Tazria-Metzora 5777

Double walled protection[1]

זאת תהיה תורת המצורע ביום טהרתו והובא אל הכהן: ויצא הכהן אל מחוץ למחנה וראה והנה נרפא נגע הצערת מן הצרוע
This shall be the law of the Metzora on the day of his purification: He shall be brought to the Kohen. The Kohen will go out of the camp and see and behold the tzara’as affliction has been healed from the Metzora[2]

This week’s double parsha deals mostly with the laws of tzara’as, most commonly translated as leprosy. While being a whitish skin condition, in reality it’s a totally unrelated spiritual malady[3] with physical symptoms. Chazal tell us[4] that someone who contracts tzara’as, known as a Metzora[5], usually committed a certain sin[6]. One example is that of loshon hara, evil speech. As a result of his sin, he is infected with a disturbing skin condition, and has to have his status established by a Kohen. If the Kohen determines he is spiritually pure, then he is. The opposite is also true. Once declared impure, there are a series of laws he must follow while in that state. An example is that he has to leave the city he is in and dwell by himself[7]. There are also a different set of laws on how to purify himself. Part of the purification process involves the Metzora going to the Kohen[8] and having him determine if the malady has diminished sufficiently. The problem is the very next verse describes the Kohen being the one leaving the city to go to the Metzora. Who is going to whom?

One suggestion is[9] that both are true. The Metzora approaches the city as much as he can, and the Kohen goes to the edge of the city, essentially having them both meet halfway. However, there is a much simpler explanation for the two verses. Really, it depends on the situation. There is a law that the Kohen who declared the Metzora impure has a mitzvah to be the one to purify him[10]. Another law is that the requirement for the Metzora to leave the city applies only to walled cities[11]. Therefore, if the Kohen who diagnosed him resides in a non-walled city, the Metzora can go himself to the Kohen. However, if the Kohen lives in a walled city, which the Metzora isn’t allowed to enter while impure, it’s a mitzvah for that Kohen to go himself to the Metzora.

One can still ask: why is the law that the Metzora has to leave the city only applicable if it’s one that is walled? The whole purpose of exiling him is to distance him from others; the punishment fitting the crime for having spoken badly of others, causing discord between them[12]. It shouldn’t matter whether he is in a walled city or not. A possible explanation is based off a teaching of Chazal[13]: Hashem created two walls surrounding the tongue, one of bone and one of flesh, to caution man regarding the power of his tongue[14]. He should be careful against speaking negatively of others and causing damage. Therefore, the punishment of someone who spoke loshon hara is to specifically remove him from walled cities, for having ignored his own protective walls that surrounded his tongue.

This explanation now sheds light on a curious episode that occurred before the destruction of the Second Temple[15]. Forty years before the destruction, miracles that were commonplace[16] in the Temple ceased. The crimson thread stopped turning white on Yom Kippur (to indicate that the Jews had been absolved of their sins), the eastern light stopped perpetually burning[17], and the doors of the Temple Hall started opening and closing on their own. The doors wouldn’t stop until Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai told the doors that their end is to be destroyed, as prophesized by the prophet Zechariah[18]. It makes sense that the sins of the nation caused the other miracles to stop, but what was the need for this new miracle of the doors opening and closing? What was it coming to teach the people?

Chazal inform us[19] that the destruction of the Second Temple came about through the sin of loshon hara. This fact could explain the miracle of the opening and closing doors. The nation was careless with their tongues. They didn’t make use of the walls that Hashem created to protect them from evil speech. They were like a city without walls where anyone could come and pillage as they please. Since they weren’t careful with their walls, the doors of the Temple started to open and close[20]. This was in order to wake them up to their sins and to realize the damage they were doing. If they didn’t stop, this was going to destroy the Temple. According to this, what was Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai trying to accomplish? Possibly he was emphasizing the futility of this message. The prophet Zechariah already warned the people that if they don’t stop their careless acts the Temple would be destroyed, and it made no impression on them. What use then would the more subtle message of the doors opening and closing accomplish? The doors then immediately stopped their motion.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Be’er Yosef to Leviticus 14:2-3

[2] Leviticus loc. cit.

[3] See Mishneh Torah Hilchos Tumas Tzara’as 16:10

[4] Arachin 16; Vayikra Rabbah 16:1

[5] מצורע, a contraction of מוציא שם רע, someone who causes a bad name (Arachin 15b)

[6] Besides loshon hara, the consensus is that murder and haughtiness cause tzara’as (ibid). Arachin 16a adds oaths in vain, illicit relations, theft and stinginess to the list, whereas Vayikra Rabbah loc. cit. cites lying, thinking about sins, running to do sins, and giving false testimony (citing Proverbs 6:17-19 as the source)

[7] Leviticus 13:46

[8] ibid 14:2 says he should be brought, but the Da’as Zekeinim ad loc. point out that since the Metzora has to be separated from society, there’s no one who can bring him. Therefore, the term והובא is to be read והוא בא, and he’ll come (on his own)

[9] Seforno ad loc.

[10] Mishneh Torah loc cit. 11:6

[11] Keilim 1:7; Tosafos to Arachin 32b s.v. וקדשו ערי חומה; Mishneh Torah loc cit. 10:7, Hilchos Beis HaBechira 7:13

[12] Arachin 16b

[13] ibid 15b

[14] See Proverbs 18:21

[15] Yoma 39b

[16] ibid 39a

[17] Another miracle that stopped was regarding the lots drawn for the Yom Kippur offerings. One paper would say “To Hashem” and one would say “To Azazel”, and the Kohen Gadol would draw them with both of his hands. The miracle was that the one that said “To Hashem” would always be found in his right hand. This stopped along with these other miracles

[18] 11:1

[19] See Yoma 9b and the Introduction to Sefer Chofetz Chaim

[20] See Nefesh HaChaim Sha’ar Aleph Chapter 4 which teaches that Man is a microcosm of the Temple, and that the actions of Man affect both the spiritual and physical Temple. When the Jews destroyed the spiritual Temple with their sins, the physical Temple was destroyed by their enemies