Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Parshas Tazria / HaChodesh

וראה הכהן את הנגע בעור הבשר ושער בנגע הפך לבן ומראה הנגע עמק מעור בשרו

נגע צרעת הוא וראהו הכהן וטמא אתו (13:3)

Most impurities are physical realities which immediately take effect upon contact with the impure item (e.g. a dead body, an impure person). On the other hand, the determination of the status of tzara’as isn’t dependent upon the onset of the skin affliction or even upon the evaluation of the Kohen. It depends solely upon the verbal proclamation of the Kohen, “Tamei,” which causes the commencement of the tzara’as. Why is this type of impurity determined in this unique manner?

The following powerful story will help us understand what makes tzara’as different. One day in Yerushalayim, two old friends encountered one another on the bus. Excited at the opportunity to catch up with one another, they sat down together and began talking. In the course of their conversation, one of them casually mentioned the name of an old friend. The other replied, “You didn’t hear? She just got engaged last week to so-and-so!”

This news left her friend both elated and shocked. “That’s so wonderful that she finally got engaged … but to him!? Who would have ever thought that she would settle for a person with so many problems?” Taking the bait, the one who shared the news agreed and proceeded to list problems not only with the chosson, but also with his family’s reputation. The conversation went back-and-forth, with each of them heaping more and more question-marks on the match.

After five minutes, a woman who was sitting behind them turned to the gossipers and remarked, “I know you didn’t realize this, but I’m the aunt of the kallah you’ve been discussing. We obviously didn’t know about these serious allegations against the chosson and his family. As soon as I get home, I’m going to call my niece to convince her to break the engagement.”

Aghast at the unexpected turn of events, the friends begged her not to do so. They explained, “We were just innocently chatting about recent events. We didn’t mean many of the things that we said, and most of them were exaggerated. Please don’t break-up this shidduch because of our poor judgment.” Just then, the bus reached the woman’s stop. The wise woman paused before exiting and taught them an invaluable lesson. “You have nothing to worry about. I’m not really her aunt … but I could have been!”

The Chofetz Chaim explains that because one of the primary causes of tzara’as is speaking lashon hara, the status of its impurity is specifically dependent upon the speech of the Kohen. Many times a gossiper rationalizes his actions by claiming that mere words can’t inflict any harm. Therefore, just as the two friends learned on the bus, we hint to him how much damage words can cause by showing him that his impure status hinges upon the verbal proclamation of the Kohen.


וראה הכהן את הנגע בעור הבשר ושער בנגע הפך לבן ומראה הנגע עמק מעור בשרו

נגע צרעת הוא וראהו הכהן וטמא אתו (13:3)

The Torah requires a person who suspects that he has tzara’as to show it to a Kohen for his evaluation (Chinuch 169). If a Kohen is asked to rule on the status of an affliction found on the skin of a powerful person whose retribution he fears, is he permitted to refuse to do so? Similarly, if he notices what appears to be tzara’as on the skin of somebody close to him but doesn’t want to rule him impure, may he send his friend to another Kohen, who may not come to the same conclusion, to rule on its status?

Rav Yosef Karo writes that in both cases, it is forbidden for the Kohen to excuse himself. The Torah appointed the Kohanim to perform this task, and if approached, they are forbidden to demur for any reason. Just as a judge may not show favoritism in ruling on the cases which are brought before him, so too a Kohen must rule on each affliction brought to him to the best of his ability.


החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים (שמות 12:2 – פרשת החודש)

מכאן ואילך יהיו החדשים שלכם, לעשות בהם כרצונכם, אבל בימי השעבוד

לא היו ימיכם שלכם, אבל היו לעבודת אחרים ורצונם (ספורנו)

Our verse contains the first mitzvah which was given to the Jewish people as a collective nation. When read literally, it presents the mitzvos of sanctifying the new moon and making Nissan the first month of the Jewish year. However, the Seforno understands that also included in this first mitzvah was the most precious commodity of all: time, and the freedom to do with it whatever one desires. The ability to spend one’s time freely is itself freedom, and control over one’s time is a necessary prerequisite to performing the rest of the 613 commandments.

