THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
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TUMA is RITUAL IMPURITY. TAHARAH is RITUAL PURITY. MILA is JEWISH RITUAL CIRCUMCISION. NIDA is A MENSTRUANT WOMAN. TZARAAT is A MYSTERIOUS BIBLICAL AFFLICTION, AFFECTING PEOPLE, CLOTH AND HOUSES, ENGENDERING TUMA; MTZORA is A PERSON SO AFFLICTED. OLAH is A "RAISING UP" BURNT OFFERING.
NOTE: Laws of tuma are commanded only to Jews-- they're not part of God's universal Noachide religion. Likewise, except for corpses, the bodies of Gentiles only engender rabbinic tuma. Most of these laws do not apply until the third temple will be built, yet contain deep symbolic messages, relevant in every age.
A. TAZRIA-- A SYNOPSIS
AFTER the laws of which creatures a Jew may eat, and of the tuma caused by their carcasses, the Torah turns to tuma engendered by humans. Contact with dead animals only bans one's entry into the sanctuary; tuma of human beings may force one to leave the Levite and/or Israelite Camps too (Rav Y. Schneider). Animals also precede man in the order of creation, and in praising God (Ps. 148:10f; listen to birds and animals at sunrise and sunset). Yet Man, tho source of the greatest tuma, can also be the crown of Creation and its redemption. His soul, idealized in that of the Messiah, a great, yet human, teacher, may indeed have heralded all creation-- "AND THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD HOVERED OVER THE WATERS" is so interpreted. Man is first, leader of creation, if he develops his Divine Image-- then nature will serve him, and the animals consumed by him rise to a higher level, according to Tamar D'vora (by Rav Moshe Cordovero). But man is the lowest of creatures, if he just focuses on his physical side-- a gnat beats him in animal instinct: "AFTER AND BEFORE YOU'VE CREATED ME... (Ps. 139:5)".
A new mother is treated as a nida in Jewish Law, tho she emits NO vaginal blood! She's both ritually impure and forbidden to her husband sexually for 7 days if she has a boy, 14 if a girl; then she's permitted to him, THO BLEEDING, for 33 and 66 days respectively (per Torah law; but she's NOT so permitted today, under subsequent rabbinic law, based on ambiguities in our tradition and/or perceptions; her blood during that period is called dam tahara, pure blood). Yet she's still impure re the sanctuary. ON THE 8th day, a baby boy (unless in danger) must be circumcised. After the 40 or 80 day period, the new mother brings a yearling sheep as a burnt offering, and A turtle dove or common dove FOR A SIN OFFERING (a mtzora brings two doves; if she's poor, 2 doves suffice for both offerings).
The Torah then describes certain skin afflictions, tzaraat, engendering tuma; determinants of tzaraat include the color of a skin mark and the hair within it, and areas being below skin-level, or swelling above it. The cohen examines and rules; he quarantines a doubtful victim for further examination. If ALL the victim's skin turns white, HE'S CLEAN! (13:13; when all nations are heretical, Meshiach will come!-- Yal. Sh.). Tzaraat can also occur within infections, burns or baldness-- many factors influence a given situation; it's hard to tell which cause specific effects, e.g. religious Israeli immigrants, adversely affected by both modern life and secular Zionism. WHEN TZARAAT IS DETERMINED, the victim must tear his clothing, refrain from haircuts, as a mourner, and cover his head down to his lips, proclaiming: "UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN"; such unclean persons stay alone, outside the camp. Wool, linen and leather afflicted by a green or red mark are set aside 7 days to determine tuma; if it spreads, the item's burned. Otherwise, it's set aside another 7 days after washing; if there's then no change, it's burnt. If it changes color, the mark is removed; the garment is then burnt only if the mark reappears. If the mark comes off in scrubbing, the article is re-immersed and clean.
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B. HAFTARAT TAZRIA is II Kings 4:42-5:19.
A man brought a bit of first-fruits offering; Elisha promised that it would feed 100 sons of the prophets-- with leftovers! So it was (cf. the poor woman's pot of oil, 4:1f). General Naaman of Aram was afflicted with tzaraat; his wife's captive Jewish maiden recommended the prophet of Samaria. Aram's king sent Naaman to Israel's king with gifts and a written request to cure him! Israel's king tore his clothes in mourning-- he assumed that this mission impossible was a pretext or set-up to destroy him. Elisha told him to relax and send Naaman along; the prophet told Naaman to dip 7 times in the Jordan; Naaman left enraged, expecting a big ceremony-- the Jordan isn't even much of a river. His servants urged him to give it a try; he did; it worked-- his skin was soft as a youth's!
Naaman, now duly impressed by the LORD (of nature), tried to pay Elisha, who refused payment (despite poverty and famine?); he's teaching Naaman non-exploitative holy values, his true cure. But Sexton Gechazi took the offer and himself got tzaraat! Naaman took Israel's holy earth to build a Syrian altar-- to sacrifice only to GOD. He begs forgiveness for escorting his master to idol worship; Elisha replies: "GO TOWARD PEACE" (step by step). He left.
