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Parashat Metzora: Aliyah by Aliyah

 

זֹ֤את תִּֽהְיֶה֙ תּוֹרַ֣ת הַמְּצֹרָ֔ע בְּי֖וֹם טָהֳרָת֑וֹ וְהוּבָ֖א אֶל־הַכֹּהֵֽן (מצורע יד, ב)

“This shall be the ritual for the afflicted with tzara’at on the day of his purification; he shall be brought to the priest.” (Leviticus 14:2)

First Reading: Tzara’at as Closure

Our portion discusses the healing of tzara'at and purification from it. Onkelos translates tzara'at as “closure” (סְגִירוּ).[1] This translation indicates that the spiritual root of tzara'at is related to negative closure. However, it is known from the sages that the blemish of the metzora—the individual afflicted with tzara’at—is precisely the opposite. The sages[2] identify his or her blemish with openness and excessive exposure which expresses itself through negative speech about others as well as their defamation.

Thus, from the sages it seems that the metzora is a person who is entirely open, through and through, a condition completely the opposite of being closed. How then can tzara'at be understood as related to or caused by “closure?” We might argue that the translation of “closure” indicates that the closing up of the afflicted individual’s speech is the cure for tzara’at, however, according to Onkelos, this is the name given to the disease itself, not to its cure.

To resolve this apparent contradiction, let us begin by explaining that closure caused by negative speech can be attributed to different levels in the person’s psychology. At the simple level, the closure of the metzora is understood as the dulling of the heart[3] (טִמְטוּם הַלֵּב) and the mind.[4] Evil speech causes blockage and dullness in a person’s heart and mind. Moreover, a person who speaks idle and negative words adopts a negative mindset—a psychological process that feeds itself and shutters him from change. The mechanism behind this involves, among other things, the connection between speech and the mind. Just as the blood circulates through the body so there is a spiritual cycle that circulates between speech and thought. When a person utters idle words, they return as empty and idle thoughts to his head,[5] which feeds a spirit of folly (the spirit of sin), which then reappears outwardly in the form of more idle and cynical speech, and so forth, in a vicious cycle.

We can use the understanding of this psychological mechanism to better comprehend how negative openness—demonstrated by the individual’s unrestrained ill speech—creates a negative framework that seals the person’s psyche and captures him within himself. This causal sequence can be seen not only as punishment or damage incurred by ill speech, but as a simple defense mechanism: when a person unbridles his spirit and does not restrain it, this negative openness will cause the psyche to close within itself so that its essence will not be lost and carried away in the rush of negative openness.

A similar idea is explained in Chasidic thought[6] regarding the blemish of the covenant (sexual impropriety), which causes the person’s self-integrity to withdraw into itself. When the psyche and soul’s most essential power—the power of procreation that can reveal the soul’s very essence through one’s offspring—is blemished and injured, thereby risking its waste and degradation, then the psyche withdraws the essence inwards and forces it to disappear and close itself off inside the soul.[7] The result is that the individual loses their self-integrity and can no longer feel the freedom to act to fulfill their mission in life.

Indeed, “the covenant of the tongue,” a connotation for a rectified power of speech, parallels “the covenant of the procreative organ,”[8] and the effect of idle and negative words spoken (or one might say, spilled) by the tongue, parallel the effect of idle or empty energy spilled through the procreative organ.[9]

To repair the damage incurred by blemishing the covenant, it is not sufficient to halt the negative “leak” from the soul and to collect all the sparks that have escaped. The main effort must focus on liberating and bringing to light anew the soul’s essential self-integrity that has receded and locked itself deep within the person. Without this release of the soul’s essential faculty of creative expression from its confinement, self-integrity is not restored.

An even deeper significance to the state of closure in the person afflicted by tzara’at is described in the Zohar, in reflection on the verse, “I was stricken by silence; I held my peace, had no comfort, and my pain was held in check”[10] (נֶאֱלַמְתִּי דוּמִיָּה הֶחֱשֵׁיתִי מִטּוֹב וּכְאֵבִי נֶעְכָּר). Based on this verse, the Zohar states that tzara'at is not punishment for evil speech alone, but also for refraining from saying good things.[11] If one is punished for not saying, that means that the punishment is for the closure itself—the inability to speak positively and express one’s essence through speech. Thus, Onkelos’ translation of tzara’at as “closure” can be understood as the inability to say those things which need to be said. This idea is alluded to in the verse, “the desert has closed itself upon them”[12] (סָגַר עֲלֵיהֶם הַמִּדְבָּר), where the word “desert” (מִדְבָּר) is cognate with the word “speaker” (מְדַבֵּר). That is, from the internal closure, a person comes to negative and harmful speech.

When we look more closely at this word, “closed” (סָגַר), we see that it suggests that the metzora has spoken ill of someone, thus having “compromised” (לְהַסְגִּיר) their privacy. To compromise someone can also mean to betray them and hand them over to their enemies, by slandering them. More inwardly, as we mentioned, speaking ill of others locks the speaker into a negative framework[13] (מִסְגֶּרֶת) in the psyche—a place that entrenches their negative traits and makes it difficult for them to change or make any kind of progress. All these words are cognate with the Aramaic translation of tzara’at, סְגִירוּ.

