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Torah Sparks

April 12, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Lev. 14:1 – 15:33 (Hertz, p. 470; Etz Hayim, p. 660)
Triennial Cycle II: Lev. 14:1 – 14:32 (Hertz, p. 470; Etz Hayim, p. 660)
Haftarah: Malachi 3:4 – 24; 3:23 (Hertz, p. 1005; Etz Hayim, p. 1295)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(14:1-20) Instructions concerning the ritual of purification and the sacrifices that the m’tzora (person afflicted with tzara'at) must bring in order to complete the process of ritual purification.

(14:21-32) The sacrifices that the person brings if he/she cannot afford the regular ones.

(14:33-57) Law of tzara'at on a house; summary of chapters 13 & 14.

(15:1-33) Rules governing discharges of various bodily fluids and their effect on the ritual purity of the individual.

Discussion Theme: Breakthroughs and Humility

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: This shall be the ritual for a leper at the time that he is to be cleansed. When it has been reported to the priest, the priest shall go outside the camp. If the priest sees that the leper has been healed of his scaly affection, the priest shall order two live clean birds, cedar wood, crimson wool, and hyssop to be brought for him who is to be cleansed. The priest shall order one of the birds slaughtered over fresh water in an earthen vessel; and he shall take the live bird, along with the cedar wood, the crimson wool, and the hyssop, and dip them together with the live bird in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the fresh water. He shall then sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the eruption and cleanse him; and he shall set the live bird free in the open country.” (Lev. 14:1-7)


  1. Cedar wood is used because it leprosy comes because of the sin of haughtiness. (Rashi on Lev. 14:4)
  2. The cedar, a tall and beautiful tree, serves to remind the sinner that he considered himself high and glorious; that is, the moral flaw that was punished by leprosy was haughtiness. (Tanchuma Chapter 3)
  3. Crimson wool and hyssop are used so that the leper learns to humble himself from his arrogance like a worm (a pun on “to-la’at” which means dyed wool and a worm) and like hyssop (which does not grow tall). (Rashi on Lev. 14:4)
  4. All mitzvot are best done with kavannah, intention and awareness, with the exception of humility which, if done with intention and awareness, becomes arrogance. (Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, Hasidic Rebbe)
  5. “Gossip is cathartic, empowering and comforting... one of the great luxuries of democracy. It is the tawdry jewel in the crown of free speech and free expression... It makes you interesting and boosts your self-esteem at having it to relate.” (Liz Smith, syndicated columnist for Brill’s Content, a media monthly)
  6. “We spread damaging words about others as a means of elevating ourselves.” (Chafetz Chayim, rabbinical ethicist)
  7. When God gave Moses the instructions for the paschal sacrifice, God didn’t mention using hyssop. He merely said the Israelites should take the blood of the sheep and put it on the doorposts of the lintel. Moses, apparently on his own, added that the blood should be applied with a bunch of hyssop. Putting the blood on the doorposts was an act of defiance. By using the blood of an animal considered a god of Egypt, the Israelites proclaimed the cult to be mere idolatry. Showing defiance was important not for its own sake, but to establish in the people’s minds that they were free of Egyptian bondage and idolatry, physically and emotionally. But there was a danger that self-assurance might lead to arrogance. Possibly for this reason, Moses told the elders to dip the bunch of hyssop in the blood and then apply it to the doorposts. The hyssop, traditionally considered one of the lowliest plants, was meant to inspire humility. Moses thus tried to balance the act’s defiance with the humble procedure through which the act would be accomplished. (Reuven Bulka “Hyssop’s Fables”)
  8. If one has been healed from his affliction, then certainly he has done teshuvah, has regretted hissins, and humbled himself. Why, then, must one humble oneself again “at the time that he is to be cleansed” (verse 1)?
  9. There are two times when one must humble himself: at the beginning of the repentance process when one recognizes God’s greatness and the human being’s smallness; and later after one has done teshuvah and re-enters the community. (Avraham of Sokechov, Hasidic Rebbe)

Sparks for Reflection/Discussion

Let’s return to the question asked by our last commentator? Why is humility required at the beginning of the teshuvah process and at the end? What does Rabbi Avraham mean that it is required when one re-enters the community? Anyone who has voluntarily started a weight-loss diet or embarked on a new exercise regimenhas experienced the sense of pride that comes from having the willpower to resist temptation and discipline the self. There seems to be a tendency to inflate our sense of self when we advance to a more healthful way of life. A similar temptation exists when we take a step forward in our spiritual lives: we find it hard to remain humble. As we become more spiritually aware, more religiously observant, or more involved in community service, we are tempted to flaunt our newly discovered level of commitment.

Therefore, the process of re-entering the community—for the leper as for us—must be done with humility. How do we balance a justified sense of accomplishment or pride in drawing closer to God with humility? How do we push forward to deeper levels of spirituality and yet advance with “hyssop in hand?”

Sometimes a person can be overbearing when they proclaim, “I have the answer!” How does that apply to religious approaches?

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