Tazria Metzora

April 17th, 2021

5th of Iyar 5781


Educating One's Children is Comparable to Cultivating Plants

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

"When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male" (Vayikra 12:2)

The Parshiot of Tazria and Metzora are often combined and read on the same week for the Shabbat morning Torah reading. Since we have a tradition from our Sages that there is no such thing as coincidence, it is obvious that combining these two Parshiot that seemingly have no connection, is not happenstance. Rather, there is some inherent lesson to be derived from it.

While Parshat Tazria begins with the laws of a woman who gives birth and thereby becomes contaminated, most of the Parsha does not discuss this topic. Rather, it describes the matter of the tzara'at affliction that is found on the body and clothing. Since it would seem more fitting for these laws to be found in Parshat Metzora and not Parshat Tazria, there obviously must be some connection between the matter of a woman who gives birth and the subject of tzara'at. We will try to identify this connection.

One can say that a person is afflicted with tzara'at, either on his body or clothes, for speaking lashon hara about his fellow Jew, just as the word 'מצורע', metzora, implies, for it hints to 'מוציא רע', giving a negative report. The punishment of the metzora is measure for measure. Since he spoke derogatorily about his friend and caused others to distance themselves from him, he too is punished by being distanced from others.

The Torah wishes to teach us that just as the metzora is punished measure for measure, his offspring too will grow up 'measure for measure', for a child witnesses his father's conduct and behaves in the same way. In the same way, as she grows up, a girl imitates her mother's behavior. Therefore, the Torah put the Parshiot of Tazria and Metzora together to impart the lesson that we should not expect our children to be better than us. If we wish to have well-behaved children who follow in the path of the Torah, we must serve as a positive example for this is the only way to produce good fruit.

A person's children are called his 'seed' because 'offspring' have the same nature as 'seeds'. It never happened that a person planted apple seeds in the ground and an orange tree sprouted because an apple seed will always produce apples. It is the same with one's children. If a person is forgiving and modest, his offspring too will be like him. But if one is conceited and possesses corrupt middot, his children will learn from his ways and follow in this corrupt way.

Parents often come to me crying bitterly that their son or daughter do not behave appropriately, do not obey them, and sometimes even overstep the limit and wish to marry gentiles, r"l. They want me to talk to their children and persuade them not to take this drastic step. Of course, I try to encourage and help as much as I can but at the same time, I reprove those parents for it is not happenstance that their children turned out in this way.  For if a child did not observe his parents following in the path of the Torah and mitzvot, never saw his father going to participate in a Torah shiur or his mother lighting Shabbat candles, what is Judaism for him? He therefore has no second thoughts about crossing the limits and marrying out of his faith. Because that which a person sows is exactly that which he will reap in the future.

A father once came to me and told me that his son wishes to commit suicide. I advised him that a child of that age must have a reason for wanting to do so since the responsibility of providing for a family does not weigh on his shoulders and neither does he suffer from medical problems that are common to older people. Rather, he enjoys an easy and secure life. This being the case, why should he want to commit suicide? The father rolled his eyes as if to say, "I don’t know what has come over him". However, I knew from experience what caused the child to entertain these kinds of thoughts. I asked the father if his son watches violent films, r"l. When he answered that his son enjoys these types of films, I told him that this is the answer to his question. Since he spends his day watching scenes of slaughter and murder, and his impressionable soul cannot differentiate between the truth and fiction, it has become ruined to the extent that he has no appreciation for human life. He therefore has no problem with ending his own life, even without a reason.

The punishment of the metzora is different from other Torah penalties because it involves two aspects of retribution. The fact that his body is afflicted with tzara'at is one punishment, while the Torah adds another punishment that he has to leave the camp and stay far away from other people.

It appears that the reason for this is due to Hashem's great kindness. Hashem wanted to present a strong deterrent for people to stay far away from this sin even though it is so easy to transgress since there is nothing easier than opening one's mouth and speaking about someone else.

The Chovat Halevavot tells us: "Many people will arrive at the day of reckoning and when they are shown their deeds they will find recorded in their book of merits, merits that they did not perform. They will say, 'We did not do them'. So they will be told that these are the merits of those who spoke derogatorily about them. Similarly, when they see that certain merits have not been inscribed, they will ask about them and will be told they lost them when they spoke about so and so".

