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Torah Sparks

April 24, 2004 - 3 Iyar 5764

Annual: Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33 (Etz Hayim, p. 649; Hertz p. 460)
Triennial Cycle: Leviticus 14:33 - 15:33 (Etz Hayim p. 663; Hertz p. 473)
Haftarah: II Kings 7:3 - 20 (Etz Hayim p. 671; Hertz p. 477)

Prepared by Rabbi Jodie Futornick
McHenry County Jewish Congregation, Crystal Lake, IL

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


Laws concerning impurity related to bodily fluids and to tzrara'at, a disease resembling leprosy.

Triennial I (Leviticus 12:1 - 13:39)

This section covers: a) the laws about a woman's state of ritual impurity following childbirth and b) laws concerning the diagnosis of "tzrara'at," a skin disease resembling leprosy.

Triennial II (Leviticus 13:40 - 14:42)

Distinguishing tzrara'at related baldness to baldness from other varieties. If a kohayn judged a person to suffer from a tzrara'at, that individual was separated from the community until s/he was declared cured. The specifications of the sacrifices a metzora (one suffering from tzrara'at) must bring in order to be restored to purity, including instructions for "sliding scale" payments according to people's abilities to afford their assessment.

Triennial III (Leviticus 14:33 - 15:33)

a) The laws of a "tzrara'at" on a house. b) laws concerning various discharges of bodily fluids and their effect upon an individual's ritual purity.

Topic I: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor

When you enter the land of Canaan, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, "Something like a plague has appeared on my house." (Leviticus 14: 34-35)

  1. If a person is asked for the loan of some grain and replies meanly, "I have none," the house of that person will be visited by tzrara'at. When the dwelling is emptied, everyone will see what the miser owns and the miser's stinginess will be publicly revealed. (Leviticus Rabbah, 17:2)
  2. The poor are called the people of God, as the sages expounded: "If you lend money to any of My people..." Who are "My people?" They are the poor, as it is said, "For the Eternal has comforted the people and has compassion upon the poor among them." At times, a person who has riches does not pay attention to poor relatives. However, this is not so with God... God cares for the poor. The proof of this is what Isaiah has said: "The Eternal has founded the city of Zion, and in her the poor of God's people take refuge" (Bachya ben Asher, Kad HaKemach, Charles B. Chavel, translator, pp. 533-534)
  3. The poverty-stricken and suffering people often presume that they have been forsaken by God's care, abandoned by God... they abandon themselves, give themselves up to despair... lose their self-respect... They fall because they have given up all thoughts of betterment. In commanding that the offerings be made affordable to the poor, the Torah demonstrates that the poor are as important to God as the rich. They and their offerings are equally sacred and acceptable. God has not forsaken them. (Rabbi Samuel Raphael Hirsch on Leviticus 5:13ff.)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Here, we see commentaries on two separate yet closely related topics teaching about the importance of giving to those in need. The methodologies of the commentaries seem to contradict each other, however: Clearly, the rabbis bend over backwards to create systems that will enable the poor to give modestly with no fear of shame. At the same time, however, there are those who would submit wealthy people to public humiliation for not giving enough. (Have you ever heard the expression, "A pox on your house?")? Are these two concepts inherently contradictory? What are some more subtle and dignified ways of asking people with means to donate so they are not shamed if others deem their contributions to be inadequate? Can anyone judge whether someone else gives enough? On the other hand, how much is enough; how much is appropriate?

Topic II: A Warning Against Self-Incrimination

Something like a lesion became visible to me in the house. (Leviticus 14:35)

  1. Even if a person is an expert in lesions, he should not make a definite statement, "There is a lesion, but rather "something like a lesion." (Rashi on Lev. 14:35)
  2. A message conveyed by this particular syntax is that inasmuch as the Talmud states that these lesions are Divine punishments for specific transgressions, the statement that "there is an impure lesion in my house" is essentially a self-incrimination, and the Talmud states that a person may not incriminate himself (Ketubot 18b) [Editor's note: This is an interesting Rabbinic precedent for the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution.]
  3. The Chofetz Chayim [a renowned 19th-century teacher of Jewish ethics] was once stopped by a stranger who asked directions to the home of the great gaon [revered scholar] and tzaddik [righteous person], the Chofetz Chayim. The Chofetz Chayim directed him to his house and said, "but he is not such a great gaon and tzaddik." The stranger became irate and slapped the Chofetz Chayim's face. "How dare you speak like that of the greatest gaon and tzaddik of our time!" he said.

    Later, the man discovered that the person he had struck was none other than the Chofetz Chayim himself. He apologized profusely, but the Chofetz Chayim said smilingly," There is no need for an apology. After all, it was my honor you were defending. But this incident taught me something. I have been stressing the prohibition of speaking disparagingly about others. Now I know that one may not talk disparagingly even about oneself."

    While we must always engage in soul-searching and do teshuvah for the wrongs we have done, it is important not to confer upon oneself the status of being a sinner. The latter is fraught with the danger that one may consider oneself beyond redemption and abandon the struggle to observe Torah and mitzvot. (From Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D., Living Each Week, Art Scroll Press, 1992)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. In the midst of a section of the Torah that emphasizes heavily the themes of sins and forgiveness, Rabbi Twerski brings an innovative perspective: Sometimes, one can get so caught up in the act of self-flagellation for misdeeds that it paradoxically causes one to abandon all hope of redemption and continue to sin. What are other implications of too much humility or self-examination? How can we strike a healthy spiritual balance between the instruction to look back and accept responsibility for wrongdoings and seeking forgiveness/forgiving ourselves and move on?

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