Healing with Closure

The notion that tzara’at is related to closure in the psyche appears once again when we consider the healing process prescribed by the Torah.

The healing of tzara'at is not a natural-human process, but a Divine healing that is facilitated by a Cohen. As described elsewhere,[14] God heals by a process that the sages call “like with like” (דּוֹמֶה בְּדוֹמֶה).[15] Which is why the healing process that the metzora undergoes begins with “and the priest shall isolate him”[16] (וְהִסְגִּירֹו הַכֹּהֵן), where the word for “isolate” and “closure,” stem from the same root.

The isolation of the metzora is an intermediate state between the beginning of the disease, in which he is still considered pure, and the complete impurity of the definitive metzora. Still, it is a method used by the Cohen to attempt to heal the one who is afflicted by “closure” with “closure,” curing “like with like.” Moreover, the act of isolation assumes that if it is a Cohen that isolates the metzora, then later, when the time comes, it is also a Cohen who will be able to release him from his isolation and from his state of spiritual closure.

Blood and Water

Let us examine tzara'at from another perspective, the physical aspect. Delving into the inner content of the physical aspect can better teach us about the significance of the closure being discussed. The sages[17] teach that in the human body, a balance must be maintained between water and blood, and disrupting this balance causes disease. An excess of blood over water is what leads to tzara'at. At first glance, tzara'at appears to be the removal of blood from parts of the body, creating white lesions, hence the question arises, how is it caused by an excess of blood? It should be understood that an excess of blood in the system actually leads to obstruction and blockage in the regular blood flow to all parts of the body since the role of water in the body is to ease and accelerate the relatively viscous blood flow.[18] Therefore, in ancient times, bloodletting was practiced for healing, to reduce the load of blood in the body and to ease blood flow.

From the perspective of the Torah’s inner dimension, blood and water symbolize might (gevurah) and loving-kindness (chessed). The gevurah of blood denotes restraint. Proper restraint facilitates vitality and freshness in life, preventing being swept along indiscriminately; it facilitates maintaining a defined and controlled direction, moving forward with the strength of the gevurah needed to overcome the evil inclination. Conversely, the chessed of water signifies expansion and natural flow, a more open movement forward accompanied by a sense of content with unfolding events void of sharp criticism regarding every detail.

Balancing water and blood is crucial for creating a healthy flow of life-force and life that has direction, yet is not overly obstructed by constriction and blockage of paths due to excessive criticism. An excess of blood represents an increase in judgment, restraint, and meticulousness, hindering the flow of life, with the blood turning into a blockage-tzara'at,[19] stopping its own circulation from reaching every part of the human body.

In truth, a person needs to direct the criticism associated with blood selfward towards himself, to give his life both force and direction. When criticism is also directed towards others, this expresses an excess of blood that goes beyond its bounds to block the flow of life and the ability to integrate into reality.

Conversely, the expansive character of water should be directed towards others, like water flowing from a high place to a low place,[20] from the person himself to everyone outside him. Directing the flow of our “water” aspect, our loving-kindness, outward should bring about both a sense of being able to flow with reality without constantly criticizing it and should give us the power needed to constantly extend ourselves even when faced with obstacles that impend our progress. In contrast, when we do not have enough “water” in our character, we find it difficult to express ourselves positively, preventing us from bringing out the positive energy in ourselves; we feel closed from within and cannot access the reality around us in a positive way.

The bond of love and connection between the souls of Israel is likened[21] to blood in the circulatory system, connecting the different organs and making them one body. When a person speaks against another, with negative and harmful criticism, he stops the blood from flowing to that particular organ in the collective body of the people of Israel.

Run and Return

In Kabbalah,[22] it is said that tzara'at stems from the withdrawal of the light of wisdom from a person. Chasidut[23] explains that wisdom (chochmah) and understanding (binah) are the root of the “run and return”[24] dynamic in the soul. Understanding causes us to elevate above reality, which is described as “running” (ratzo) towards God, and wisdom, which is loftier than understanding, causes us to “return” (shov) to reality. Elevating above reality without a complementary and balanced return causes spiritual death—defined as forfeiting one’s spiritual level—as alluded to in the verse “they die, but not with wisdom”[25] (יָמוּתוּ וְלֹא בְּחָכְמָה), meaning that without wisdom there is (spiritual) death, but that with wisdom, i.e., with proper return to reality, there is no loss of one’s previous spiritual level.

