I dedicate this parsha post l’ilui nishmas Zalman ben Golda, taken too soon, but who lives on through his undeniable legacy of having inspired all those whom he encountered to greater simcha (joy), throughout his short life this world.


It has been a while since I’ve last posted.  The opportunity to share Torah with you, my dear friends, I’ve missed tremendously.  It is good to be back.

Last week, the detailed Parshat Shemini delved into the laws of Kosher, categorizing which creatures we are  permitted to eat or make use of, and which are forbidden to us by the Torah.  R’ Simlai points out (as brought down by Rashi), that just as the animal kingdom preceded mankind in the sequence of creation, so too the laws of ‘cleanliness’ in the context of people is discussed following fauna’s…  This week’s double-portion of Tazria-Metzora is complex indeed, but not beyond the grasp of a diligent mind and open heart.


“Zos tihiyeh toras ham’tzora b’yom taharaso v’huvah el-haKohen – This shall be the law of the person afflicted with tzara’ath, on the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the kohen. {Vayikra 14:2}”

“Tzara’as” was a leprosy-like affliction which came upon a person (either his body, home, or apparel) who spoke Lashon Hara (slanderous speech) about another.  When a suspicious lesion blossomed upon the defamer’s skin, he would be brought to the Kohen – either Aaron or his sons – for inspection.  The Kohen would study the plagued area and ‘diagnose’ it, declaring the ‘patient’ “Tahor – ritually clean,” or “Tamei – ritually unclean.”  If he was categorized as the latter, or his condition was uncertain, the Kohen was required to quarantine him for a week, and at the period’s conclusion, would inspect the lesion for any signs of development – for the better or for the worse.

At the end of a week of solitary confinement, relegated beyond Israel’s tri-camp border, and separated from even other Tamei people (abiding different cases of ritual uncleanliness), the Kohen would pay the Metzora a visit.  If his patient’s Nega (affliction) had healed and vanished, or proved to be another skin-issue which didn’t render impurity (e.g. scar tissue) the Kohen pronounced him “Tahor.”  “On the day of his cleansing (i.e. day one),” the following is what the Metzora brought as his offering.  (As it goes beyond the scope of this article, we are not going to discuss the sacrifice of the eighth day of his purification.  It included three perfect lambs – two male and one female – three-tenths of and “ephah” of fine flour blended with olive oil, plus an entire “log” of olive oil.  It is covered in Vayikra 14:10.)

“V’tziva ha’Kohen v’lakach lamitaher shtei-tziparim chayos t’horos v’eitz erez ush’ni tola’as v’eizov – Then the kohen shall order, and the person to be cleansed shall take two live, clean birds, a cedar stick, a strip of crimson [wool], and hyssop. {Vayikra 14:4}”

One bird would be slaughtered over an earthenware vessel filled with spring-water, so that its blood would be visible upon the water’s surface.  The second bird would be taken with, though not bound into a special bundle, comprised of a stick of cedar, a thread of crimson wool, and hyssop.  The Kohen would proceed to dip the species into the first bird’s blood, and sprinkle it a total of seven times upon the Metzora being cleansed.

Though it isn’t apparent from the terse verses, which place overwhelming focus on the disease’s physical manifestations, the Chassidic Masters explain that Tzara’as was multi-faceted – the plague shrouding the flesh, and its correlative in the spiritual realms.  The Metzora’s transgression of Lashon Hara resulted in a desecration and concealment of the G-dly spark within.  The G-dly energy granted to us empowers us to breathe, think, speak, do, and simply exist.  It is our responsibility to harness that life-force in a positive way, expressing it through our faculties in the manner which we were created to; and not, G-d forbid, degrade it through transgression of Hashem’s will and hurting others.  Indeed, our Sages teach us, the harm of slander is so potent, that “it (spiritually) kills the one who speaks it, the one who hears is, and the one whom it concerns.”

Therefore, the curious arrangement the Torah directs us to make to serve in the purification of the afflicted individual, couldn’t exclusively be an organic therapeutic concoction.  It has to signify and effect something a little deeper.

Rashi, supercommentator of the Torah, illuminates us on this verse:

Why are birds (tziparim) the favored animal to be offered as this particular sacrifice?  Birds, who raise up their voices in charming song, chirp and twitter restlessly.  They are a poignant reminder to the Mitaheir (one being cleansed) of the heavy price of gossip.  R’ Shimon ben Gamliel teaches in the Mishna (Avos 1:17), “V’chal hamarbeh d’varim mayvi cheit – One who talks excessively brings up sin.”  Speech is unique to the intelligent mankind, and possesses inherent power to create or destroy; it was given as a gift with a purpose, and best serves that purpose in moderation and with discretion.

Only a conscience housing arrogance can allow one to slander, and carelessly cause such great damage and sin.  The Gemara states that one who speaks Lashon Hara is as if he’s denied Hashem’s existence.  The stick of cedar (eitz erez) is a sample of the tall and mighty cedar tree, which symbolizes haughtiness.  It is therefore a fitting component of the remedying bouquet, to encourage the person to perceive his shortcoming, and improve upon it.

Another item: the thread of “Tola’as,” defined as “crimson,” but literally meaning “worm,” specifically referring to those that inhabited the berries used for the wool’s crimson dye.  The idea of a lowly worm was applied, to urge the Mitaheir to resolve from that day on to live and love with increased humility.  The growth-process of the person is subtly intimated within the bouquet: we’ve now taken the step from the haughty cedar’s mentality, to the modest worm’s perspective.  The Rambam, in his Hilchot De’ot (Laws of Character Development), typically advocates for an intermediate path and application of various traits.  Concerning Gaivah (arrogance), however, he condemns even a small vestige of it, and exhorts us to veer towards the opposite extreme, of Anavah (humility).

Last, but certainly not least, we are instructed concerning the hyssop (eizov).  The hyssop is a type of low-growing grass, and its purport rings similar to that of the Tola’as Shni.

And thus, we have a material bouquet transmitting a spiritual prescription for an all-encompassing cure.


And so, my friends, perhaps we, in the modern age, can draw many things from these timeless verses…  We are reminded to take a closer look at Hashem’s diverse creations, for each one sings a unique song, and has a readily-shared message for us.  We are reminded of our humanity; we make mistakes and misjudgments, and most of us have at some point hurt or tested another.  But such is not the way it must end; it’s always possible and within our reach to heal old wounds, and grow past our limitations –  even better with the guidance of a wise and experienced mentor – and thereby come closer to others and to Hashem.  We are reminded of the power of speech, and how it can either work wonders or wreak destruction, depending on how we choose to use it.  We can really do so much good in this world…  Choose wisely.


— The Messenger Bird