How great will be one's distress on that day, for even when a person is punished for a sin that he did commit, it is not something simple, especially when talking about the Heavenly retribution of Gehinom. But when a person will be punished for sins that he did not even do, and only because he spoke derogatively about his friend did he 'merit' all those sins, it will be sevenfold harder. Therefore, Hashem wanted the metzora to receive a difficult punishment already in This World so that man will refrain from transgressing this sin and will distance himself considerably from forbidden speech.

Guard Your Tongue

According to the ruling that it is preferable for a person to suffer social or financial loss rather than speak lashon hara, it seems that there is no justification to speak lashon hara even if one means well. If so, why does the law permit derogatory speech in cases where it will be beneficial?

Sometimes it is clear that relating someone's faults can be beneficial and in such a case, it is advisable to do so. This is correct in the following situations: If one is trying to help the person in question, or if one is trying to protect others from that person. In these situations, despite having to mention the person's faults or negative behavior, this is not considered as lashon hara. Only harmful speech is considered as lashon hara. Speech that is related for a beneficial purpose is not considered as lashon hara.

Being able to differentiate between beneficial speech and speech that is lashon hara, requires great sensitivity and a thorough knowledge of the laws. The Chafetz Chaim brings down several conditions that must be in place to define this kind of speech as beneficial and not lashon hara.

Words of the Sages

Does Lashon Hara Really Not Speak to Me?

The Opposite is True! Lashon Hara is so Pleasurable!

The name given to the 'מצורע', metzora, Chazal tell us, reflects his deeds - 'מוציא רע', he articulates derogatory words. It is no surprise that the holy sefarim explain that by opening one's mouth and relating derogatory words, one thereby causes the accuser to open his mouth and he too begins to speak negatively about us, accusing and causing terrible suffering.

There is a great difference between the sins of negative speech and other sins, points out HaGaon HaTzadik Rabbi Reuven Karlenstein zt"l. With all other sins, it is necessary to perform some act, even the slightest, to transgress the prohibition. For example, to transgress the prohibition of 'borer', ‘selection or sorting’ on Shabbat, one must remove a small bone from the fish. But with the sin of lashon hara, it is not necessary to do any act! A person can sit, do nothing and just talk…

On the other hand, the sins of negative speech are so severe, to the extent that the Gemara says (Arachin 15b), "Anyone who speaks lashon hara (malicious speech), his sin is considered as great as the three cardinal sins of idolatry, immorality and murder". On the other hand, these sins are so 'accessible' and easy to commit. As we mentioned, it is unnecessary to do anything. In all, it is just a matter of a few words, but what terrible destruction can they cause! Especially at a time of anger, when stormy feelings and tumult abound, words are released without any thought!

Sometimes the concept of 'for the sake of heaven' also manages to work its way in and then the words are even transformed into a 'mitzvah', with every word another 'mitzvah'…

What is the suggested counsel?

The darshanim quote the words of the verse (Vayikra 13:9): "He shall be brought to the Kohen", and explain that this must be the approach: We must approach the 'Kohen', "the Kohen who is exalted above his brethren", i.e. the 'Chafetz Chaim', and study his sefer, 'Shmirat Halashon'. This is the way to strengthen oneself so that one will not stumble with forbidden speech. As the Admor of Gur declared: "Heaven and earth can testify about me that I experienced a favorable change after studying the Chafetz Chaim's sefer".

One of the Slabodka talmidim approached the Rosh Yeshiva, the Gaon Rabbi Izsak Sher, with the following dilemma: "I have a big problem! I have an unconquerable temptation to speak lashon hara! Especially when it comes to stories that no one else is aware of! It is a feeling as sweet as sugar and this temptation burns inside me like fire. Can the Rosh Yeshiva give me some advice on how to overcome this and not stumble?"

The Rosh Yeshiva answered: "Your father came to me two weeks ago and wanted to know how you are doing. He made a favorable impression on me. I want to know if also about him, your father, you are tempted to speak lashon hara?"