What does wisdom grant that prevents this spiritual death? The inner dimension of wisdom is self-nullification, referring to one’s nullification to the will of God. Self-nullification translates into a commitment to making Him a dwelling in the lower realms,[26] achieved by performing the practical commandments in our physical reality. Such nullification is the root of the “return” (shov) movement, which shifts one’s focus from his own personal elevation to the need for fulfilling God’s will.[27]

Tzara'at too is considered a form of spiritual death,[28] and it too stems from a movement of run without return.[29]

A distorted “run” movement that lacks “return” leads to closure towards reality. A person who only thinks about personal elevation does not consider others. Instead, he directs condescending criticism upon them and desires to distance himself from them. By focusing on “running” towards the supernal alone, one’s attitude towards reality is filled with harsh judgments and irritation. This is a product of “run” being associated with the sefirah of understanding, about which it says, “from it, harsh judgments are aroused.”[30] Tying back to our discussion of water and blood, when there is only a “run” towards the supernal, the flow of descending water—i.e., loving-kindness, akin to a movement of “return” from the supernal to the mundane and commitment to fulfilling God’s will here below—is interrupted again, rendering the individual unable to open to reality and to infuse it with positive content from within himself.

Another effect caused by the withdrawal of the light of wisdom and the resulting negative judgment and criticism is an increase in the amount of idle, evil, and negative words (like waste being poured out from the root of judgments). Wisdom is the root from which a person’s ability to express letters—be they the letters that make up our speech or those that make up our thoughts. These letters, or nuggets of mind, are the culmination of the inner work of “run” that a person has engaged in. But, in the absence of the intention of a “return” from one’s inner work, the holy letters that have been produced withdraw and, in their place, appear other nuggets that are like the lesions of tzara'at. These letters of tzara’at express an indifferent or critical attitude in the form of idle banter or evil words.

Once negative thought and speech become abundant, it is not enough to merely renew the flow of the light of wisdom. One must first nullify the lesions and negative letters that have already appeared. In other words, a person’s closure towards reality and his avoidance of illuminating it with good words, created an alternative, negative, and superficial openness that prevents the deeper, inner source of positive openness to express itself. To achieve the desired openness, one must first stop and close the leaking negativity, which takes the physical form of lesions on the skin. Only then can the run and return of the soul be renewed, but this time under the supervision of a Cohen (priest), who ensures that the run originates from a sense of inner lowliness encouraging the individual to return with humility back to reality and to express positive speech.

The Free Bird

Our conclusion is then that the rectification of the metzora cannot be attained through a ta’anit dibur (refraining from speech for a limited time, a “fast” of speech, so to speak), which would isolate him even further, but rather should encourage the correct use of speech. Speech should serve holiness by improving and bringing hearts closer with good words instead of separating them through evil speech. An abundance of holy letters that help the metzora correct idle talk, stems from the restoration of the light of wisdom—i.e., nullification to God’s will—to the soul. This the metzora can accomplish by reassessing his need for “return” that will inspire his mind and mouth to boost the amount of natural positivity they express.

The numerical allusion that lurks in the background here is that the value of “ta’anit dibur” (תַּעֲנִית דִּבּוּר) is 2 times the value of the verse, “a wise heart will inspire his mouth”[31] (לֵב חָכָם יַשְׂכִּיל פִּיהוּ). The verse’s instruction is that refraining from speech can heal one’s spiritual state only when its purpose is to restore and even double the illumination of wisdom in the heart—“a wise heart” (לֵב חָכָם)—in order to make the mouth wise to increase good speech.

Indeed, this is a cyclical process that can be carried out through self-discipline, even before the light of wisdom and self-nullification is renewed in a person. Just as speaking idle words closed the person in a cycle guided by a spirit of folly (רוּחַ שְׁטוּת) that blocked the power of renewal of his sacred energy, so too, an abundance of holy letters emitted through speech will reopen the blocked channels of wisdom and allows him to innovate holy and novel Torah thoughts and express them.

Here too we find a beautiful numerical allusion in the background. The rectification of the “spirit of folly” (רוּחַ שְׁטוּת) is through the abundant recitation of the written letters of the 929 (תתקכט) chapters of the Bible.[32] 929 is also the value of “You [God] open your hand”[33] (פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת יָדֶיךָ), hinting at the special power to open the soul that the words of the Bible possess. The metzora’s rectification thus comes about by halting the spirit of folly from all idle and empty chatter and replacing it with proactive, deliberate, and disciplined uttering of holy words.

Indeed, in Chasidut[34] it is explained that the ultimate rectification of the metzora lies in true openness, liberation from all constraint and inhibition, and a return to the natural ability to chatter positively. About chatter in general, the sages said: “All chatter is negative, but Torah chatter is good.”[35] This rectification is symbolized by the sparrow (a wild bird) that the metzora frees to the field. With its chirping chatters,[36] the sparrow symbolizes the metzora’s healed freedom to speak naturally and openly without restriction to specific books or subjects, all with the confidence that all his words are inspired by the sacred spirit within.