C. SOME OBVIOUS ??
Just what are tuma are tahara? Are they physical or metaphysical entities? Why does tuma interfere with temple service? Why does a new mother bring a SIN offering? Why's her tuma doubled for a female baby? Is childbirth "impure", animalistic? Per the Lamaze Lie, father's having the baby too!!!-- so why isn't HE impure? Why isn't the baby? Why's mila interjected here, re tuma, and not taught together with other mitzos? If tzaraat is LEPROSY, why does just that disease engender tuma? Is the priest Dr. Cohen? Why must the "leper" mourn and proclaim his state? IS THERE PEACE IN THIS WORLD? Where? Why doesn't tzaarat exist today? Is this good? Why still study it?
D. SOME APPROACHES TO THE ??
TUMA's not a medical realm-- much of tuma applies only to Jews. We don't quarantine on holidays, just when infection would spread quickly (Hirsch); victims have to leave only ancient walled Israeli cities! (cf. Shushan Purim). The cohen ignores other diseases, and doesn't TREAT tzaraat. Tho Rav Yochanan gives medical reasons for the absence of lepers in Babylon (Ket. 77b), he traced the origins of tzaraat to the 7 abominable acts of Proverbs 6:16-19 (Lev. Raba 16:1-- see Yoma 38b). His first statement may indeed refer to medical leprosy, as its context suggests. The sages spoke about a "spirit of tuma" (San. 65b) and "impure art" (91a), but didn't connect them to the laws of tuma. Yochanan Ben Zakai explained tuma magically to a Gentile, but then told his pupils: "By your lives! The corpse doesn't cause tuma, nor do the waters purify-- it's a Decree of the Supreme King of Kings (to act as tho they do; PdRK 40-- cf. Rambam below)".
The Kotzker Rebbe defined tuma as the negative filling of a vacuum, left after departure of God's Spirit; the departure of a Jewish soul, with the highest Divine potential, generates the greatest tuma in the remaining body; we especially sense His spirit in great positive teachers of Torah and the kindest people, e.g. Rav Soloveichik, Arye Levine, Rav Kook, The Lubavitcher and Bostoner Rebbes and Shlomo. Leaders who accentuate the negative, attacking others, do not so inspire. Rav Norman Lamm (The Royal Reach, Ch. 38) views childbirth as pure and holy-- the very first birth is a joint venture of God and Woman- "I've created a man with the Lord!" (Gen. 4:1, see Cassuto, 14:19)-- only God's partial "departure" from the mother, with the new baby, engenders her tuma, a tribute to her prior super sanctity. A female birth ends an even holier process-- creating a human who will herself so create. Menstruation, expulsion of an unfertilized egg, a "soul potential", also engenders tuma; a soul contaminated with the sins causing tzaraat has also expelled God's Presence. Zav and zavah, unusual or untimely flows from the sexual organs, are deemed similar.
Thus the new baby's not unclean; unlike his mother, like his father, he's lost nothing. But a holy soul, recently part of mommy, has left, never to return (see Freud; life is a one way street). She "mourns" this loss only 7 days for a male baby; he won't produce life-giving sperm until puberty-- procreation's not his main theme. His sister, however, is born with all the eggs of the next generation-- her prime role is nurturing. Her mommy thus loses two generations of holy human life, doubling her impurity and "mourning". Some midrashim imply that she mourns the inevitable death of all life, even her baby's; this dampens the birth experience for the sensitive new mother (cf. post-partum depression), who must nevertheless give her all to her infant's hopefully positive forthcoming life, in cooperation with her husband and The Third Partner. So God told the Jews to go calmly forward into the Red Sea (of life) toward Israel, freedom and redemption, despite their fears and its real dangers-- some wanted to cop out via return to Egypt, others by Quixotic war, and pietists by escapist immersion in prayer and holiness, e.g. 100 days at the Wall (The Lubavitcher Rebbe, via Y. Tauber). One doesn't really live until he confronts death (Freud).
Per RAMBAM (Guide III:47), laws of tuma and Temple service toned down Sabian magic religion's over-reactions in these realms-- if you think sacrificing a pigeon is unpleasant, compare it with burning a child! God's true religion isn't such a burden (Mica 6:5, Jer. 2:5, 31; should verbal negation suffice for a Jews' inner detachment from mere crumbs of chometz? Should Jews wear ugly red strings as magic bracelets?). God wanted people to approach His Sanctuary with awe and fear (Lev. 19:30). If they frequent the Temple, familiarity will breed contempt!-- cf. enthusiastic kotel visitors, having a "date" with God, with many apathetic "regulars", "married" to Him; also cf. the monthly separation of spouses: "Make your foot rare in your neighbor's house (the Temple- Chag. 7a), lest he be sated with you and hate you" (Prov. 25:17). Thus some people won't live near the Wall. So God made going to the Temple, only allowed during daytime, difficult and cumbersome-- one ritually impure may not enter; yet it's terribly hard to avoid tuma, engendered even by sexual intercourse and nocturnal pollution (Lev. 15:16-8; Deut. 23:11-2). The more frequent the occasions for communicating tuma, the longer and harder it was to be rid of it (see Friedlander, Guide, III, p. 246). Tuma laws also distanced Jews from disgusting things. They were NOT to interfere with everyday life-- ONLY the priests had to be in the Temple and consume holy food; only they (not even Ms. Cohen) had to worry about tuma.
