Parshat Shemini - Friday, March 21, 2014 - 19 Adar II, 5774

Torah Reading: Tazriah (Leviticus 12:1 - 13:59) 
Maftir (Parshat Hachodesh): Exodus 12:1-20 
Haftorah (special for HaChodesh)  Ezekiel 45:18 - 46:15  
Shabbat Candle Lighting: 6:58 PM 
Shabbat ends: 7:59 PM 

 

ENVY, DESIRE AND HONOR 

Three Forms of Tzara’as
The Torah details three forms of the skin disease known as nega[im] or tazra’as which render a person tamei-ritually unclean. The afflicted individual, known as a Metzora, is quarantined and compelled to undergo a complex purification process before reentering the community.
This is how the Torah introduces the subject of tzara’as:
“If a person will have on the skin of his flesh: s’aissapachas, or a baheres and it forms (a suspected) lesion of tzara’as on the skin of his body, he should be brought to Aaron the priest, or to one of his sons, the priests (for examination).”
Our Sages tell us that these lesions were a punishment for the sin of lashon hara- slander. 
What is the connection between these lesions and the sin of lashon hara?
Our Sages explain that lashon hara causes the slandered victim to be isolated from the rest of the community. Thus the punishment for the slandering person is measure for measure. He too must be quarantined and separated from the community.
This explanation, however, does not explain what the three forms of tzara’as, referred to as s’eis, sapachas and baheres, have to do with lashon hara.
The Three Vices
One approach is based on a commentary Shi’yarei Mincha (by a 20th century rabbi Rachamim Chai Chavitah Hakohen of the island of Djerba, Tunisia). He translates the three forms of tzara’as allegorically as allusions to the three destructive vices which can drive a person from this world, as listed in Ethics of the Fathers (4:28): “Envy, lust and [the pursuit of] honor.”
The word s’eis, is a cognate of the words for “exalted” and “pride.” Sapachas is related to the Hebrew word s’fiach-after growth, which suggests something that goes beyond what is necessary. It can also be rendered as “lust,” denoting an excessive desire. Baheres is related to the wordbo’eres-burning (the Hebrew letters hei and ayin are both guttural sounds and can be interchanged). This term alludes to the “envy” which can burn in one’s bones, Proverbs (14:30): “…envy is the rottenness of the bones.”
Hence the skin lesions s’eis, sapchas and baheres parallel the vices of pride, lust and envy, which, as stated in the abovementioned quote from Ethics of the Fathers, “drive a person from this world.”
We can now understand the connection between tzara’as and slander. When a person is consumed with envy, lust and pursuit of honor he will eventually confront people who block him from realizing his nefarious goals.  The person driven so will resort to slander to neutralize his opposition.
The remedy for these moral afflictions is to consult Aaron the priest or a Torah scholar, who will help the person uproot these three negative traits.
The Holy Metzora
In Chassidic thought, the person afflicted with tzara’as was generally a very righteous person.  Tzara’as is understood as the righteous person’s subtle imperfections being expelled from the body and which show up as lesions on the skin. In contrast, those who were far less righteous would internalize and absorb their negativity. The appearance of lesions for a righteous person thus was a sign of an allergy to evil which manifested on the skin as a result of his system’s inability to assimilate nega-tivity (pun intended). Indeed, the first two people afflicted with tzara’as, mentioned explicitly in the Torah, were Moses and Miriam, two of the holiest people that ever lived!
Moreover, the Moshiach, the ultimate Jewish leader is also described in the Talmud as one who suffers from tzara’as!  
This imagery is intended to convey the idea that right before the Messianic Age all evil will have been expunged. All the evil that we presently see is skin deep, whereas the positive energy accumulated over thousands of years of good deeds performed run deep beneath the surface. We are presently in thattzara’as mode.
In light of this different/positive approach to tzara’as how do we explain the three characteristics that are allegorically represented by the terms associated with tzara’as: envy-s’eis, lust-sapachas and honor-baheres?
In truth, every negative characteristic has a positive counterpart. This notion is based on Ecclesiastes (7:14): “G‑d has created one thing opposite the other.” Every vice is countered by a parallel virtue.
If envy, lust and pursuit of honor are destructive forces that “drive a person from this world,” there are kosher and even righteous forms of envy, lust and honor that empower us to transcend the concealing [olam-world is connected to the word helem-concealment] and conventional aspects of the world. 
What are the positive forms of envy, lust and honor?
Kosher Envy