(from Ma’ayan Ganim, Metzora)

 

 

וְשָׁחַ֣ט אֶת־הַכֶּ֗בֶשׂ בִּ֠מְקוֹם אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִשְׁחַ֧ט אֶת־הַֽחַטָּ֛את וְאֶת־הָעֹלָ֖ה בִּמְק֣וֹם הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ (מצורע יד, יג)

“The lamb shall be slaughtered in the spot where the sin offering and the burnt offering are slaughtered, in the sacred area…” (Leviticus 14:13)

Second Reading: The Implicit Location

It is in the second reading that we read about the actual process of purification the metzora undergoes. Since the seven readings of each parashah correspond to the seven emotive sefirot, the second reading illustrates aspects of the sefirah of might (gevurah). Here, the act of might is the ritual slaughter of the metzora’s offering: “And he shall slaughter the lamb in the place where he shall slaughter the sin offering and the burnt offering.”[37]

When describing the location where the guilt offering is to be sacrificed, the Torah uses what seems to be very cumbersome language: “He shall slaughter the lamb in the place where he slaughters the sin offering and the burnt offering” (וְשָׁחַט אֶת הַכֶּבֶשׂ בִּמְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁחַט אֶת הַחַטָּאת וְאֶת הָעֹלָה). Implicitly, the Torah is describing the area to the north of the courtyard altar, and could have just said, “He shall slaughter the lamb in the north.” (וְשָׁחַט אֶת הַכֶּבֶשׂ בצפון). Using the wording it does, the Torah lengthens the description by 18 letters![38]

The north side of the altar, which is implied, is associated with might (gevurah) as well. By using the long wording, the Torah is emphasizing the affinity between the guilt offering and the sin offering mentioned in the fifth reading of parashat Vayikra. This link between the two readings, the second of Metzora and the fifth of Vayikra, which corresponds to the sefirah of acknowledgment (hod) alludes to the secret of the connection between these two sefirot, which lie one under the other on the left axis.

 

 

 

וְאִם־דַּ֣ל ה֗וּא וְאֵ֣ין יָדוֹ֮ מַשֶּׂגֶת֒ (מצרע יד, כא)

“If he is impoverished and without sufficient means” (Leviticus 14:21)

Third Reading: Five Messianic Ways of Affecting the Impoverished

 

The Metzora and the Mashiach

About the Mashiach it says, “Behold, my servant shall prosper, be exalted, and raised, and elevated, very much”[39] (הִנֵּה יַשְׂכִּיל עַבְדִּי יָרוּם וְנִשָּׂא וְגָבַהּ מְאֹד). This verse depicts five ascents of the Mashiach, who is the all-inclusive singular-one (the yechidah) of all the souls of the Jewish people. Some connect this verse with the five stages of Mashiach’s coming described by Maimonides.[40]

Now, this verse specifically connects the Mashiach to the famous statement that he is designated as “the metzora of the House of Rebbe”[41] (חִוָּרָא דְּבֵי רַבִּי) referring to the royal house of Rabbi Yehudah the Prince, because the value of metzora (מצרע), one who is afflicted with tzara’at is the same as “one who prospers” (מַשְׂכִּיל) or, one who has intellectual or thoughtful success, akin to the first ascent of Mashiach, “My servant shall prosper [in thoughtfulness]” (יַשְׂכִּיל).

One of the most famous instances of “one who prospers [in thoughtfulness]” (מַשְׂכִּיל) can be found in the verse, “Happy is one who is thoughtful of the impoverished”[42] (אַשְׁרֵי מַשְׂכִּיל אֶל דָּל) In parashat Metzora, in the third reading, we find the first usage of the word “impoverished” (דָּל) in the Pentateuch, in its simplest noun form. This is in the verse, “If he is impoverished and without sufficient means” (וְאִם דַּל הוּא וְאֵין יָדוֹ מַשֶּׂגֶת). Let us explore these connections further.

There is another beautiful numerical allusion associated with this link. The initials of the words, “thoughtful of the impoverished” (מַשְׂכִּיל אֶל דָּל) spell “very” (מְאֹד), where “very” is the final word in the verse about Mashiach we started with.

Thinking About the Impoverished

The word “impoverished” (דָּל) has two different meanings. It either means someone who is “poor,” or it refers to someone who is “ill.” In all, we will see that there are five different explanations of the words, “one who is thoughtful of the impoverished” (אַשְׁרֵי מַשְׂכִּיל אֶל דָּל). Each time the word “thoughtful” (מַשְׂכִּיל) is understood differently. There are three explanations for what thoughtfulness is when it comes to the poor, and there are two explanations of its meaning when the object of the thoughtfulness (מַשְׂכִּיל) is someone who is ill.

What is important to note is that the fact that the Mashiach is described as the true and absolute “one who is thoughtful of the poor,” means that all five interpretations are relevant to the Mashiach. There are private individuals who are impoverished, but there are also an entire people that is impoverished, specifically regarding Torah study. That is why the first thing we learn about the Mashiach from Maimonides is that he studies Torah diligently, like his forefather David. This is what gives him the power to pleasantly coerce all of Israel to follow the Torah and to ensure its wholeness.

