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Home » Free Choice, Metzora

Mitzora: The Duel of Life

Submitted by on January 12, 2006 – 3:46 amNo Comment | 1,835 views

Body and Soul

Life, according to Torah, is a duel between two forces, the body’s gravitation towards self benefit and the soul’s attraction towards fulfillment and meaning. This body / soul dynamic is the crux of the human experience. It is the duel of life.

Every human endeavor is induced by dual incentives, that of body and that of soul. The body component constitutes the benefit that we draw from the action, the soul component is the value of the action in the service of G-d. The body, a self centered organism, is naturally attracted only to what benefits itself. The soul, a G-d centered energy, is stimulated by the underlying value of the action in the service of G-d. (1)

Pursuit of nourishment is a perfect example. This desire is experienced by both body and soul. The body craves nourishment simply because nourishment satisfies hunger. The soul craves nourishment because nourishment provides energy that can in turn be used for the purpose of divine worship. (2)

Master or Be Mastered

To the body, self nourishment is an end in and of itself. The body therefore allows itself to be enslaved to the pursuit of nourishment, devoting much time and energy to it. To the soul, self nourishment is but a means to a higher end. The soul is devoted to the service of an authority greater than itself and as such co-opts every experience, including the pursuit of nourishment, to this higher end.

Put simply, the soul masters the eating experience and directs it to a higher purpose. The body is mastered by the eating experience and adopts it as its own purpose. (3)

Even as the body is mastered by the experience the soul doesn’t surrender. It continues to yearn and constantly works to exert and express itself. Even those who regularly permit their body to dominate have a vibrant living soul within. The soul continues to love G-d and worship him at all times even if this love is not permitted expression on the tactical level. This is the experience of Tzaraas.

Tzaraas – The External Experience

The Torah speaks of a dermatological condition by which white dead patches appear on the external surface of the skin. (4) The Metzora is often treated derisively by scripture and classical Jewish works. The Talmud explains that the Tzaraas was a punishment for sin. (5) Yet a careful analysis yields a deeper understanding.

Consider the nature of the Tzaraas affliction (6) It is a relatively minor disease that affects the extremities of the outer skin surface. The Metzora’s vital inner organs, such as the heart, brain and liver are alive and in good health, the disease affects the relatively external aspect of the body, killing only certain skin cells. (7)

The vibrancy of the inner organs, while sufficient to ensure the life force within, is unable to reach the extremities. On a spiritual level this is symbolic of a person with a fully functioning soul, whose is inwardly consumed by love for G-d, but whose inner passion doesn’t translate itself to the external tactile level. (8)

Disengagement

How can this condition be resolved? The Torah instructs that the Metzorah be quarantined duel of life - innerstreamfor seven days. If interaction with the secular and mundane arouses bodily passions that drown out the cry of the soul then we must temporarily disengage. Divest ourselves from exposure to the secular element and focus on self-introspection and the spiritual pursuit.

This quarantine must last for seven days – one full week. A full cycle must pass during which time the soul is given full expression and the body trained to harness the mundane in the service of G-d. Mastering it rather than being mastered by it. (9)

Re-engagement

This sheltered period is at once both blissful and anathema to the soul. Blissful because it is permitted to pursue its cause unhampered, and anathema because the soul’s ultimate objective is to sanctify the mundane through utilizing it for the worship of G-d.

This is why it is incumbent upon the Metzora to emerge from quarantine when the seven days are over. S/he must come forward and be inspected by the priest to determine if the condition has passed. If the white skin patches are still visible the Metzorah must return to quarantine for the spiritual vitality within has not yet reached the extremities of the outer surface.

If the priest determines that the disease has passed then the Metzorah must re-enter society and the world at large. S/he must reengage, only this time with more regard for the soul’s interest than for that of the body.

Charity and Torah

To aid the Metzorah in this process the Torah requires that an offering be brought upon the altar. Offering of our possessions to a charitable cause is a noble and G-dly endeavor, which in turn triggers a cognitive awareness of G-d and inspires regular worship of him.

The offering is appropriate when recovering from Tzaraas. What empowers a Jew to avoid it in the first place? The study of Torah.

In describing the healing process the Biblical text mentions the word Torah five times, alluding to the five books of Moses. Study of the Five Books of Torah is the best shield against the moral defects that bring about this disease. (10) This is because Torah binds its student – the Jew to its author- G-d, in a unique and intimate bond.

Fortified by this bond our souls are empowered to win the duel of life. (11)

Footnotes

  1. Tanya Chapter 8 (R. Schneeur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813)
  2. Tanya Chapter 7
  3. Tanya Chapters 23-24
  4. Leviticus Chapters 13-15
  5. Seven sins are specified. They are slander murder perjury debauchery pride theft and Jealousy. Slander is the primary sin of them all. In fact the Hebrew word Metzora is an amalgam of two words Motzi Ra publicizing negative (information) For more detail see Bab. Talmud Arachin 16a. See also Zohar Leviticus p. 53a
  6. Likutei Torah Leviticus p. 22b. See also Sefer Hisvaaduos 5751 p. 155. (R. Menachem M Schneerson Rebbe of Lubavitch 1902-1994)
  7. The Torah indicates that the Tzaraas afflicts only the skin of the flesh. Not the flesh, nor the bone, and certainly not the inner organs. The Tzaraas affliction should not be confused with modern day leprosy. Leprosy is a medical condition brought about by natural phenomena, which affects the nerve system and blood circulation. This condition is rightly treated by a qualified Dermatologist. The Tzaraas affliction was a miraculous phenomena brought about by Divine intervention as a response to one’s moral condition. This condition must be treated by the priest. A Dermatologist can addresse only the physical symptom not the spiritual cause. The Priest, as a conduit of G-d’s blessing and personification of G-d’s presence, could help one reconnect to G-d thusly alleviating the cause and relieving the symptom. Rambam laws of Tumas Tzaraas ch. 17, 10. (Maimonides, R. Moshe ben Maimon (Egypt) 1135-1204)
  8. Sfas Emes Parshas Metzora 5647 (R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Gur 1847–1905)
  9. Sefer hachinuch Mitzvah 169. (The anonymous author identifies himself only as “a Levite from Barcelona,” was a student of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet in the thirteenth century)
  10. See also Sfas Emes Parshas Metzora 5647
  11. Midrash Rabba Leviticus 16, 6 (12)Tanya Chapter 4
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