"No," replied the talmid, "I have no desire to speak lashon hara about my father".

"And do you feel that you have withstood a challenge when you don't speak about him? Do you feel that you are overcoming a temptation when you keep your mouth closed?"

"No. I have absolutely no temptation to speak about my father. It is not even a challenge for me".

"Why? Does your father not have any faults?"

"There is no person without faults. My father too has weaknesses. Nevertheless, I have no desire to speak about him. Not only this but if I hear someone else speaking lashon hara about him, it will give me no rest and I won't be able to fall asleep at night."

"Try to explain this to me. Why is this? How is he different to anyone else?"

"I do not want to speak about my father! I love him! And when one doesn’t want to speak, one doesn’t speak."

"If so, you yourself have just given a wonderful piece of advice on how to overcome the temptation and not speak lashon hara about someone. Love him! If you love him, you won't want to speak about him! And when one doesn't want to speak, one doesn’t speak."

This, then, is the principle: So and so has shortcomings? So what? Your father also has faults, your son also has faults! More than this, you too have faults! Nevertheless, there is no temptation to speak lashon hara about someone you love!

Walking in Their Ways

Non-kosher Food – Teeming with Prohibitions

I heard a dreadful story from the person to whom this happened. He told me that he was once traveling by plane and was ravenously hungry but, of course, he would not eat from the standard airline meals since they were not kosher. When his hunger began disturbing him greatly, he entered the kitchenette and asked for a regular portion. He planned to eat only the vegetables, which ostensibly do not pose a problem of kashrut. This is actually a fallacy, and as we will see, he stumbled with eating forbidden foods.

The salad was under-seasoned so the man added some pre-packaged vinegar which came along with the meal. However, this vinegar which was not made from alcohol but from wine, was prohibited by the Torah. Although he made sure not to eat the non-kosher seafood that was part of the salad, it, however, lent flavor to it and therefore rendered the whole thing unkosher. So, although he ate only vegetables, he in fact stumbled by eating treif food!

At times, one might think one can find kosher food amidst a non-kosher dish. But this is a very complex issue and almost impossible. Therefore, one must be careful to eat only food with a kashrut symbol certified by a trusted kashrut supervisor.

The Haftarah

The Haftarah of the Week: "There were four men who were lepers" (Melachim II, 7)

The connection to the Parsha: The Haftarah tells about the four lepers who sat at the city gate, while the Parsha too speaks about the matter of the metzora who must sit outside the camp.

Pearls of the Parsha

The Mitzvah of Milah Overrides Shabbat

"On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised" (Vayikra 12:3)

The mitzvah of Brit Milah has already been delineated in Parshat Lech Lecha, as it says (Bereishit 17:12), "At the age of eight days every male among you shall be circumcised". If so, asks Rabbi Avraham HaLevi zt"l, (who lived in Tz’ala, Teiman), in his sefer 'Pardes Rimonim', why does the Torah once again mention this mitzvah here?

He quotes the Gemara (Shabbat 132a) where it explains that from the wording of the verse in this Parsha, "on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised", we derive that the mitzvah of Milah overrides the mitzvah of Shabbat.

The question is, why in Parshat Lech Lecha does the Torah not use the expression "on the eighth day"? Why does the Torah wait until Parshat Tazria to teach us this?

The reason could be that this aspect of the command was written specifically here since had the Torah written this lesson in Lech Lecha, there would be a place for the mistaken perception that the mitzvah of Milah overrides Shabbat only for our Holy forefathers who had not yet received the Torah and had not been commanded about Shabbat observance. But Am Yisrael who were commanded about the severity of Shabbat, as we are told "its desecrators shall be put to death" (Shemot 31:14), might push off Milah if the eighth day falls on Shabbat. This is why we are commanded here using the wording "On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised", to teach us that even now, after the Giving of the Torah where we were commanded about Shabbat, Milah overrides Shabbat.

Revenge Through Abundant Mercy

"If a person will have on the skin of his flesh" (Vayikra 13:2)

The Midrash writes: "When Yisrael heard the section of afflictions, they became afraid. Hashem said to them, these are intended for the nations of the world but you should eat, drink and be happy."