The people thirst for the word of God. At the same time the people are impoverished when it comes to Torah in general and knowledge of God more specifically (the product of engaging in learning the Torah’s inner dimension) and the Mashiach comes and is thoughtful of their impoverished state and remedies it.

Thinking About the “Impoverished” Poor

The first explanation is that to be thoughtful of the impoverished is to have compassion for the poor. He thinks, meaning anticipates, being compassionate with him. This contrasts with those who ignore the poor, who turn and look the other way because they find it difficult to part with their money. They know that if they do see the impoverished, they will feel compassion for him.

A second explanation, which is a bit deeper, states that not only does the one who is thoughtful have compassion for the impoverished—which is the foundation of the matter—but he also is thoughtful of the way in which he will give the impoverished charity so that the poor individual is not embarrassed. So, the first element of having a “Jewish head” is to be compassionate. Without compassion, even if you are a very wise person, you are ultimately evil. But beyond that is when someone uses their thoughtfulness to figure out how best to give the poor charity, in a way that they will not be embarrassed.

A third explanation for “thoughtfulness” when considering the poor is that it means to consider the life of the impoverished and to realize that it is full of God’s Providence. The story of a poor person’s life is one that powerfully illustrates Divine Providence. Whatever happens with the impoverished is miraculous. The corollary is that if one is wealthy, one’s wealth masks Divine Providence. The Divine Providence explicit in the impoverished individual’s life is referred to in the continuation of the verse, “on a bad day, God will keep him from harm” (בְּיוֹם רָעָה יְמַלְּטֵהוּ הוי').

This type of attitude seemingly makes the one who is thoughtful of the impoverished into an observer, someone who is watching but is not involved. But a Jew cannot merely remain an observer, he must be a participant. How then can I, who am watching the impoverished’s life, contribute to it? There is a well-known anecdote from Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz, the Ba’al Shem Tov’s disciple, that when you see someone who is impoverished, you need to in a sense, disregard your reliance on God, and feed them yourself; you cannot substitute your responsibility to help them with your reliance on God. This is a positive and even holy manifestation of “disbelief”—not having faith that God will support the poor, rather that is my duty.

These two points come together. When I realize how much personal Divine Providence can be seen in the impoverished individual’s life, I realize that God, as it were, is going out of His way to help him. I too should mimic God and follow His ways by ensuring that everyone sees that this poor individual is being taken care of.

The Kabbalistic Structure

The impoverished as someone who is poor is associated with the sefirah of kingdom, about which it says that “it has nothing of its own.” The one who is thoughtful of it corresponds to the sefirah of beauty (tiferet). Beauty has three parts to it: its intellectual third, its emotional third, and its habitual third. These correspond to the three types of thoughtfulness we have just seen.

The habitual third means that whenever I see someone impoverished, I should support him, lend him a hand. To be even more supportive means to think about how not to embarrass him or her when I give them what they need. But the deepest thought that “beauty” has is to realize how much God is at this very moment revealing His Divine Providence through this impoverished fellow. It means to see how much God loves this poor individual and to use that realization to help him myself.

Thinking About the “Impoverished” Ill

Now we turn to look at two explanations for being “thoughtful” (מַשְׂכִּיל) when the impoverished refers to someone who is ill.

When someone is ill it indicates a state of poverty in knowledge, poverty specifically in understanding. The value of “ill” (חוֹלֶה) is 49, one less than 50, indicating that he is missing the 50th Gate of Understanding. This is a surprising, but well-established idea that someone who is ill is missing something in his Torah learning.

There is another verse that connects between being impoverished and the lack of spiritual understanding. This verse states, “Why are you thus impoverished”[43] (מַדּוּעַ אַתָּה כָּכָה דַּל). The word translated as, “thus” (כָּכָה) is an acronym for “the crown of all crowns” (כֶּתֶר כָּל הַכְּתָרִים), according to the Ba’al Shem Tov. It refers to the inner aspect of the crown, the splendor of splendor (הוֹד שֶׁבְּהוֹד). The Arizal explains that this is the verse to have in mind when visiting the sick.

Like the person afflicted with tzara’at, the Torah’s archetypal malady, the sick individual corresponds to the sefirah of understanding that is missing some aspect of wisdom that is then remedied by visiting him. The Arizal points out that the words “bed of sickness” (עֶרֶשׂ דְּוַי) can be permuted to spell “ten” (עֶשֶׂר) and yud (יוֹד), whose value is 10, both clear allusion to the sefirah of wisdom, which is what the individual visiting the sick can give them.

To properly visit the sick, one needs far more thoughtfulness than when thinking about those who are materially impoverished. When I see a poor individual, I can simply give him a monetary gift that allows him to provide for himself. But when it comes to someone who is sick, if I am the doctor, then perhaps I can use my thoughts to prescribe some medicine that will help them.