Rationalist Rambam cites exaggerated Zorastrian reactions to tuma (cf. Karites and Falashas-- the latter, also lacking the oral tradition, may be the descendants of ancient converts to Sadducee Judaism; cf. Reform converts today)-- menstruating women were isolated; their very speech, even a breeze touching them, contaminated others (Mystic Ramban agrees with them!-- 18:19, see our K'doshim study; he was unaware of human eggs-- 12:2). Sabians believed that even blood, hair, and nails, tho separated from the body, contaminate. When God urges Israel to be sanctified, holy, and pure, He refers to moral, not ritual, purity (better to change a diaper than to go to the mikveh?). Moral purity must always precede absorption in sanctity (Noam Elimelech). Jerusalem's future sanctity will be based on its high level population, not the Temple, 45 mil to the north, per Sforno (see Artscrolls Ezekiel, Chs. 40, 45 and 48). Rambam might so explain B.M. 87a: "Avraham ate even ordinary food in purity". The Guide does not see inherent worth or meaning in laws of tuma, only social and historic utility. Many quite diverse scholars, e.g. Ramban, Hirsch, Shadal and Nachman of Breslav, disliked The Guide.
Ancient Babylonians were forbidden to touch a utensil after cohabitation, until they bathed (Herodotus 1:198); a Babylonian touching a menstruant woman was unclean for 6 days; the pig was edible, but unclean. The King of Egypt purified himself every morning (cf. Ex. 7:15). A corpse was considered impure by Hittites. But in the ancient Near East, unlike the Bible, such laws are part of a magic cult or medicine rite (from the heretical, but highly informative, E.J., originally edited by Yonaton and Bibi Netanyahu's father).
Sefer Hachinuch (159) reminds us of limits to human understanding, even of Moshe and Solomon (or Einstein-- Herman Cohen worshipped Germany). One thing we know-- God knows all, and only does what's good for us. We're happy when we understand mitzvos and their benefit; its praiseworthy to try (Ex. 12:10). We ask God to make Torah "sweet" in our mouths. Yet we retain faith, even when we can't fathom. We'd self-destruct by superficially rationalized sins, if we knew the reasons for God's precepts (per Rav Yitzchak, San. 21b; cf. knowing one's day of death; yet Rambam urges us to seek mitzva meanings). Tuma must somehow be bad for the soul (vs. Rambam?). Yoma 39a implies that tuma impairs wisdom. Yet we're ignorant of both the nature of the soul and its connections to the body. Who knows how what we eat affects what we think and feel?-- cf. the cohen's prohibition of drinking wine while while on duty, followed by the laws of kosher and non-kosher food. Rav Kook equated things which engender tuma with falsity, perversion of the ideal world which God created-- e.g. death, painful labor, menstruation, evil talk (Orot Hakodesh).
Rav Yehuda Henkin refuses to equate tuma with death and decay-- childbirth celebrates life! Tuma arises from the cyclic flux of human life itself-- BIRTH AND DEATH, waxing and waning, are the opposite of the IMMUTABLE AND ETERNAL nature of God. Thus we open with the tuma of birth, life's first stage (Ibn Ezra). God never dies and is never born! Cyclic tuma has no place in the abode of the Eternal (cf. Nirvena, Chassidic bitul hayesh). The birth of a female, primarily involved in the reproductive cycle, produces a double dose of tuma! (cf. Miriam Schwarz's views below).
So leaven and sweeteners are prohibited in the meal offerings (2:11; but they're OK in first fruit offerings-- 2:12); they accelerate the making of chometz, fermentation from gluten; such bread grows bigger (tho mostly hot air), but also gets stale and moldy quicker than matzah-- such a symbol of mortal existence has no place in sacrifices, which must be accompanied by preservative undecayable salt (2:13); the Zohar (1278) equates sacrifices with shabbat bread, the table with the altar, and says that bread must also be salted; but talmudic law is only to add salt OR other condiments to second rate bread, to make it tastier, so that you can thank God for it with a full heart-- Ber. 40a; thus if one dislikes salt on his bread, he's going against the talmud by heeding the non-halachic Zohar; in any event, our bread is baked with salt, so it needn't be added!-- Magan Avraham). Leaven's forbidden on Pesach, the holiday of awareness of God's unchanging nature. Imitating God, we try to transcend our mortality to partake of His Eternity. We're involved in that which mirrors His permanence-- the people of Israel (a kingdom of priests and a holy nation-- Ex. 19:6), the land of Israel (compared to "days of heaven upon earth"-- Deut. 11:21) and, above all, the Torah (a "tree of life" to those who grasp it-- Prov. 3:18). "Even what a veteran student, sitting before his master, will say in the future, was already said to Moshe on Sinai" (Lev. Raba 22:1). Torah itself purifies man's soul, as water purifies his body (Songs Raba 1:2:3).
ITS HARD TO BE A MOTHER: Two great Zionist olim probe the depths of birthing, each per his own era and outlook:
1) Rav Dov Kanotopsky (NIGHT OF WATCHING) sees deep insights into life, religion, and relationships in our hi-tech esoteric text. Birth is an experience of shattering proportions. "A new personality has entered into the family constellation"-- all existing family relationships must be redefined. Mother needs time and space to focus on her great changes, on her new fulfillment and responsibility. Father's kept away from her 7 days, tho she bleeds not a drop. She must bond in love with her new baby; so a newborn animal stays with its mother 7 days, before God will accept it as a sacrifice (22:27, Lev. Rab. 27:10). ALL experience a female as their prime source of good bodily vibes; the Torah doesn't openly condemn lesbianism, unlike homosexuality (Lev. 18:22, 20:13); it too is forbidden, tho not as serious a prohibition (yet not an "alternative life style"!-- Yev. 76a; cf. Shabat 65a-- see San. 58a, Homosexuality in Jewish Law, by Rav Eliezer Finkelman, in The Journal of The Society of Rabbis in Academia, I:1-2, and hear David Luchin's TOP tape on Judaism & Homosexuality, delivered at Aish Hatorah). Yet bonding mustn't become smother love-- mother's little son is born into the Jewish national covenant; he's circumcised on the 8th day, the start of a new life-cycle; we pray that he grow to Torah, Marriage, and good deeds-- mommy too must raise him to independence, to form his own family, to be an outstanding member of his community.
