police were called, Yaakov was interrogated and charged with premeditated murder. His family was imprisoned as surety he wouldn’t escape and he was released to prepare a defense for his trial which would be held in ten days.
He had no time to lose. He was desperate. He had to get the advice and blessing of his Rebbe, the Mahara'sh; the holy Rebbe Shmuel of Chabad, as quickly as possible. He immediately took the first train to the city of Lubavitch.
After a day's journey he arrived there, ran directly to the Rebbe's house and told the Rebbe's secretary of his urgent problem. But when the secretary entered the Rebbe's office with Yaakov's request he came out seconds later with disappointing news; "The Rebbe said that there are others who have appointments before you, maybe tomorrow!"
Finding a place to spend the night was no problem; he had a lot of friends there. The problem was that when he did return the next day he received the same depressing reply. And the day after as well!
He felt like he was about to go insane. Four days had passed, his trial was less than a week away, and the Rebbe seemed to be ignoring him.
The next day however, things were different. As soon as he arrived the secretary told him the Rebbe wanted to see him immediately.
He was so relieved!! Finally he would see the Rebbe and everything would be all right! As soon as he entered the room the Rebbe gave him a small sum of money, told him to buy a first class ticket on the next train back home and motioned for him to leave in haste.
Yaakov backed out the door, grabbed his bag, ran to the station, bought his ticket and boarded the train just minutes before it left. Once aboard he found his cabin, closed the door behind him, sat down, caught his breath and thanked G-d that he had gotten in to see the Rebbe.
But as the train slowly pulled out of the station it suddenly hit him: He was returning empty handed, no blessings, no advice, nothing!!
After an hour or so he snapped out of his confusion, took out his Tallis and Tefillin (prayer shawl and phylacteries) put them on and began to pray.
Suddenly the hopelessness of his situation struck him. The Rebbe probably sent him back because there was nothing that could be done. He thought of the prospect of dying a miserable death for a crime he didn't commit, how his beloved wife would be a widow, his children orphans and he began to weep.
Drowned in the noise of the train he wept loudly and uncontrollably, occasionally moaning a word from the prayer book before him.
He was unaware that all this was disturbing the entire train car.
His neighbor came out, began to knock on Yaakov's door and when there was no answer, opened up and saw a Jew wrapped in a large white cloth with some sort of little black box on his head crying like a baby. He had to interrupt,
"What are you sobbing about, Jew? You are disturbing me! What are you doing?"
Yaakov looked up and began to apologize but one thing led to another and before he knew it he was pouring his heart out to the stranger.
Yaakov's door was open, and eventually his emotional monologue drew several of the other first-class passengers from their rooms as well. They listened until he finished, and all agreed that it was a sad story and asked him to please try to control himself for the duration of the trip.
A few days later the trial began and things looked very bad for Yaakov. The courthouse was packed with a bloodthirsty crowd and five mean-faced judges who had been brought in from Vitebsk were peering at him from their large white wigs and long black gowns. Everything was against him.
Yaakov watched helplessly as witness after witness gave the same negative testimony until finally it was the turn of the priest. He took the stand, was sworn in and launched into a tirade against the Jews. But as he pointed his finger at Yaakov and said "It is no wonder why this vermin poisoned the vodka!" One of the Judges interrupted:
"But, excuse me Father, that is not what you told us last night!"
"What? Last night?" The priest stammered. "What are you talking about your honor? Last night? I didn't ….." He was at the height of his speech and the question completely confused him.
"Yes you did!" Said another judge menacingly as he and the other judges removed their wigs. "Don't you recognize us? We were guests at your home for the last few days. Excuse us for not disclosing our true identities but don't you remember how after a few toasts last night you bragged about how you yourself poisoned the vodka!! GUARDS! Put this man under arrest for murder!"
The crowd was on their feet screaming at the priest while Yaakov just sat there with his mouth open, eyes raised on high and tears of gratitude streaming down his face. Those Judges were his neighbors on the train a few days ago that he had disturbed! They must have gone to the priest's house to discover the truth for themselves.
That's why the Rebbe didn't comfort him; if he hadn't cried on the train they would not have noticed him!!
This answers our question. One of the most difficult things in the world is to reveal one's own faults. But until they are revealed it is impossible to correct them. That is one of the lessons of our section. Only when the fault is completely revealed like what happened to the priest in our story, is the solution is near.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe once told a joke about two men that went to the doctor with a similar problem, each had a large boil on his leg. One entered the office while the other sat in the waiting room. Suddenly spine tingling shrieks came from inside and after a half hour the first patient came out pale, sweating profusely, leg bandaged and almost unable to stand. He fell into a chair in the waiting room while the second man entered, only to exit five minutes later with a smile on his face shaking the doctor's hand in gratitude.
"Ehh?" Said the first man still not recovered from his operation. "What did you do that you came out so fast? What, did you give him a tip or something?"
"No no, my friend" answered the second patient. "I just heard your screams and got scared, so I showed him my healthy leg!"
So, when we see darkness and difficulties all around us and when we are confronted face to face with our own faults and shortcomings it is no reason to despair. Exactly the opposite. It is a sign that NOW we can correct ourselves (by prayer, taking positive advice etc) and come to a higher level of truth, integrity and responsibility.
Therefore the Talmud says (Sota 49b and Sanhedren 97a) that when truth seems to be absent from the world it is a sign of the eminent redemption by Moshiach. It is just the evil coming to the surface.
That is why whiteness is impure but total ‘whiteness’ is pure; because when shortcomings are totally revealed purity begins.
So to the Moshiach himself is called a "Metzora" (Ibid 98b); because he will transform this world into "completely white"; namely a place where the ONEness of G-d is revealed and everyone will be interested only in truth, something like how it was at Mount Sinai and again will be in the Third Holy Temple.
But it all depends on us to remain optimistic and proactive; one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and bring....
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