But if I am not a doctor, I need a lot of wisdom, not just emotional sympathy. This is the essence of the mitzvah of visiting the sick. It goes beyond just loving them and having compassion for them. I really need to apply myself to think about what I can do to help the sick individual. Wisdom appears like a sudden inspiration. Giving charity to someone who is poor does not require inspiration, but providing someone who is sick with what can really help them does.

A second explanation of what thoughtfulness means when considering someone who is ill, stems from an alternate meaning of the words “visiting the ill” (בִּקּוּר חוֹלִים). This meaning at first sounds harsh, but “visiting” also means, to conduct a deep review of the situation (בִּקֹּרֶת).

The question that one should be thoughtful of regarding the impoverished ill is, why did you become sick? Every illness begins with some improper decision made by the individual and every person who is ill bears some responsibility for their situation. “God made man upright,” but because man has many machinations, he becomes sick. As the sages say, “there is no illness, no suffering, without sin.”

So, the wise man who visits the sick has a critical eye, all out of compassion of course, and seeks to reach the root of the issue, the spiritual cause of the sickness. In the physical dimension, the sick individual consults a physician, hoping to find the cause of his illness. Likewise, a Jew who has faith, seeks to consult with a rebbe who will hopefully see the spiritual root of his disease.

This conduct this deep spiritual review is a very lofty wisdom, which really does require a rebbe. The context of the verse quoted above “Why are you thus impoverished” (מַדּוּעַ אַתָּה כָּכָה דַּל) is that Amnon, one of King David’s sons yearned to be with Tamar, one of his daughters. He had a friend Yonadav who saw his lovesickness and acted as his wise advisor. Of course, he was the embodiment of “they are wise to do evil”[44] (חֲכָמִים הֵמָּה לְהָרַע), but his advice worked. He suggested that feign illness and would use it as a pretext to invite Tamar into his quarters to take care of him.

Still, sometimes this type of deep review of the illness is true. The sick person needs to be told that his illness is psychosomatic and is caused by a hidden, concealed craving for something that you have not been able to obtain, like the abominable yearning of Amnon for his sister. Obviously, this analysis needs to be considered in more depth.

The Kabbalistic Structure

The two explanations of “thoughtfulness” about the impoverished in the context of someone who is ill correspond to the aspects of the Father Principle (Abba) known as its aspects of loving-kindness (חֲסָדִים דְּאַבָּא) and its aspects of judgment (גְּבוּרוֹת דְּאַבָּא). Thinking about how to help the sick corresponds to the former and conducting a deep review of the reason for the malady corresponds to the latter.

We can envision all five explanations of “being thoughtful of the impoverished” in one Kabbalistic model. The first three interpretations govern the relationship between the vav in Havayah and the lower hei in Havayah. The impoverished person as a poor person is symbolized by the lower hei, which corresponds to the sefirah of kingdom that has nothing of its own. The vav, which corresponds with beauty (tiferet), fills its needs, as we saw, in three different ways corresponding to the three thirds of tiferet.

The final two interpretations of “being thoughtful of the impoverished” reflect that relationship between the yud in Havayah, wisdom, and the first hei in Havayah, corresponding to understanding. Here the influence of wisdom on understanding is either with its aspects of loving-kindness or its aspects of judgment.

(from the Lag Ba’Omer Farbrengen of 5768)

 

 

Story

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek

Simple Sincerity on Passover

 

Rabbi Menachem Mendel, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, was born to his father, Rabbi Shalom Shachna and his mother, Rebbetzin Devorah Leah, on the 29th of Elul 5549 (1789). When he was three years old, his mother passed away and as per her request, he was adopted by his grandfather, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe (also known as the Alter Rebbe). The Alter Rebbe loved his grandson very much. On the 5th of Kislev 5564 (1804) the Tzemach Tzedek married his cousin, Chayah Mushka, the daughter of his uncle, Rabbi Dov Ber, the second Rebbe of Chabad.

After his uncle’s passing on the 9th of Kislev 5588 (1828) the chasidim decided to appoint the Tzemach Tzedek as his successor and leader of Lubavitch. Rabbi Menachem Mendel refused to accept the position and would not accept the many contingents of senior chasidim who came to request that he become the next rebbe. Ultimately, he did accept their pleas, but on the condition that they would not ask him for advice on mundane matters. Rabbi Hillel of Paritch, one of the leading chasidim at the time, agreed and said, “Chasidim want to hear Chasidut.”

The Tzemach Tzedek was known as one of the great halachic authorities of his generation and his responsa were collected in his books titled, Shut Tzemach Tzedek (the Hebrew for Tzemach Tzedek has the same numerical value as his name, Menachem Mendel). He gave over many Chasidic discourses and was known for his lobbying for the Jews of Russia (for which he was jailed a number of times). The Tzemach Tzedek published Torah Or and Likkutei Torah, both collections of his grandfather’s essays on the Torah and established farming communities for the Jews of Russia and supported them. He even established the agricultural town of Shchedrin in Byelorussia. The Tzemach Tzedek passed away on the 13th of Nissan 5626 (1866) and was laid to rest in Lubavitch.