Smother love can also be an attempt to cover feelings of incompetance in child-rearing, fear that one's child will not be able to function on his/her own, due to faulty parenting (see Anna Gottlieb's captivating Between the Lines, pp. 68, 72; the book includes many of her columns in the Rockland Journal News, about being a divorced single parent, and about her later happy marriage to a modern Orthodox Jew, as she gradually became observant).
Mother must also return to her primary relationship, with father; they must be one for baby to grow up well. Daddy's also like an older child, suddenly robbed of his mama, by her new true child. Thus the Torah (before Rabbinic Law) permitted her to him, after bonding, tho she's bleeding profusely. Per (esoteric?) Rashbi, God postponed mila until the 8th day to make it a truly happy occasion-- the parents can't cohabit the first 7 days. God now exempts mama from communal religious life, the Temple; the high-priestess is busy building anew her private sanctuary, her home, for her husband and children (cf. Hirsch on Ashet Chayil; so women bless God, "Who has created me, with a will like His Own"). Per some talmudic views, 40 days are needed for basic fetal formulation. The new mother of a baby boy may also need 40 days for reformatting, before opening new files. The time's doubled for a baby girl-- her teaching-bond must be deeper and stronger with her. Baby girl is also to be herself a "mother of all flesh" and founder of a sacred home; father will later take over and teach the son to go out in the world, to be God's public agent. Also a daughter isn't such a rival of daddy for mommy's affections-- indeed, she and mommy often become rivals for daddy's! Thus the Torah may not be so quick to spirit mother away from her, back to her husband and public life.
2) On 1 Av 5501 (1741) great, formerly rich, Moroccan rabbi-businessman Chayim Attar (1696-1743), Ohr Hachayim, made aliya from Leghorn, Italy. His saintly namesake grandpa, who taught him, mourned Jerusalem when others slept; one of his childless wives spent the day in prayer, attired in talit and tefillin (vs. the Rabbinate? Would she be cursed and stoned at the Wall by alleged pietists?). Tho he was incredibly popular, only about 30 people followed him to Israel (how many would have followed the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rav Soloveichik?). He notes the doubled phrase TO SAY opening our portion: "God spoke to Moshe TO SAY-- Speak to the children of Israel TO SAY: `IF A WOMAN HAS MATURED HUMAN SEED AND GIVES BIRTH TO A MALE ....'"-- Moshe's to deliver God's message to the sons of Israel; they, in turn, are to explain it to their womenfolk, about whom it revolves. It's important that the new mother be taught these laws; their full significance reflects her experience. Her preoccupation with birthing and raising children frees her from the heavy duty of mastering the law herself; she'll get what she needs of it from the menfolk!-- such Jewish Lamazian involvement of men in birthing focuses them on their wives' state of being. But see "The Family That Births Together" in "You Only Get Married for the First Time Once", by Judy Markey: "Suddenly baby-having has been lifted from its rightly domain as a private, painful, and rather primal act into the rather public domain, where it becomes a participatory, practically poetic extravaganza called The (ta dum...) Miracle of Birth..., while you put on a command performance as Mother Earth".
IF A WOMAN "CAST SEED" (AND GAVE BIRTH) excludes a Caeserian birth from this law. Ohr Hachayim adds: Sperm and egg only form the body-- thoughts and feelings during the sexual act primarily determine the nature of the little SOUL being formed. At the moment of "casting seed", giving life to her husband's seed, SHE already "GAVE BIRTH" to the soul (mother's intent is primary, tho influenced by father's). So some kabbalists teach that ALL sexual relations are procreative, even if one can't procreate thereby; the accompanying mindset itself will give birth to great souls-- tho they might wind up disembodied, or in another's child (if you don't believe or learn kabbala, you haven't sinned-- perhaps it's only to be used if it speaks to your own development and experience; Rav Yichya Kapach's Dor Deah followers, e.g. Chief Rav Dr. Ratzon Arisi of Kiryat Ono and the Chief Rabbinate Council, as Leon De Modena, Shadal, and Aguda returnee Rav Shlomo Danziger of Lakewood, reject the Zohar, one school of kabbala).
