Weekly Cycle

Monday, April 4, 2011

In Service: Life's Challenges and the Torah Portion of Metzorah


This week's Torah portion continues to focus on the ritual impurity known as Tzara'at, and how someone who becomes purified from it is brought back into the community. It also discusses other impurities, as well as how not only a person, but also one's clothes and one's house can become contaminated.

A question arises as to whether the impurity of Tzara'at is a curse or a blessing. Our sages teach us that only someone that is at an elevated spiritual level is even worthy of contracting this condition. This is the reason why today Tzara'at is not found. (As a side note, I think it is worth mentioning the Rebbe's question on this ponit. How could it be that Tzara'at only impacts people that are extremely elevated, if it is well known that the primary cause of Tzara'at is Lashon Harah, usually translated as slander? The answer is that the Lashon Harah mentioned here is not abusive speech such as slander, but rather an abuse of the faculty of speech, meaningless talk (See Rambam as to the two kinds of Lashon Harah)).

Back to the above question, is Tzara'at a curse or a blessing? In the middle of the Torah portion, there is a verse with a comment from Rashi that is particularly revealing, and which perhaps contains our answer:

34When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as a possession, and I place a lesion of tzara'ath upon a house in the land of your possession,לד. כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם לַאֲחֻזָּה וְנָתַתִּי נֶגַע צָרַעַת בְּבֵית אֶרֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶם:
and I place a lesion of tzara’ath: Heb. וְנָתַתִּי, lit. and I will give. This is [good] news for them that lesions of tzara’ath will come upon them, (Torath Kohanim 14:75), because the Amorites had hidden away treasures of gold inside the walls of their houses during the entire forty years that the Israelites were in the desert, and through the lesion, he will demolish the house (see verses 43-45) and find them. — [Vayikra Rabbah 17:6]

How can placing Tzara'at on a house be called "giving?" In fact, this begs a much bigger question. If we know that G-d runs the world, and that everything he does is the ultimate good, why is there pain and suffering? The answer is G-d wants us to grow. When challenges come our way, G-d wants us to dig deep within us, demolish our walls and self-imposed restrictions, and find the treasures that are inside.

Again, this is one of the fundamental teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, expressed so beautifully in the book, Garden of Emuna, by Rabbi Shalom Arush. We have so many deep hidden treasures within us, and there are always so many more ways to grow and become better people. Sometimes we just need a little pushing. We can fill ourselves with more and more meaning, until we get to the point where there is no place for meaningless speech in our vocabulary - where every second counts - because it does. There are even levels above that, where words that may be considered meaningful today, could even be deemed "meaningless." Every day we learn more about G-d and can serve Him on a higher level. In fact, we need to do Teshuvah for not serving Him on such a level in the first place.

The above is also captured in the story called "The King's Son Made of Precious Stones," also from  Rebbe Nachman, who as mentioned last week, was born on the Torah portion of Tazria and had his Brit-Milah on the Metzorah. (The story can be found here, pp. 83-88). Here are a few quotes from it, which serve as a kind of summary:

"[The Tzaddik] told [the King and the Queen] they would have a son who would be made completely of precious stones, and he would possess all of the qualities of all of the precious stones." 

"The tzaddik then went home. The queen gave birth to a son, and the king rejoiced very greatly. The son that was born was not made of precious stones..." 

"The prince became very leprous [Metzorah] He had leprosy [Tzara'at] on his nose, on his face and all over his body. The king engaged in doctors and sorcerers, but to no avail." 

"The tzadik then came and said that the prince would be healed. And he was healed, and the leprosy dried up, and all of his skin pealed off, and he was made completely of precious stones and possessed all the qualities of all the precious stones (as the tzaddik had said)."

It is said that in this story Rebbe Nachman is making a reference to himself. It also appears to be a reference to Mashiach himself, who, as also mentioned last week, is called a Metzorah. May the Tzara'at of all of this world be peeled off, so that the true treasures within each one of us can finally be revealed. May it be soon, may it be now.

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