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Home » Metzora, Tazria

Tazria Mizora: The Priest and the Pariah

Submitted by on April 15, 2007 – 3:26 am2 Comments | 977 views

Inopportune

There is an ancient tradition by which Jews pledge to charity in the hope of bringing merit to a loved one that has fallen ill. (1) Similarly, rabbis often suggest that performance of Torah commandments stimulates blessing from above.

Doesn’t this rise to the heights of hypocrisy? Is devotion for the purpose of problem relief, genuine? Does G-d enjoy or even accept such seemingly false devotion?

Is he Brought?

In presenting the laws of Mitzora (a dermatological condition that caused ritual impurity) the Torah offers a curious expression. “This shall be the Torah of the afflicted on the day of his purification . . . and he shall be brought before the priest. The priest shall go out to him.” (2)

Biblical commentators have noted the seeming contradiction. The Mitzora was isolated in lodgings beyond the city. The first verse instructs the Mitzora to enter the city and visit the priest. The second verse instructs the priest to leave the city and visit the Mitzora. Which is correct?

Several commentators have suggested that the first verse is a description of the process by which the Mitzora recovers and the second verse contains the practical instruction.  (3)

The Process

When faced with a dermatological condition we usually visit a dermatologist. When conventional medicine proves insufficient many turn to alternative medicine. When this too falls short we might turn to a psychiatrist in case our outer skin condition is symptomatic of inner stress.

The Mitzora explored each of these avenues, but failed to find a cure. At this point he considered the possibility of Biblical Tzaraas, an unconventional illness that could not be healed by conventional means.

Our sages taught that the Tzaraas affliction was symptomatic of moral deprivation. It afflicted those, who were pious on the surface, but inwardly corrupt. Many such examples are enumerated. Slanderers, who present themselves as friends of the very people they slander. Thieves, who prey on their trusting friends. The haughty, who present a front of humility. Aggressors, who present themselves as meek, thus misleading their potential victims.

Those who manipulated others by concealing the truth were afflicted with a condition that could not be concealed. Tzaraas affected the skin surface, thus broadcasting the moral depravity, these individuals sought to conceal. (4)

The disease was curable, but only by spiritual means. The Mitzora visited the priest, who inspected the disease and instructed the Mitzora to sit in isolation for seven days. During this time the Mitzora could neither slander nor present false fronts. He sat in isolation and faced the bitter reality of his inner truth, thus initiating a process of repentance that would heal the cause, his spiritual malady, as well the symptom, his physical condition.

Insincere Appeal

This Mitzora didn’t consult the priest out of piety. He had an alternative motive. He didn’t volunteer to the come to the priest, his condition brought him there. He wasn’t there to solve his slandering problem, he was there to cure his disease. If the doctor could have helped him he wouldn’t have visited the priest in the first place. Hence the first verse, “He was brought (against his will) to the priest.”

Should the priest have accepted him despite his insincerity? The answer is yes. Not only should the priest have accepted him, he was required to go out of his way, a great distance out of his way, to accommodate the Mitzora. Hence the requirement in the second verse, “The priest shall go out to him.”

We now understand the inner meaning of the verse, “He shall be brought before the priest. The priest shall go out to him.” The Mitzora was never actually brought before the priest. On the contrary, the priest went out to see him. The Mitzora was virtually brought before the priest, meaning he was forced to accept the priest’s ablutions, when he recognized that the priest was his only hope for a cure.

The priest, for his part, was duty bound to respond. Despite the The Mitzora‘s apparent lack of sincerity, the priest traveled to the outskirts of the city to visit the The Mitzora in his place of confinement.

Inner Truth

Why is G-d willing to accept our offering even when we are not completely sincere?

Our sages taught that Torah must be studied for G-d’s sake; to absorb andpriest - innerstream internalize its divine message. Yet study for personal gain is also a virtue because it eventually leads to study for G-d’s sake. (5)

Chassidic masters took this one step further and explained that at their core, all Jews are sincere. On the surface we might study for personal gain. We might have selfish motives, but deep beneath the surface, lurks our true motives, namely our souls’ one and constant desire to draw closer to G-d. (6)

The Dancing Jew

In Stalinist Russia, a Jew once found himself imprisoned on the night of Simchat Torah. Wanting to revel in the holiday spirit, but knowing that he would have to dance alone, he produced a bottle of Vodka and passed it around to his cell mates. After several rounds the cell mates joined him in song and dance. The cell mates danced because they had consumed large amounts of Vodka, the Jew danced because it was Simchat Torah.

Our souls play a similar game. It wants to study Torah because it wants to draw closer to G-d, but it realizes that such considerations don’t motivate our hearts and minds. So the soul concocts alternative motivations such as personal gain. Our minds study Torah for personal gain, but our inner dimension, our souls, study for the sake of G-d.

The priest peered beyond the outer layers and saw the The Mitzora’s inner soul. On the surface this was aMitzora seeking relief from affliction. Beneath the surface, this was a Jew desperately yearning for G-d. The Jewish soul beckoned. The priest would not let him down.

Footnotes

  1. Bab. talmud, Rosh Hashanah, 4a.
  2. Leviticus 14: 2-3.
  3. See commentary of Kli Yakar  (R. Ephraim Shlomo of Luntshitz, 1550-1619), Orach chayim (R. Chaim Ibn Atar, Morocco, 1696-1743) and Torah Moshe on Leviticus 14: 2-3.
  4. See commentary of Kli Yakar on Leviticus 13: 2. (R. Moshe Alshich, Tzefat, 1508-1600)
  5. Bab. Talmud, Psachim, 50b and Sotah 22b.
  6. See Likutei Sichos (R. Menachem M Schneerson, Rebbe of Lubavitch, NY, 1902-1994) v. XX, p. 50-52.
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2 Comments »

  • Anonymous says:

    Yes that is precisely what I was saying. When you think of it there are many motives to every Mitzvah, but only one true motive. That true motive might be the furthest from our mind, but it is the reason the other motives are created.
    Take Shabbat lunch for example. We salivate as we think of the delicious dishes, but that is not our true reason for wanting to partake. The soul wants to partake because it is a mitzvah to eat on Shabbos and honor it with delicious food. It needs the body to come on board which is why it finds a pragmatic way to interest the body too.

  • Anonymous says:

    Let us see if I understand this article correctly ?
    You are saying that G-d works His will through us despite our own shortcomings and failures. G-d is inside us as well as outside us and because of this He manifests Himself through us physically in ways that are beyond us. He does this because we are incapable of steering ourselves to this desired destination, just as a loving Father brings his children away from error and danger of accidents. And we humans are so lost in our own importance and folly that this is a necessary lesson in humility and acceptance of Divine Will.

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