Parsha Metzorah

Barry Oppenheim, April 5, 2014

Hazing. Most of us are familiar with the concept of ‘hazing’. For those not – hazing is defined as the imposition of strenuous, often humiliating tasks as part of a program of rigorous physical training and initiation. Examples of hazing are seen around us daily – and can be as subtle as a new office hire who is required to bring donuts for his or her coworkers every Friday, all the way to the extremes of rookie football players, who have to stand-up in front of their new teammates, and sing their college fight song. Of course, there are even more extreme examples of hazing, such as what’s done to college students for initiation into fraternities. I’m not sure I’ll ever get my son Alex to tell me exactly what he had to do to join his college fraternity…..and I suspect that’s probably a good thing. A very good thing…..

When I inquired with the Library Minyan authorities about giving a drash (you know who you are), I sort of expected some hazing, after all, I was gone for 6+ years. In my mind, this hazing, in it’s basic form, is ‘You want back into this Minyan – you’ll have to earn it — the hard way’. But – and it’s a BIG but! – there’s hazing, and then there’s this week’s Parsha, Metzorah. I wonder if the hazing my son Alex went thru was any more painful than having to give a drash for this parsha. I suspect it might be close…

I recall the person who recently gave the drash for Vayikrah commenting on just how difficult THAT parsha was to discuss. Well – anytime anyone wants to compare their parsha to Metzorah, bring it on. Metzorah would have to rank in the top 3 ‘challenging’ parshas to give a drash.

And so — Let the hazing begin….

There are 54 parsheot in the Torah – Metzorah is one of the shortest, with 2 perakim, chapters, consisting of a total of 90 pesukim, sentences. It is most often read with Tazriah, but as we are currently in a leap year, we read each parsha individually.

Metzorah deals with diseases & various natural bodily functions, and how a person goes about purifying him or herself. It begins with details about the various sacrifices a leper must make before rejoining the community, and ends with rules regarding a man or woman’s bodily discharges. You can thank me later– since we’re relatively close to having Kiddush, that I’ll refrain from any discussions about bodily discharges. However, in the middle of the parsha, the Torah discusses the appearance of tzaraat – a plague, some sort of mold or rot – in a person’s home. When you read the pesukim, it’s rather difficult to take the text at face value: A homeowner notices that his / her house has a ‘plague’. The person notifies the Kohan, who does an inspection. Should the Kohan find a specific type of plague, one that goes ‘deep into the wall’, he then clears the house for 7 days (I sort of envision a biblical version of yellow police tape used to keep people out) before returning on Day 7. On Day 7, should the plague still be in evidence, the Kohan will require that the affected stones and walls be removed, and brought outside the city to an ‘impure place’. The local house contractor – Bob Vila came to my mind – is then called to scrape out any remaining ‘plague-infested’ material, and replace the impure stones with new stones. Should the plague return after this work, the Kohan will order the house torn down.

There are a couple of interesting points that caught my attention here:

  1. Since during the initial inspection the Kohan does nothing to remedy the plague, why would anyone believe that the ‘plague’ would not spread further over the next 7 days?
  2. To that point, the Torah mentions nothing that the homeowner can, or should do, to assist in the remedy of the plague.

Commentators have multiple opinions on this subject.

The Chafetz Chaim& Rambam suggest that Jews who had to dismantle their homes – homes that had previously been occupied by the Emorites – often found treasures buried deep within the walls. But this leads one to question the ‘gain’ of such a find versus the sin (gossip & slander) that brought about the plague of tzaraat in the first place. It seems incongruent to reward a person – a person who has sinned – with such treasure. One of the early pieces of Gemara that I learned – I believe it was 5th grade – stated that a stolen lulav can not be used to perform the Mitzvah of lulav & etrog – lulav hagazol, vhayavesh pasol. That concept – that a person who sins is not rewarded when performing a mitzvah with the result of that sin (Mitzvah habaa b’avera) – leads me to have difficulty with the idea here that a person who sinned via gossip or slander is rewarded with buried treasures. The Chafetz Chaim attempts to resolve this incongruence by stating that these Jews were indeed guilty of this sin – but were otherwise deserving of finding these treasures.

Many other commentators believe that the Torah should not be taken literally regarding an actual plague affecting a house. Rather, the Torah is referring to a moral plague of a person or persons within the house. And so – if the moral plague, caused by gossip & slander – is indeed remedied during the 7 day period, the Kohan will then pronounce the house ‘healed’. If during this 7 day period, however, this moral plague has spread, then significant additional work is required to remedy the problem. The Torah states that the affected walls be pulled out and replaced – which we can view as the internal work a person would have to do to reexamine and repair their own internal foundation. The lesson here for us is that we must all be vigilant in keeping our own homes – our own lives – free of this tzarrat, by regularly examining our own foundations.

Forty years ago – almost to the date (it was April 10, 1974) – I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah by reading this Parsha on a Monday, at the Moriah School, located in Englewood, NJ. Over the years – and rather circuitous route I took to be here – back here – in Los Angeles in 2014 – I have to admit to have picked up some ‘tzarrat’ along the way. I have participated in gossip, I have slandered people. I imagine others here today, over the past many years, have also had their challenges with this. It’s interesting – the Rabbis knew how much of a challenge this sin is – as we conclude the Amidah 3+ times per day with ‘Elohai Nitzor’, ‘My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully’. We say this over 1000 times per year, and yet for most all of us, it’s still a struggle to refrain from gossip.

But as we experience the rebirth of Spring, the timing is perfect for change, perfect for our own growth.

Pesach is right around the corner. Many of us have already started preparations for the Holiday. In less than 10 days we will perform bedikas chametz in our homes, and in our apartments. This year, let’s expand our definition of Kol Chamira. Rather than just consider the bracha about chametz you can or can’t see, think about the internal chametz we have, the tzaraat, and strive to also remove it from our homes, and to eliminate it from our lives. When we burn our Chametz a week from Monday, let’s also burn this ‘tzaarat’ we possess. The time is right….the time is now.

Shabbat Shalom – it’s an honor to be back with you.

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