Abarbanel claims that 7 days is a natural healing period for bodily trauma. A little animal or baby are only fit for sacrifice and mila at 8 days. The leper recovers 7 days; suspected tzaraat is observed for 7 or 14 days, the suspect quarantined-- his running about will impair the natural 7 day course of his condition. Only a human being and his surroundings, not animals, are afflicted by tzaraat, an external sign of corruption of man's unique faculty of speech. A new mother's olah expresses her sense of greater closeness to God, after surviving childbirth; pain and danger only come from sin, so she brings a small sin offering too-- she must have done something wrong! Catch 22? Eve's sin? But one doesn't bring a sin offering for other pains and dangers. He cites medieval and talmudic pseudo-science: it takes twice as long, 80 days, to form, and sense the movement of, a female embryo (actually, male characteristics arise later; see Dear Maimonides, Andrew Sanders, for how little was correctly known about the world in the bad old days-- $30 from TOP); she's also formed of more white and cold matter, which takes longer to clear the mother's system! Per Avraham ben Maimon , we MAY NOT rely on rabbinic science, NOT part of authoritative Torah tradition (cf. evil eyes, red strings, mixing fish and meat-- from Introduction to the Agada, printed as a preface to Ein Yaakov)
Leviticus Raba (Tazria 14) stresses the miraculous nature of conception, pregnancy, and birth. In this great creative act of perpetuity, demonstrating faith in the future, man, especially woman, may feel all-powerful. Mila and sacrifices focus them on God as the Giver of these powers, to Whom they're to be dedicated; so ritual washing, "lifting up" one's hands, and special blessings before and after bread, curb man's pride in his basic agricultural technology. Holy sexual activity renders man a partner with God in Creation. But unbridled casual "sex-as-a-snack" makes him lower than animals. A new mother's olah proclaims all consuming love of God. Her sin offering states that man is mortal-- most, at least momentarily, forget holiness during sexual relations, tho Rav Zera used to tremble with awe. God, who so created man, understands and forgives. The Wedding Day is equated with Yom Kippur. Perhaps God doesn't expect such sensitivity and sacrifice from males, who are innately less spiritual, who don't bring a sin offering upon the birth of their child.
Per Hirsch, the doubled period of a female baby's mother's tuma CORRESPONDS to the mila of the male. Mother nurses and forms the holy personality of both sexes. She alone determines whether they're Jewish, even if Avraham's their father (Rav JBS). Father LATER teaches his son how to channel his potentially holy energy, symbolized by the blood-sacrifice of milah; the mother is to further deepen and sensitize the little girl (resulting in modesty), thru their menstrual blood-covenant-- IN YOUR BLOODS YOU SHALL LIVE! Modern society fails to raise women who achieve their holy potential-- they're either educated as men (e.g. U.S. equality, w/o distinction), or treated as sub-human (e.g. India's Guruian Nirvana, which aborts females); more than 80,000,000 African Women have undergone dangerous female circumcision to kill their sexual feeling and ensure their virginity-- W.H.O).
Rav Isaac cites Rav Ammi-- males bring peace to the world and can provide for themselves. Per Rashbi (Rav Yosef disagrees), a painfully birthing woman vows never to sexually relate to her husband again! R. Bachye adds that she must atone for that sinful thought, because she is bound to him (12:7); Meshach Chochma adds that she sacrifices only a single dove as her sin offering (instead of a pair), showing that she will always remain faithful to her partner. Later, appreciating his baby, she recants and brings a minor sin offering-- a bird; she didn't actually vow, only "fluttered" in that direction (Rif). As all rejoice over a male, she recants within a week (hoping for another male-- Rashi, who had only daughters); but it takes 2 weeks if she has a girl, about whom everybody is upset! (Nida 31b; cf. B.B. 16b, San. 100b, but be sure to see ingenious comments on the 3 passages in Ein Yaakov; R. Meir, husband of proto-feminist Bruria, says that "God blessed Avraham with everything" (Gen. 24:1) means that he had no daughters; he is not necessarily depreciating women; given Avraham's wild times, when high officials would kill him and grab his wife, when Lot offered his daughters to the men of S'dom to prevent sodomy, the worst thing that could happen to Avraham would be to have a daughter, raise her to be a holy Bet Yaakov girl, and then have some drunken bum rape her-- cf. Dina). So Sfardim and haredim often bless each other that they have male children, an inappropriate wish in civilized society.
But Yosef G. (a very bright young haredi yeshiva student, who somewhat identifies with, but is hesitant to be identified with, this publication!) claims that such blessings were only intended to give fathers more opportunity to perform a mitzva, to teach their sons-- no such mitzva exists re their daughters; women are not obligated to learn or teach Torah (see Kidd. 29, perhaps reflecting R. Eliezer's strong opposition to women studying Torah, in Sota 20a; but Ben Azzai contends (as the rabbis on 21b) that one must teach his daughter Torah (ibid); women, in fact, were fully educated in Torah in the ideal era of King Hezekiah-- see San. 94b. Of course, this is not what most people who bless others with male children mean-- but most people don't think. Haredim generally fulfill the mitzva of teaching their sons Torah quite well, re chumash and talmud, modern religious Zionists re Tanach and Jewish thought; but haredim, especially in Israel, often ignore the mitzvos to teach their sons a good profession and, per some opinions, to teach them to swim (and drive safely?).
Today most of us view little girls as at least as good as little boys (and much nicer!); we're happy to have them. Some women affirm Rashbi's claim that they felt like making such a "vow" during birthing, some don't. The male experiences sex as pure pleasure, whereas the female, after childbirth, may associate it with great pain, especially if she can't cope, lacking a traditional female support network (does Lamaze try to make her husband her mother?). Should these talmudic passages be taken in the context of Biblical and Talmudic times, when innately fine girls were rarely educated and usually had a bleak future (Tuvia Bar Noy; see San. 100b; cf. China), be explained away*, or simply be rejected?-- Ohr Hachayim on Haazinu and Ibn Ezra on the Akada allow us to reject talmudic opinions and make our own guesses; thought remains free, as the flowing fringes on the talit, tho we may not contest established talmudio law and traditions from Sinai, the preceding "knots" of the talit (Hirsch).
