Torah Fax

Friday, April 28, 2006 - 30 Nissan, 5766
Torah Reading: Tazriah-Metzorah (Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33)
Candle Lighting Time:  7:30 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:35 PM
Skin Deep?
Our Parshah discusses the supernatural skin disease called Tzara'at (often mistranslated as leprosy). According to our Sages, Tzara’at resulted from a person speaking ill of others, known in Hebrew as Lashon Hara. In Judaism, punishments meted out by G‑d are usually "measure for measure." Hence, the fact that the "punishment" was the discoloration of the skin was an indication that the sin of lashon hara is associated with the skin.
On a basic level, when one slanders others, he or she is essentially "discoloring" them, changing how others view and perceive them. And while all the insults in the world cannot alter one's inner color and beauty, it does have the capacity to remove the sheen and integrity of the outer person.
Upon deeper reflection, lashon harah comes in two opposite forms, both of which relate to the surface of the person:
There is the case where the slanderer focuses on a superficial defect that another might have. In doing so, one is guilty of ignoring the positive qualities that that individual may possess and which overshadow the mild external flaw. Moreover, Jewish mystical texts teach us, undue emphasis on an external fault can ultimately cause the fault to become engrained and internalized.
By focusing on that deficiency, the slanderer has demonstrated how he cares only about the surface ( i.e. the skin) of the other. Hence his punishment was tzara'at, an affliction that affected only the skin; measure for measure.
There is, however, another reverse form of lashon hara, where the slanderer exposes some flaw in the other that may have been embedded in his soul, hidden from view. By speaking ill of another, one can actually cause that latent flaw to become an actual and manifest one. In this scenario, lashon hara can cause one's internal negativity to come to the surface - to show up on the skin, so to speak. Here too, the punishment is the discoloration of the skin because the slanderer brought his fellow's flaw to the surface and into the open.
The difference between the two scenarios is whether the evil starts at the surface and works its way inward, or whether the evil comes from within and works its way out to the surface.
Actually, the word Metzora (the term used by the Torah to describe the person who is afflicted with tzara'at) is a composite of two words: Motzei ra (one who finds evil), or Motzi ra (one who extracts evil). It may be suggested that the phrase "one who finds" evil refers to the person who casually notices another's faults and speaks about them, while the phrase "one who extracts" evil refers to the one who digs deep into a person's psyche, heart and soul to reveal some hidden flaw.
It may also be suggested that the difference between these two forms of lashon hara determined the length of ones affliction and recovery. If one merely focused on another's superficial flaws, but did not dig deeper into the inner dynamics of the other's soul to find fault, then the corresponding affliction of tzara'at would likewise be of a fleeting nature.
However, if the slanderer invaded the other's being by probing beneath the surface to find some deeply rooted flaws and then exposed them, the corresponding outbreak of tzara'at likewise affected the person internally to the point that it was exposed outwardly as well. This was a far more serious situation because the diseased skin was an expression of a seriously diseased inside.
But there are also two corresponding ways of speaking lashon tov, or positive words, about another:
When one sees a person whose outer appearance does not warrant praise, one must probe beneath the surface to find the inner good. For this reason, the Ba'al Shem Tov once compared the Jew to the earth that contains hidden treasures.
Conversely, one must also make an effort to see the superficial qualities of another. And even when it seems that these qualities lack real substance, nevertheless, when one focuses on the positive aspects of a person's behavior, it helps to reinforce them, to the point where they become internalized.
In light of the above discussion, we can appreciate why the Talmud describes Moshiach as a Metzorah. Moshiach's role requires that he direct his energies to both the internal and external nature of the people whom he will liberate from exile.
For Moshiach-and all of us-to change the dynamics of exile, he/we must be capable of doing two opposite things: First, he/we must go beyond the surface of each and every person and see his or her inner beauty and holiness. By doing so, Moshiach/we will help to reveal and actualize their positive qualities.
Second, Moshiach/we must also dwell on the external qualities of others, and work on cultivating those positive attributes, although they are presently only skin deep. By promoting greater observance of the Mitzvot, which are external acts, the surface holiness begins to seep through the "pores in the skin" and becomes an integral part of the previously superficial Jew. This is what will bring about the collective Redemption of the Jewish people and of the entire world.
Moshiach Matters
“The Moshiach is a human being, born of human parents. Don’t  mistakenly think he is something ‘otherworldly.’ He has two eyes, two ears, two hands and two feet. And he has a heart with four
chambers. One of those chambers is for unclean blood which the heart then takes and purifies.
That is Moshiach’s job - to take the impure and convert it to goodness and holiness.”
(The Rebbe in an interview with Israel Shenker for the NY Times, 11 Nissan, 5732 - March 27, 1972)
Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit
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