Rav Pam symbolically suggests that the first mitzvah is not just for the Sanhedrin to sanctify the new month, but for every individual Jew to sanctify every moment of his day. Just as people devote tremendous amounts of time and energy to seeking out the best investments for their money, so too should we focus on how to achieve the maximum return with the precious time that we are granted and how to wisely “invest” it in our futures. The Gemora in Chagigah (4a) defines a shoteh (crazy person who is exempt from performing mitzvos) as a person who throws away gifts that he is given. If so, Rav Pam suggests that anybody who adopts the American hobby of “killing time” is legally crazy!

Rav Uri Weissblum derives another insight into the importance of valuing time from a comment of Rashi later in the parsha (12:17). Rashi suggests that just as the Torah commands us to guard our matzo to prevent it from becoming chometz, so too must we do mitzvos with alacrity so that they don’t turn into “chometz.” Rav Weissblum questions the comparison, as a person who takes too long baking his matzos and eats them after allowing them to turn into chometz is liable to the penalty of kares (spiritual excision). On the other hand, a person who delays the performance of a positive commandment, while not commendable, is certainly not punished with kares, especially since it can be performed at a later opportunity. If so, how can Rashi equate the two cases?

Rav Weissblum suggests that in comparing the two laws, Rashi is teaching us that the only person truly considered alive is one who is connected to Hashem. Even a single moment during which a person neglects the opportunity to cleave to Hashem by performing one of His mitzvos is considered voluntary spiritual excision, as every moment of life which isn’t appreciated and used properly is a form of self-induced spiritual death!


בראשן בארבעה עשר יום לחדש בערב תאכלו מצת (שמות 12:18 – פרשת החודש)

The Passover sacrifice was eaten on the first night of Pesach, which falls on the 15th of Nissan. Why did Hashem command the Jews in Egypt regarding its consumption in a manner which, when read literally, seems to indicate that it was to be eaten on the night of the 14th of Nissan?

The Panim Yafos explains that before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, even the Jews used the non-Jewish concept of a “day” which begins in the morning and concludes at night. Only after receiving the Torah did we switch to a system in which a “day” begins in the evening. According to this explanation, our verse makes perfect sense. The Jews in Egypt were instructed to eat matzos on what they considered to be the “night” of the 14th. To their ears, this meant the night which follows the day of the 14th, which is precisely what we refer to today as the night of the 15th!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!

To receive the full version with answers email the author at parshapotpourri@optonline.net.


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi writes (12:2) that just as humans were created after all of the animals, so too the laws pertaining to man are taught only after the rules governing the kashrus of the animals. If the commandments are written according to the order of the Creation, why does the Torah teach the laws of a woman who has given birth (12:1-8) before those governing a man who has tzara’as (13:1-46) if man was created before woman? (Paneiach Raza, Sifsei Chochomim)

2) The Torah teaches (12:3) that a baby boy should be circumcised on the 8th day of his life. The Toras Kohanim adds that although the circumcision may be performed at any time during the day, it is preferable to perform the mitzvah with alacrity as early in the day as possible. If there are two circumcisions to be performed, one on an 8-day-old boy and one on an older baby, which one should be done first? (Shu”t Bris Avrohom Orach Chaim 14, Dvar Avrohom 1:33 and 2:1-4, Divrei Yechezkel 12, Marcheshes Vol. 1 43:4, Zecher Yitzchok 1)

3) The Gemora in Arachin (16a) lists seven sins which can cause tzara’as: lashon hara, murder, false oaths, forbidden relationships, arrogance, theft, and stinginess. What common thread can you find between these sins, and in what way is tzara’as an appropriate punishment for them?

4) Is tzara’as contagious? (Ramban Bereishis 19:17, Daas Z’keinim 13:46, Ibn Ezra, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Meshech Chochmah, Derech Sicha)

5) If a person is afflicted with tzara’as on his entire body, this would seem to indicate that he has sinned terribly. Why does the Torah rule (13:12-13) that such an individual is pure and need not go through any process of repentance? (Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha, Torah L’Daas Vol. 2)

6) Why did Hashem declare (Shemos 12:2) the month of Nissan, in which the Jews were freed from slavery from Egypt, to be the first of the months instead of Sivan, in which the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, or Tishrei in which the world was created? (Darash Moshe)


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