*Marshah explains: all rejoice over little boys, who will themselves never undergo the pain and danger of childbirth (cf. The Lamaze Lie supra). But we're sad that little girls will themselves eventually have to suffer, to fulfill themselves and perpetuate the race!!
Sephardi Rav E. Papo (Pele Yoetz-- Bat) fulminates against evil Sephardi (Arab?) customs in the early 19th century-- custom, "minhag"'s anagram is "gehenom"-- Hell!-- many ridiculed those whose wives gave birth to daughters, and some husbands even distanced themselves from such wives, as tho their wives went to the market and picked a girl! Papo says that daughters are often better than lazy, ignorant and impious sons! All children are gifts of God (see Ben Y'hoyada on B.B. 16b).
The last time that I spoke to Rav J. Soloveichik, z"l (1986), he suggested that a new mother's sin-offering may be a confession of inadequacy for an awesome task, not of a specific sin-- raising a holy human must entail mistakes and failures (cf. Freud); God nevertheless accepts her offering and says "carry on!". Nechama Leibowitz (Studies in Leviticus, p. 107) similarly relates mother's defilement and sacrifices to her deepened appreciation of the greatness of the Creator, and her heightened awareness of her own insignificance, and of the dust, ashes and impurity of man's origins. So a ministering priest first brings a bull of sin-offering upon his inauguration, acknowledging his own fatal shortcomings, not for any specific sin. He who confronts death loses faith, an automatic "state of sin"; thus the red cow is a "sin offering" (Hirsch). The nazir, "completing" his attempt at perfection, brings a sin-offering-- he's still so far away (the Rebbe accomplished so much; but Meshiach's immense task, world peace and Jewish return to Israel and Torah, is so much more. Chief Rabbi Lau, who speaks English well, can make a major contribution, given the right media exposure). So righteous people, who yearned to bring sin offerings, became nazirites (Ned. 10a; see also Taanit 11a, Nazir 19a, 22a)! Jews are "ashamed" beings, aware of their great unachieved potential (cf. Nida 20a; Sof. 15:10); so the sun and the moon, not the stars, will eventually be "ashamed"-- Deut. Raba 1; cf. the hymn E-l Adon, which, as Rambam (M.T., Y'sodei Hatora, 3:9), attributes souls, knowledge and intelligence to astral bodies, an ancient Greek belief-- cf. Ps. 148:3, Ps. 19:2, Pes. 2a.
B'or Ha'torah is a stimulating Jerusalem journal on science, the arts, and problems of modern life in THE LIGHT OF THE TORAH. If you like this, you'll probably like that-- try an abridged sample: Their recent 10th issue (Mazal Tov to Prof. H. Branover and Ilona Coven Attia and their staff! $12 from TOP), which I received just in time for this study, features articles on ecology **, economics and child development-- including Miriam Schwarz's commentary on Tazria, Blood, Wine, and Childbirth. While the laws of tuma are clear and straightforward, their messages and underlying attitudes are not. Some simply connect blood and tuma with Eve's sin, disease and impurity, implying that women are innately evil or tarnished (see Ibn Ezra on 12:2, 9th century Pitron Torah on Nida 2:6, B.B. 58b-- "The beginning of all death am I, Blood"). Needless to say, such an attitude is easily transformed into images of female inferiority, in both their own eyes and those of males; but Yosef G. notes that all males are also punished, post-Eden, with the difficult conquest of unyielding nature. Just as females are cursed with the birthpangs, trials and tribulations of mating and nurturing (Gen. 3:16), so males are cursed with countless obstacles and difficulties in their conquest of nature, evil and knowledge (Gen. 3:17-19); the female may feel a failure, when her child does not grow up to optimal physical and spiritual health; so the male feels helpless, when he cannot provide for, and defend, those closest to him, when he cannot understand Torah and life. Parents, themsleves helpless, must, despite their best intentions, "abandon" their children at some point-- Tho my father and mother abandon me, God shall gather me in (Ps. 27:10).
While acknowledging such negative attitudes, Schwarz shows alternative attitudes and explanations in other sources, which view blood itself as the essence of life and holiness, rather than the symbol of death and impurity (e.g. Avot D'Rebbe Natan 50). The Mishna (Nida 64b) compares women to vines (see Ps. 128:2): "Women, in regard to (the blood of) their virginity, are like vines. One vine may have red wine, another black; there is a vine that yields much wine, while another gives little". The talmud applies Rav Chiya's teaching: "As leaven is wholesome for the dough, so is (menstrual) blood for a woman". One rabbi taught in the name of Rav Meir (Bruria's baal): "Every woman who has an abundance of (menstrual) blood has many children". Blood, even in death, is connected to life. The blood of ritually slaughtered non-sanctified wild animals, as tat of birds, must be covered with earth which sprouts vegetation (Midrash HaGadol on Lev. 17:13; see Chullin 84f, Sota 16a, Chulin 88b, Sh. A. Y. D. 28:23). Baal Haturim equates the mother's seven days of tuma with those of mourning-- as it comes, so shall it go. Life and death are 2 faces of one reality. The womb (rechem) is also called the tomb (kever-- see Rashi, 12:2).
