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Friday - Shabbat, April 8 - 9 Parshat Metzorah 

Torah Reading: Metzorah (Leviticus 14:1 - 15:33)
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Shabbat ends 8:11 PM

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Skin Deep

This week’s parsha— Metzora—continues with the topic of tzara’at that was discussed in last week’s parsha. Tzara’at is a skin disease that would render the person ritually unclean and require a period of quarantining. Once the person is “cured” from this malady, the afflicted person would follow a prescribed purification regimen that would allow him to rejoin his community and family.

Our Sages have stated that this disease was actually a physical manifestation of a spiritual deficiency.

In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98b), the title Metzora—the person afflicted with tzara’at—is actually employed as a metaphor for Moshiach!

How can the Talmud describe Moshiach as a Metzora, a person who is apparently afflicted with a diseased body and a diseased soul?

Chassidic thought explains that the appellation Metzora applied to Moshiach is actually a reflection of the world’s state of near perfection in the last moments of Galut/exile. This is exemplified by the way tzara’at manifests itself. It shows up only on the most external organ of the person—his skin. This suggests that the only vestige of evil that is left appears on the most exterior part of the person. According to the teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidut, tzara’at therefore only afflicted people who were very spiritual and sensitive to the slightest imperfection.

This, surprisingly, is an accurate description of the current state of affairs. The world, through centuries and millennia of good deeds, has refined itself to the point that all of the evil has already been purged from within. Whatever evil still exists has now been pushed to the surface, the one remaining place where it still rears its ugly face and wreaks havoc on us and even appears to be more potent than ever before.

How can we reconcile this astounding claim with reality? Haven’t we seen the worst—even unprecedented—atrocities committed precisely in this past century?

The answer can best be illustrated by way of a simple analogy to a swimming pool that is filled with grease and grime. When a chemical is added to the water, all of the filth rises to the top. The filth that was previously distributed evenly throughout the entire pool has risen to the surface in a concentrated form. It is true to claim that the pool is cleaner than ever before even as we assert that the filth is now far more concentrated and potent. But there is also a paradox about this claim. For to the uninitiated eye the pool appears filthier than ever. But to the more discerning eye the pool is now pristine and pure except for the surface which is dirtier than ever, and so all efforts must be directed to skim that dirt from the surface.

The bad news is that the evil still exists and is even more lethal than in the past. As a result, we cannot let down our guard against these malevolent and insidious forces that threaten the Jewish people and the entire world. The good news is that the world has been refined and that all that is now needed is for someone (i.e. all of us) to come and skim the surface and remove the concentration of filth that has risen to the top.

This explains the current state of affairs of our world. All of the positive efforts of the past have succeeded in removing the internal evil and have pushed it to the surface.

The rationale for this assertion is that positive energy never dissipates. Negative energies, by contrast, do dissipate with the passage of time. Hence the world has accumulated incredible amounts of positive energy that have penetrated the surface and permeated the ‘subterranean' world, pushing the negative energies slowly but surely to the top.

Today’s challenge—the challenge for Moshiach and for all of the Jewish people and, indeed, for the entire world in this pre-Redemption era—is to finally rid the world of the skin-deep evil that is the last impediment to an ideal world—the world of Redemption. Moshiach—and by extension, the entire Jewish people—are therefore compared to the Metzora, whose challenge is to remove this peripheral vestige of evil.

The Talmud teaches us that the tzara’at disease was caused by seven transgressions. (According to the Midrash, the number is expanded from seven to ten sins.)

The seven are: Slander, bloodshed, oaths made in vain, illicit relations, inflated egos, theft, and stinginess (literally: a jaundiced eye).

It stands to reason that in the present positive climate where, as stated, the evil is peripheral and the internal positive energies have become more accessible it behooves us to dig beneath the surface to expose these positive forces. Once that is accomplished the surface evil will also be removed, and the world will experience complete Redemption.

Thus, to counter these seven transgressions that result in tzara’at we must uncover and instill seven parallel positive forces.

To counter the sin of Lashon Hara (speaking ill of others) one must develop the talent to see the hidden good in the other and assist that person to elicit and actualize that good by speaking positively about them. The most effective way of changing the way we see the other is to study the texts of Torah—specifically the teachings of Chassidut—that focus on the preciousness of the G‑dly soul which we each possesses. Appreciating another person’s G‑dly soul will surely enhance our ability to appreciate the other’s potential.

According to the Talmud embarrassing another is a form of bloodshed. To embarrass others is a sign of disrespect for them. Even if we respect their inner goodness because they possess a soul, we might focus on their errant behavior and try to expose it. That is a form of bloodshed which destroys these persons' self-esteem. To counter that tendency we must learn to see not only the hidden qualities of the others but also their revealed qualities. It does not suffice to tell someone that he/she has potential. We must also focus on their actual good. Again it is in Chassidic literature that we discover the way we are to view a person’s faults and virtues. We should only see their faults to the extent that we are motivated to help them. It should never cause us to lose our respect for them.  

Uttering an oath in vain—which involves taking G‑d’s name in vain—evinces a lack of reverence and respect for G‑d. The cause of this trivializing of G‑d is the world’s materialistic and mechanistic mindset. We can effectively counter the indifference to G‑d by studying the teachings of Chassidut that help us gain a greater understanding and awareness of G‑d’s reality, presence, and relevance to our own lives.

By enhancing our modesty we negate the sin of illicit relationships. This we accomplish by developing a healthy and refined attitude towards the sanctity and beauty of the human body and its role in marriage. Here too Chassidic teaching sheds new light on the holiness of the body. Not only is the soul a G‑dly entity but even the body is a holy treasure, and its holiness is revealed through modesty and the way we conduct the most intimate aspects of our relationships.

Countering egocentricity is achieved by acquiring an awareness of G‑d’s greatness through the study of Torah, specifically through the mystical teachings of Chassidut. With this realization our egos are kept in check because our world now becomes a G‑d-centric one.

We counter the sin of theft by respecting another’s possessions. Chassidut explains that we are composites of souls, bodies and worldly possessions, which are extensions of our bodies in terms of the soul’s mission on earth. The soul’s descent into the world is to refine the body as well as the extended body that are our worldly possessions—our share of the world. In a spiritual vein, to steal from someone is tantamount to taking away part of that person’s essence. Every person is given possessions in this world for the purpose of elevating and transforming them from their physical state to a G‑dly state. This we accomplish by using our resources for higher spiritual purposes. To steal from others is to deny both to the other and to ourselves the ability to fulfill our G‑d given mission.

The last positive trait is to open our eyes and see things and the needs of others in a positive, expansive and liberated light instead of seeing things through the prism of galut/exile, a flawed view which engenders pessimism, cynicism and pettiness. Stinginess—the last of the seven sins that cause tzara’at—is a product of a person’s very constrained view of life. It is borne out of self-absorption and the narrowest view of one’s needs and of the existence of others. Once more it is the knowledge and perception that we gain from the teachings of Chassidut that help us break out of the constraints of galut and thereby empower us to see things in a totally different light. 

Moshiach Matters       
The yearning for Moshiach alone is enough to bring about his revelation, as it says in the Midrash: "A generation that searches for my sovereignty will be immediately redeemed." (Yalkut Shimoni)

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