The Talmud (Bava Basra 21a) states that it is permissible to set up a competing school to teach Torah to children even if it may cause financial loss to the other school. The basis for this leniency, the Talmud sums up in a few words: “The jealousy of scribes increases wisdom.” When one is jealous of another’s positive achievements, it motivates him or her to emulate and exceed the other.  This will lead to increased knowledge and goodness.
In the mystical tradition “kosher” envy is more than just permissible; it is indeed seen as a totally positive experience. Moreover, the source of jealousy has deep roots in the soul of humanity.
Proverbs (14:30) states: “A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh; but envy is the rottenness of the bones.” The Talmud (Shabbos 152b) cites this verse and elaborates: “Whoever has envy in his heart his bones will rot; whoever has no envy in his heart his bones will not rot.” The Talmud construes this to mean that even after death the body of one who is devoid of envy will not experience decomposition.
The Rebbe (Toras Menachem volume 26 p. 37) focuses on the word bones, in Hebrew-atzamos, which is related to the word atzmus-essence. Envy affects one’s bones, the essence of the body. By extension, envy also touches and degrades the essence of one’s soul. If, however, the envy is kosher it leads us to set higher goals, touches our essence and activates it in a positive vein.
In the terminology of Kabbalah, as elucidated by the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe in his work, Or HaTorah, parshas Vayeitzei), envy is the expression of the Divine energy vested within the lower worlds desiring to rise  to the higher more G‑dly world. The Torah relates that Rachel was jealous of her older sister Leah.  Leah represented and embodied the higher letter hei of G‑d’s name; whereas Rachel was connected to the lower letterhei of G‑d’s name.  In the time of exile the lower hei is dominant and the Jewish soul is envious of the time when the higher level hei will be fully revealed.
Hence in the present day, as we stand on the threshold of the Redemption and are in a state of tzara’as, as mentioned above, we should encourage the positive and holy envy to drive us out of the stifling atmosphere of this world and into the days of Redemption.    
The Kosher form of Lust
Lust is generally viewed as a negative because it involves over-indulgence in the sensual aspects of life. Notwithstanding the very positive dimension of intimacy in the context of marriage; lust crosses the line.
Marriage and intimacy are themselves metaphors for the true and ultimate intimacy that we seek with G‑d. Indeed, the entire Biblical Book Shir HaShirim-the Song of Songs describes the reciprocal love affair between Israel and G‑d (and was therefore designated by Rabbi Akiva as the “Holy of Holies” of Biblical literature). Hence, lust in the form of the passionate desire for the greatest intimacy with G‑d is desirable and will come to fruition in the Messianic Age.
As we stand on the threshold of the Messianic Age we should recognize that today’s hedonistic tendency of society is a reminder that we will soon experience true desire and bliss with the imminent coming of Moshiach. And if that is what the near future holds in store for us why not begin now by becoming a spiritual “hedonist?”
The Kosher form of Honor
The pursuit of honor and glory is a vice which can also be turned into a virtue. The obsession some have with seeking honor derives from the soul’s passion to introduce G‑d’s honor and glory to the world. Ethics of the Fathers (6:11) states: “All that the Holy One, Blessed is He, Created in His world, He created only for His glory,”  as is stated in Isaiah (43:7): “All that is called by My name, for My glory I created it, formed it and made it.”
The soul’s desire for generating G‑d’s glory in this world often gets confused with the Animal Soul’s selfish interests, which misinterprets the signal from the G‑dly Soul as a desire for honor of self.
Go to Aaron
To illustrate the heightened state of consciousness related to tzara’as, we must turn to Aaron.  He was consumed with love for his fellow and in whose heart burnt intense passion for G‑d. We should “envy” him and emulate his manner of speech and action.
This should be followed by developing a kosher “lust” and passionate desire to get closer to G‑d. To achieve this too we must be brought to Aaron and his sons, whose passion for G‑d was legendary.
And, finally, we must not be content with satisfying our own desire for spiritual growth as suggested by the first two traits of positive envy and passion. We must also strive to satisfy G‑d’s desire to have a “dwelling place” in this physical realm, and reveal His glory to the entire world. Towards this end we must also follow the example of Aaron and his sons, whose lives were devoted to bringing the Divine presence into the Beis Hamikdash-the Holy Temple. We must create our own miniature Sanctuaries in our homes and communities.