On one of the intermediary days of Passover, someone found a chametz tart (leavened pastry, which is forbidden on Passover) on top of a cupboard in the Tzemach Tzedek’s home. Quite an uproar ensued: How could it be that in the rebbe’s house, there could be found a completely chametz forbidden pasty in the middle of Passover?

The Tzemach Tzedek responded: “I am also a Jew, and the law in the Code of Jewish Law also applies to me.”[45]

From the Tzemach Tzedek’s reaction it seems that whoever was in an uproar over the chametz, was primarily shocked by the fact that it happened in the home of the great Rebbe. The Tzemach Tzedek, however, with simple sincerity and serenity, identifies with simple Jews. He is not surprised to discover mistakes and shows how to rectify them. This is the attribute of “acknowledgment” (hod, הוֹד), which in Hebrew is cognate to “confession” (וִדּוּי) and repentance, as well as with “Jew” (יְהוּדִי).

A similar story, in a completely different context, is told about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was named after the Tzemach Tzedek (and whose wife had the same name as the wife of the Tzemach Tzedek) and described himself as a “Shulchan Aruch Jew” (a Jew of the Code of Jewish Law). When the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chayah Mushka, passed away, the Rebbe—despite being a Torah genius—requested a copy of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (an abridged version of the Code of Jewish Law) so that he could study the laws pertaining to the pre-funeral mourning and see what had to be done. This story is also relevant to the attribute of hod, both in its bleak context about which the verse states, “My hod has turned against me as a destructive force”[46] or in the context of the fact that the deceased is the Rebbe’s wife. Regarding kingdom, which symbolizes the woman, it is said “She is in hod[47] (אִיהִי בְּהוֹד).

When hod, in the context of a mistake, manifests the discovery of chametz in the middle of Pesach, the rectification of the hod of the tzaddik (or anyone else) is the acknowledgement that “I am also a Jew” and I also make mistakes. But why turn specifically to the Code of Jewish Law, in both the stories?

Part of the rectification of hod is the recognition that “a person does not appreciate the words of Torah unless he has transgressed them.”[48] It is only by facing failure and difficulty that we merit to draw conclusions in the study of Jewish law. We can even say that this is the true aim of the Code of Jewish Law. After all, if no mistakes are made, the laws pertaining to mistakes and transgression remain useless, without any person who can truly understand what is behind them.

***

During the period of the struggle against the Enlightenment, which attempted to obligate Jewish children to engage in secular studies, the government demanded of the Tzemach Tzedek that at least one of his grandchildren would learn in a public school. None of his grandchildren agreed. The Tzemach Tzedek called his grandson, Reb Mordechai, and asked him to attend the public school. In exchange, he promised him that when he would return from school every day, the two of them would study Tanya together. And so it was. The grandson went to the public school and every day, he would study Tanya with his grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek.

When they reached chapter 50 in Tanya, they reached the words “There is one individual who is excited by etc. and there is another individual who is excited by etc.” (יֵשׁ מִתְפָּעֵל כוּ׳ וְיֵשׁ מִתְפָּעֵל כוּ׳). The Tzemach Tzedek explained to his grandson that, “though the excitement discussed is from matters of Divinity, still even that can turn into a feeling of self, a feeling of being something.”[49]

This story contains much more than initially meets the eye: The Tzemach Tzedek’s prudence, which guided him to give in and send his grandson to public school, for the benefit of the community at large would be greater than the damage that may be suffered by his grandson; the spiritual benefit of study of the Tanya to safeguard holiness; the grandson’s decision that for the sake of a chance to study Tanya daily with his grandfather, it was worthwhile even to attend a Russian public school. We will focus on another detail that was conveyed in this story.

In its original context in the Tanya, the expression “there is one individual who is excited by” was not said in a derogatory manner, but rather, as a realistic description that different people are affected and excited by different things, even when it comes to matters of Divinity. There is a person who is in wonderment from one type of contemplation, and another person who is in wonderment from a different thought. The Tzemach Tzedek, however, finds another message between the lines and warns his grandson: Even getting excited from the holy can become a catalyst for false pride and egotism.

The Mittler Rebbe made a similar statement regarding feelings of love and fear of God. Even then, “there is a sense that there is someone here who loves” and “there is a sense that there is someone here who fears.” As opposed to objective intellectual thought, or to cleaving that comes about through absolute self-negation, emotions are always experienced by those who feel them. Emotions possess both grandeur and risk. This is particularly highlighted with love, the most heartfelt and emotional feeling. The pleasantness of love is liable to subtly bring about a state in which the person feeling the love is focused only on himself and not on the object of his love.

