Unity Rectifies Afflictions and Abolishes Suffering
On the verse that states, “If a person will have on the skin of his flesh a s’eit, or a sapachat, or a baheret” (Leviticus 13:2), the Chochmat Hamatzpun writes as follows: “The Ramban said concerning the lesions in question that they were not at all natural and did not exist in the physical world. When the Children of Israel behave correctly with G-d, His spirit constantly protects them and maintains their bodies, their clothes, and their homes in good order. Yet if it happens that one of them sins, some unsightly thing appears in that person’s flesh in order to show that G-d has distanced Himself from him. This only happens, however, in a place where G-d has chosen and where He resides. Consequently, these lesions, which are supernatural phenomenon, only appear if a man has great merit, since even the Children of Israel, the chosen people, are only afflicted by this in the chosen land. It is actually a place where they can calmly devote themselves to knowing G-d, and where the Shechinah can reside. All this comes out of what the Ramban wrote.” [Editor’s Note: When the Jewish people live in their own land, we know that the Shechinah actually rests upon them, as evidenced by the expressions: “Whoever lives in Eretz Israel is considered to have a G-d” (Ketubot 110b), and “G-d reigns in Eretz Israel” (Zohar I:108b)].
This appears very surprising. Why does tzara’at affliction only strike a person in Eretz Israel, to the exclusion of all other lands? Moreover, the Torah informs us that when G-d punishes, it is in order to lead a man on the right path after he has sinned. Why would G-d only do this in Eretz Israel? Finally, we note that in reality, even in other lands G-d sends calamities and lesions upon sinners. What does this mean?
We will attempt to explain this as best possible. Eretz Israel is a symbol of unity, for at the time of the world’s creation, G-d formed the earth beginning from the Foundation Stone (which was later in the Temple – Yoma 54b), and it was from there that the whole world was unified. Man is also a symbol of unity, for the dust with which he was created was collected from all corners of the world (Sanhedrin 38a), which is a mark of unity. Hence a man damages this unity when he speaks ill of his fellow, for in so doing he separates people, which is why his house, his body, and his possessions are struck first.
When troubles strike someone living outside of Eretz Israel, he should realize that he deserves them, for they come to him from Jerusalem, where one of the three gates of Gehinnom are found (Eruvin 19a). Why is it found there? It is in order to bring on trials that are destined for the entire world. Actually, every Jew has a profound connection with Eretz Israel, even if living elsewhere, as Adam did. Whoever attacks a man’s integrity should realize that he harms the unity of Israel and that he will have to suffer the consequences. It is simply that outside of Israel, these afflictions take on a different form.
We have therefore answered our two questions. It is true that everything comes from Eretz Israel, which is essential to the whole world and the source of everything destined for it. It is equally true that there are tragedies and afflictions even outside of Eretz Israel, yet they are different. Why all this? As we know, the Holy Land, and Jerusalem even more, and the Holy of Holies even more still, are the holiest and most important places in the world. Of them it is written, “The eyes of the L-RD your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end” (Deuteronomy 11:12). Eretz Israel is the place of G-d’s abode, and just as He is unique in the universe, the Children of Israel are unique in the world (see Zohar II:16b). They should therefore live in unity, without pride or pretension, in order for G-d to live among them. They should learn this from the fact that the unity of the world begins from Eretz Israel, even if men are not worthy of the land’s holiness. Therefore the one who prides himself (mitnase) strikes at G-d’s unity, the unity of Eretz Israel, and the unity of the Jewish people. Such a person is punished measure for measure by the affliction that is called s’eit (from the same root as the word hitnassut [“pride”]), as well as by other lesions (sapachat and baheret), for he has damaged the clarity (behirut) of unity and he did not achieve unity (sapachat).
We will now explain the different types of lesions and their causes. Sapachat is formed by the same letters as sach taf, where sach designates speech and alludes to gossip. Taf has the same numerical value as Lilith (one of the names of the forces of evil), meaning that in speaking ill of others, we strengthen kelipah (impurity) in the Holy Land so that it can settle there. Gossip brings about lesions and leprosy (Erchin 16a); hence we are struck by sapachat.
As for baheret, the letters of this word recall the expression harat olam (“the birth of the world”), for slander truly ruins all of creation, and therefore it is punishable by baheret. Finally, we have already explained that s’eit signifies pride, which damages the unity of G-d, the unity of Eretz Israel, and the unity of the Jewish people.
Having said that the one who sins though gossip affects the unity of all these things, we may now respond to the following objection that was once presented to me: Why is a man rendered impure if a small portion of his body is afflicted with lesions, yet he is pure if his entire body is afflicted, as it is written: “[If] the affliction has covered his entire flesh, then he shall declare the affliction to be pure” (Leviticus 13:13)?
This is also a part of G-d’s goodness. It suggests that if a person sins a little, the lesions are minor, hence to prevent him from continuing in this path, he is warned by small lesions on his body or house so that he repents with the help of the priest. Nevertheless if he commits many sins, lesions attack his entire body, and then the Torah tells us that he is entirely pure because G-d in His goodness does not wish the death of the wicked, but rather that he repents and lives (Ezekiel 33:11). G-d does him the favor of rendering him pure so that he repents and does not give up all hope because of the gravity of his sins. This is comparable to the case of the red heifer: The one who burns it becomes impure, whereas the ashes of the cow purify the impure (see Numbers 19:8,19). Thus was His wisdom decreed, and it is forbidden to contest His way of running the world or to object to the mitzvot that He gave us.
It is possible that this is the connection between Parsha Tazria-Metzora and Parsha Shemini, for in the latter it is stated that the Shechinah only descends upon the Sanctuary and the Children of Israel when they observe the laws of family purity (Tazria) as well as proper speech (Metzora), in default of which the Shechinah leaves them (see Shabbat 33a). In addition, the Gemara teaches that the Temple was destroyed because of gossip and baseless hatred (Yoma 9b).
The statement in Parsha Tazria-Metzora, “When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male” (Leviticus 12:2), speaks of a woman who obeys her husband, lives with him in peace and tranquility, and caters to his every need. The phrase “and gives birth to a male” means that she does his will (see Rambam, Hilchot De’ot Sotah 12a), for it is as if she had conceived her husband. To him, she is like a mother who takes care of her baby, hears his cries, and has pity on him. Thus if they are meritorious and live together in peace and holiness, the Shechinah resides among them. However in the opposite case, a fire devours them (Sotah 17a) and they become inflamed with forbidden desires, with fire being the only thing that remains (Kallah Rabbati 1). Therein lies the connection between the two parshiot. How can we arrive at complete unity and the rectification of all that had been damaged? It is by guarding our words and observing the laws of family purity.