Schwarz then compares mother's birth-blood to that of Egypt's paschal lamb, Israel's first national mitzva, smeared on their doorposts-- life to the Jews and the birth of the Jewish people, death to the Egyptians and their national glory. That bloody mitzva and that of circumcision were their merit (see Ezekiel 16:6-8, Zech. 9:11, Ex. Raba 16:12). Her approach could also explain the inclusion of circumcision in the laws of the new mother-- both involve redemptive blood.
Schwarz claims that tahara is connected to zohar, light, that which is pure, clear and clean. It also means that which is w/o blemish, free of unnecessary additives-- whole and illuminative, also in the spiritual sense. But there is something blemished, turbid, polluted, and disgusting in tuma, which leads to alienation, self-exile and banishment, the root of the word nida-- a person in nidui is distanced or temporarily banished from society (YF: in the case of a menstruant woman, only from intimate contact with males). Tuma involves physical distance, departure, or banishment beyond different sorts of borders. Impure animals are outside the range of those permitted by Divine command. Human discharges, issuing directly from the flesh, and nida occur when the body has overflowed, beyond its limits. The tuma of death falls on us when we are exposed to the outermost edge of life, and the tuma of idolatry happens when we stray beyond loving and fearing the One God.
Miriam then tries to explain the tuma of the new mother. It is not just due to the flow of blood per se, for at a certain point her blood is tahor, pure (Lev. 12:4-5). Is she perhaps distanced as t'maah in response to the distancing of the new child from her womb? Is she being punished for Eve's sin?-- but other sins, also violating the boundaries of the permitted, do not engender tuma. The above parallel of women and vines may be a clue-- wine symbolizes happiness and the love of life, as does the vitality of the woman's blood. But too much wine leads to drunkenness; the drunkard transgresses his limits and blemishes his Divine Image. Thus excess vitality-- lust-- drags sin behind it. R. Bachye claims that Adam and Eve would have given birth naturally, like trees, w/o lust, had they not sinned (12:7). The postpartum woman is similarly spoiled by her ancestor Eve, and must atone for the primeval sin.
A woman's blood is compared to yeast in dough (Nida 64b), which makes it swell beyond its borders. Yeast is the chametz, the leaven, forbidden us on Passover, that festival which imposes the most limitations on us, and sanctifies us as a new and self-renewing nation. Thus it's proper to make the Passover sacrifice in tahara. But if a majority of the public is unclean, they're not ostracized, and it's done in tuma (cf. Jeff Seidel's Purim bash). Thus tuma and tahara touch one another. Blood is used to purify the Temple, unclean via contact with an unclean person (see Ezek. 45:18-20, read on Shabbat HaChodesh). She concludes that tuma and tahara are actually spiritual conditions. Sprinkling blood for atonement is a physical expression for transforming tuma into tahara.
Schwarz applies all this to mother's sin offering and return. Clearly defined stages of time establish each level of tahara, regardless of physical differences between one woman and another. The correction for trespassing a border is confinement within an exact time frame (cf. jail. YF: but she didn't voluntarily trespass any border-- only Eve did!). Return to intimacy with her husband represents society absorbing her in her return from her isolation (YF: but she wasn't really isolated from anyone!). Sforno claims that she needs a sin offering upon returning to the Temple, due to her absorption in her internal physical functions, rather than holiness. Some define "atonement" (kapara) here as cleansing, following Aramaic; her sacrifice is not for a sin, and it does not atone, but cleanses her (Z'kanim MiBaalei HaTosafos)-- not all commentators think that the childbearing woman must atone for the sin of Eve; Ibn Ezra (on Tan. 96:1) claims that the burnt offering was to atone for any bad thoughts during painful birthing, the sin offering for the possibe expression of such thoughts (see also Meshach Chochma).
Miriam's own explanation is that she's focused on the new creature, the wonder which was created within her. As his/her existence depends entirely upon her, she devotes herself to him, often to the point of forgetting everything else-- which can become a kind of idolatry. Thus she must return to the Temple to remind herself Who gave her the joy of birth, to atone for forgetting (won't jus looking at her baby be a great religious experience?). Midrash Tadshe proclaims that we atone for defects in love with burnt offerings, for defects in fear, awe and reverence by sin offerings.
Some say that Nazarites bring their sin offering for refraining from wine, from rejoicing in God's bounty. Scripture calls wine the blood of the grape (Deut. 32:14) and the blood of grapes (Gen. 49:11). Wine libation was part of the sacrificial ceremony. The wine-- as a symbol of the bubbing urges of life, which sometimes trespass borders-- was lifted up to the altar, together with the sacrifice, as if they were a substitute for the person bringing the sacrifice. The different types of sacrifices, varying in their blood and wine, are the most tangible expression of devotion and submission of a human being, with all his/her drives, joys and sins,, failures, anxieties, longings, sadness and repentance, to the Creator, in Whose hands rest life and death. Atonement enables us to start anew, in tahara, to live pure lives, within the borders alloted to us. Precisely then, when we stay within the borders of Torah and mitzvot, we are free from the slavery of the temptations and threats of this world. Only the slave of God is free (Yehuda Halevi).