We will try to clarify the intention of this Midrash. HaRav HaKadosh, the 'Yitav Lev' zt"l, explains the Midrash according to an explanation from the Maggid of Mezritch on the words of the poet, "Extend Your kindness to those who know You, O jealous and vengeful G-d". The question is, the name 'א-ל', G-d, is a Name of Mercy, so why is this Name used when saying "O jealous and vengeful G-d"?

The answer is that sometimes when a king wants to punish a simple person, he elevates him in status until he himself understands the great blemish that he committed against the king. This itself is the king's revenge.

This is our prayer, that even if we have sinned before Hashem, G-d forbid, the revenge should be through abundant kindness and mercy.

This is how he explains the Midrash "these are intended for the nations of the world". They are the ones who need to be punished with afflictions, for otherwise they will never recognize Hashem's greatness and will not regret their deed. But Am Yisrael can eat, drink and be happy because this abundance will lead them to repentance and regret.

The Gates of Heaven Are Closed for the Metzora

"He is to call out, 'Contaminated, contaminated!'" (Vayikra 13:45)

The double term "contaminated, contaminated" is explained by the Gemara (Shabbat 67a) to mean that the metzora must publicly announce his affliction, and as Rashi explains, "he himself" must do so.

But why must the metzora publicly announce his affliction, something we do not find with other sicknesses?

The answer, explains the Divrei Yonatan, can be found in the Rashi on Parshat Va'eira concerning Yishmael, where it says, "G-d heard the cry of the youth". Rashi explains, "From here we learn that the prayer of the sick person is preferable to others who pray for him".

The Holy Zohar writes that he is called an "isolated metzora (excluded)" because his prayers are excluded and rejected in heaven.

Now we understand why the metzora needs to publicly announce his distress - so that others should pray for mercy for him. Because while with other sicknesses, the patient's own prayers are preferable, however, since a metzora's prayers are not accepted, he must announce his distress to others so that they should pray for him and arouse Heavenly mercy.

From the Treasury

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

Before All – Judge Favorably

When a person does not see the truth in the way that Hashem does, he doesn’t judge others favorably which leads to speaking lashon hara about them.

This is the connection between the three Parshiot of Tazria, Metzora and Acharei Mot. Taking the first letter of each Parsha spells 'אמת', truth. This implies that after a person dies (Acharei Mot) he will see how mistaken he was when he saw falsehood and not the truth and that even though he thought he was speaking the truth about his friend, it was only in This World that it appeared to be the truth. Up there in the Next World he will be faced with the bitter truth: How much destruction his words caused and how much damage his words brought to his friend, causing the Holy Shechina to depart from him.

Rav Yosef son of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi (Pesachim 50a) told his father after returning from the World of Truth, "I saw an upside-down world". Meaning, in the Next World, those who in This World were not considered as distinguished, are honored, and the opposite is also true. For there, in the World of Truth, the exactness is extremely fine and a person is judged for every act that he committed in This World.

In any case, when a person does not judge his friend favorably, he does not try to think about what brought him to commit that negative act. Chazal have told us (Avot 2:4), "Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place". And if you would reach his place, you too would commit that negative act. If so, it follows that he has retroactively spoken lashon hara, for what he sees in his friend is a reflection of his own shortcomings.

This is the essence of the connection between these Parshiot. When a person sows, 'Tazria', and speaks lashon hara about his friend, he will become a 'Metzora', for he will be punished with tzara'at for inevitably spreading false reports (motzi shem ra) about him. His rectification will only be 'Acharei Mot', that G-d forbid, he will die. For every person was created in G-d's image and by speaking lashon hara about someone he causes others to lose their regard for him as if he is not part of G-d's image. In this way, he has G-d forbid made him appear as 'dead' in the eyes of others, as in the famous words of Chazal (Erchin 15b), "Lashon hara kills three: The one who speaks, the one who listens, and the one about whom one speaks".

A Novel Look at the Parsha

Words Are Free but are Worth Their Weight in Gold

The Torah commentaries discuss the inevitable question of why the Parsha of Tazria, that discusses the laws of the different types of skin afflictions, follows Parshat Shemini that primarily discusses the subject of forbidden foods?