The Tzemach Tzedek emphasized this point specifically to this grandson. More than others, a person who learns in public school must beware of the dangers of pride and egotism—even when studying Torah. This was the exact goal of the decree of the Jews who were proponents of Enlightenment (the so-called maskilim). They wished to inject a secular atmosphere into holiness. This is how Chasidut explains the words in the Channukah Al Hanisim prayer, “To make them forget Your Torah” (לְהַשְׁכִּיחָם תּוֹרָתְךָ). The Greeks were willing to tolerate the study of Torah, if it was void of the understanding that it was God’s Divinely given Torah.

The study of the “enlightened” Torah—the one that is just a collection of historically accumulated human wisdom—quickly becomes another academic course, detached from the Giver of the Torah. Its study and its impact are then translated into personal achievement and that is how it is perceived. The Tzemach Tzedek wanted to negate this mindset from his grandson, who later became the Chief Rabbi of the esteemed town of Vitebsk.

 

[1]. See for instance Onkelos on Leviticus 13:2.

[2]. “The Torah of the metzora…, the Torah related to the one who defames others” (Arachin 15b).

[3]. See Sefat Emet, Tazria 5636, s.v.Bapasuk, nega tzara’at” and elsewhere.

[4]. See the ma’amar Katonti 5717 (Torat Menachem vol. 17, p. 219).

[5]. Torah Or Vayechi 102c-d. See Ibid. Beshalach 64a: letters of speech (and thought) are likened to horses. Those that make up evil speech and thought are likened to mares that draw after them stallions, letters of idle empty words and cynicism.

[6]. Torat Shalom (Yiddish), p. 172 ff.

[7]. See Zohar Chadash Shir HaShirim and Sha’arei Orah 5:6, which explain that as long as Abraham was not circumcised, he could not bring out holy seed to beget his offspring, for as long as there is fear that the sacred will be abducted by the forces of impurity, a person’s holiness will close up on itself.

[8]. Sefer Yetzirah 1:3.

[9]. See Reishit Chochmah Sha’ar HaKedushah ch. 11 (167a ff.).

[10]. Psalms 39:3.

[11]. Likewise, one should not refrain, or act ascetically and not marry and bear children. One should make every effort to perform the Torah’s first commandment, to be fruitful and multiply.

[12]. Exodus 14:3.

[13]. Framework is another word that stems from the same root as “closure.”

[14]. See Wonders, issue 93, pp. 10-11.

[15]. Shemot Rabbah 50:3: “The Holy Blessed One, with what He afflicts, He heals.”

[16]. Leviticus 13:5.

[17]. Tanchuma Tazria 6. Vayikra Rabbah 15:2.

[18]. See Shabbat 41a: “If one eats without drinking, he has consumed blood.”

[19]. In Hebrew these two words, “blockage” (מַעְצוֹר) and “tzara’at” (צָרַעַת) stem from two verbs that are a permutation of one another.

[20]. Ta’anit 7a.

[21]. Tanya Iggeret HaKodesh 31. See also Derech Mitzvotecha, Mitzvat Ahavat Yisrael.

[22]. Eitz Chaim 37:7.

[23]. See Likkutei Torah Vayikra 24c, s.v. “Zot Tihiyeh Torat HaMetzora.”

[24]. Ezekiel 1:14.

[25]. Job 4:21.

[26]. Tanchuma Naso 16.

[27]. The primary Torah example of run without return is the death of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron the High Priest’s two eldest sons.

[28]. See Rashi on Numbers 12:12. Sifrei Bamidbar 105.

[29]. See Likkutei Torah loc. cit. Derech Mitzvotecha 100a and ff.

[30]. Zohar 2:175b. Eitz Chaim 13:8 and 14:2.

[31]. Proverbs 16:23.

[32]. The three parts of the Bible, the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, correspond to the soul’s three garments: thought, speech, and action. Since the Prophets corresponds to speech, this is the part of the Bible that is most crucial for the individual healing from tzara’at.

[33]. Psalms 145:16.

[34]. Mei HaShilo’ach s.v., “Zot Tihiyeh Torat HaMetzora.”

[35]. Jerusalem Talmud Berachot, end. See the Sefer Chareidim there, that this chatter refers to the sound made by birds.

[36]. Sifra 5:14. Vayikra Rabbah 16:7.

[37]. From the conclusion of the first reading, we might have felt that the offering was already slaughtered. But since the slaughtering is only described in our second reading, in retrospect, the act described as, “he shall present it for a guilt offering” (וְהִקְרִיב אֹתוֹ לְאָשָׁם) turns out to  have referred to bringing the offering near, the literal meaning of “present it” (וְהִקְרִיב), which could also mean, “he will slaughter.”

[38]. See Pesachim 3a.

[39]. Isaiah 52:13.

[40]. Hilchot Melachim 11:4.

[41]. Sanhedrin 98b.

[42]. Psalms 41:2.

[43]. 2 Samuel 13:4.

[44]. Jeremiah 4:22.

[45]. Reshimat Sipurim, vol. 1, p.42.

[46]. Daniel 10:8.

[47]. Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar HaKelalim, ch. 1.

[48] As per Gittin 43a.

[49]. Reshimat Sipurim, vol. 1, p. 48.

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