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Shabbat Parashat Ki Teitzei 5771

Parashat Hashavuah: Dealing with Tzaraat

Harav Shaul Yisraeli - from Siach Shaul, pg. 521-523

Our parasha mentions two things to remember. The significance of remembering the horrible actions of Amalek (Devarim 25:17), which require us to have an ongoing battle against them in all generations, is understandable. However, it is hard to see the cosmic significance of remembering the punishment of Miriam with tzara’at for speaking a few inappropriate words about her brother, Moshe (ibid. 24:9)

A primitive vessel is not significantly affected by a flaw in one of its sections. The more delicate and complex the utensil and its mechanism, the more significance each of its parts has. In fact sometimes the smallest parts have the greatest significance. We cannot measure the mitzvot and sins found in the Torah, yet we learn something about their value from their results. If the Torah commanded the whole nation to remember Miriam’s mistake, we could learn something about the severity of that type of speech.

Tzara’at comes as a result of lashon hara (Arachin 15b), and the remedy for the sin is, “In solitude he shall sit outside the encampment” (Vayikra 13:46). He who separates between people by telling venomous stories that arouse people’s jealousy and hatred deserves specifically to himself be separated from people.

There is also a special prohibition in regard to tzara’at: it is forbidden to cut off a tzara’at lesion (Devarim 24:9; Makkot 22a). Just as speech and thought can impact the body, so can sin find expression on the body. The impurity ruins the flow of the blood and causes damage to the skin. Yet the one who would cut off the tzara’at does not want to deal with the root cause and regret his actions. Instead of going into temporary solitude, he would try to run away from the consequences. How much damage does this type of person cause to those around him and actually to himself?! When the affliction is in the open it is easier to keep one’s distance from it, literally and figuratively. The way of dealing with it must be internal, as Judaism generally prescribes, not by artificially removing it or by covering it up.

[This derasha was given in 1938, apparently in response to some local issue that Rav Yisraeli took very seriously]. What is European culture? What is hiding under the overflowing cosmetics, impressive rhetoric, and artificially flashy intellectuality? It is an attempt to “purify the sheretz (impure animal) with 150 arguments.” It is to cover up human flaws, primitive instincts, and base desires with fancy but hollow explanations. When you try to cover things up, they are liable to grow and expand until one finally cannot hide them anymore.

Sometimes we suffice by “putting up posters,” posters that announce that we are good and thereby hide our shortcomings. We show off the poster of being religious laborers, and then we do not have to deal with our moral shortcomings. “One can see all flaws except for the flaws that afflict himself” (Negaim 2:5). Let us look at ourselves and check the “storage chambers” of our souls by the light of the Torah and mitzvot. 

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