The Gaon Rabbi Yisrael Slanter zt"l explains that the afflictions are a result of the sin of lashon hara and while most people are extra careful not to consume forbidden foods and meticulously examine their food to make sure they do not swallow the tiniest worm, they are not particular enough when it comes to the honor of others and sometimes chew them with their mouths and tongues and swallow them alive. This is why the Torah put these Parshiot together; to teach us that just as you are careful with forbidden foods, so must you be as careful, if not more, with forbidden forms of speech, for we see that the purification process of a metzora is stricter than for one who consumes forbidden foods. This demonstrates the severity of the matter and the great value of being cautious with our words.

It is related that once Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen zt"l, the Chafetz Chaim, travelled together with another Rav on behalf of a certain mitzvah matter. Along the way, they stopped off at an inn to eat something. The woman who owned the inn immediately recognized both distinguished personalities, sat them by a special table and made sure they would be served appropriately. When they finished their meal, she approached them and asked: "How did you like my food?"

"Very good," replied the Chafetz Chaim. "And what do you say?" she said, turning to the other Rav. His answer was not long in coming: "Quite good, but it was a bit too salty". As soon as the woman heard this, she made her way to the kitchen. The Chafetz Chaim turned pale and became very agitated. "I can't believe it! My entire life I have refrained from speaking and hearing lashon hara. Why then did this happen now that I heard lashon hara? Had I known this in advance, I would not have set out on this journey."

When the Rav saw the Chafetz Chaim's reaction, he grew frightened: "What at all did I say? What was so bad about my words? I said that the food was good and only added that it would have been better to use a bit less salt!"

"You do not know how to sufficiently value the power of words", replied the Chafetz Chaim with distress. "It could be that the cook is a poor widow who needs her job. Because of your words, the owner will blame her that the food was salty. In her defense, the poor widow will deny her words and say that she did not put salt in the food and even tasted the dishes before she served them."

"And then", the Chafetz Chaim continued, "the owner will claim that she is lying and say, 'Do you think that the Rabbanim are liars? You are the one who is lying!' They will argue and the owner will grow so angry that she will dismiss the unfortunate cook who will be left without a job."

"Consider how many sins you caused," added the Chafetz Chaim: "You spoke lashon hara, you caused the owner and I to hear lashon hara, you caused the owner to repeat the lashon hara to the cook, which is already rechilut, you caused the cook to lie, because of you the owner distressed a widow, and you caused dissension between two people."

When the Chafetz Chaim finished his words the Rav said quietly, "I think you are greatly exaggerating! It cannot be that the words I said caused all of this!"

"Let's go to the kitchen and see," suggested the Chafetz Chaim.

They stood by the entrance to the kitchen and noticed the cook wiping tears from her eyes. The Rav grew pale, hurried over to the cook and apologized for the harm and pain that he caused her, begging her to forgive him. After that, he turned to the owner and pleadingly asked her to forgive the cook and allow her to continue working for her. He even offered a sum of money, as long as she would not dismiss the cook.

The owner was a kindhearted and generous woman: "Of course, of course," she said. "The cook will continue working for me. Her job is not in jeopardy at all. I only wanted her to realize that she must be careful. She is an excellent cook and will keep her job."

There is a clever saying that is often quoted, says the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein (Pri Amaleinu): "Words do not cost money but are worth their weight in gold". They can raise a person's spirits even if he has fallen into depression and heartbreak. About this, the Holy Zohar declares (Tazria 46:2) that just as a person will be judged after his passing for distasteful words and obscene language (if he did not repent), so too will he be judged for all the warm and encouraging words, words of praise and approval that he could have said but refrained from saying.

You could be in Kollel or at work and you see a friend who was successful and did something good, but you don’t mention a word. You will be judged for it! You could have invigorated him and made him happy! Why did you not do this? Or you may notice that a good friend bought a nice outfit or new utensil. Praise, offer a good word! It doesn’t cost money but is worth more than gold.

Speech can revive a person but, on the other hand, can destroy and kill. If only we will decide, from today on, to offer a good word when necessary, to show happiness for someone else, encourage or express appreciation when needed, we will merit great happiness.


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