MY COMMENT: WOW! You can contact Miriam Schwarz, and get her book, Va'Taan Miryam (Hebrew), from which the article was translated and abridged, at 10 Arlosoroff St., Jerusalem, Tel. 561-8812.
** see also Eco-Kosher by amiable, heretical and imaginative Arthur Waskow (JR 4/3/97); Waskow asks if it is eco-kosher: to eat vegetables and fruit that have been grown by drenching the soil with insecticides, to drink Shabbat Kiddush wine from non-biodegradable plastic cups, to use unrecycled newsprint, to become addicted to automobiles-- so that we drunkenly pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, there to accelerate the heating of our globe. We can light a blaze to consume the earth. Or we can make a holy altar of our lives-- to light up the spark of God in every human and every species.
E. MILA, JEWS & CHRISTIANS
Last week's laws of kashrut were to "distinguish between the unclean and the clean". So mila, this week's first mitzva, thruout history identified Jews as indelibly separate from their surrounding cultures. Something made Jews who otherwise left Torah keep this least rational of mitzvos, even when forbidden by the authorities (see "The 8th Day" video at TOP). All who are present sense the spirit of Jewish sacrifice to God, as parents present their new son to the mohel, to be forever marked as a Jew. We pray that baby's entry into this covenant will lead to a lifelong sacrificial commitment to Torah, Jewish marriage, and good deeds (Rav Adv. E. S. Weiss). God commands a father or his agent to cut off the foreskin of his son's male organ, a physical symbol of Israel's covenant with Him; psychoanalytic studies equate successful resolution of early fears of paternal castration with male personality growth. Mila may indeed be a psychological inoculation against such fears. The 8th day is a crucial culmination-- cf. purification of the leper and the dedication of the tabernacle and cohanim on the 8th day. Per Rav P. Peli, z"l, 7 represents that consecrated by God, 8 that which His partner Man adds to the sanctity of His world, e.g. mila-- see Gen. Raba 11:6. Only after experiencing God's Shabbat, after 7 days, is Man ready for his mila-- to carry on God's work, to develop and perfect this world with both strength and sensitivity.
Rav Yaakov Emden, unlike Rambam, concludes that Jesus and Paul were good guys, not out to take Jews away from their religion (see Matt. 5, Lk. 16), but to bring non-Jews to theirs-- the Noachide Code; all should remain in their own faith, both Jews and Noachides; later errant Christians distorted their message, tried to convert Jews, and deified Jesus, which would probably have horrified him. Thus, while Paul spoke to his followers against circumcision, an act of ocnversion which would oblige them to fully observe halacha (Jewish law-- Gal. 5, I Cor. 7), way beyond them, he nevertheless circumcised his disciple Timothy (Acts 16), who was Jewish, as his mother, tho his father was not (from Emden's letter to the Polish Council of the 4 Lands, appended to Seder Olam Rabbah V'zuta (1757) and Sefer Hashimush; a translation and commentary by truly traditional (Orthodox) Rabbi Harvey Falk, aided and abetted by Dr. Michael Wyschograd (Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 19:1), is $1 from TOP. Falk claims that the 1st century pharisees, who were disparaged by Jesus, were those whose views were also disavowed by traditional Judaism. In Lechem Shamayim, Emden declares that both Christianity and Islam are basically Noachide "assemblies for the sake of heaven" (Avot 4:11), who have spread knowledge of God thruout the world. Emden and Rav Y. Eyfshitz accused each other of being secret Christians. Rav Marvin Antelman of Rechovot is an expert on their controversy, 1000% on Emden's side; Gershon Scholem also concludes that Eyfshitz followed Shabtai Tzvi, as many misguided rabbis of the day.
F. JEWISH MOTHERS
Rav Norman Lamm posits innate holiness in motherhood, which imitates God (see D). God in turn imitates mothers-- "As one whom his mother comforts, so I'll comfort you..." (Is. 66:13). The classic Jewish mother is a family-oriented, self-effacing and sacrificing homebody (more secure than "liberated" women?), concerned about her children and husband. Competing Modern Woman is individualistic, self-centered, and hedonistic, interested in career and society (more fun?), concerned about developing her skills, that others "validate her feelings". She places clear limits on impositions on her time and attention. The radical Jewish mother expects to give all she has and is to her children (cf. Yentl and Princess Pharoh with Ashet Chayil, Prov. 31:10f; see our 12/93 and 2/94 studies; also cf. Jewish fathers and Modern Men, old-time and modern rabbis).
Today it's easier to blend self, family and community. Lemach no longer needs 2 wives, a mother and a girlfriend (Gen. 4:19). Tho not self-centered, a Jewish mother, from Sara on, was self-assertive re her children. She was ashet chayil-- a woman of strength, of hardiness, not hardness. Such devoted mothers must sacrifice that very closeness to their child to his need for independence, to grow away in order to grow up. Hanna, who craved motherhood, made one little robe for her son Shmuel-- it fit him all his life and became his shroud (Yalkut IS2:19). The robe, his mother's love, grew and adapted with his growth-- she "brought it to him each year". It represented love properly expressed. Those who observe the 1st dictum-- I'M GOD YOUR LORD-- will also observe HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; then their own children will honor them. Happy Mothers Day!
Rav Lamm explores gassut, vulgarity, as a cause of tzaraat-- it's 3 aspects are gassut halev, arrogance; gassut haruach, spiritual insensitivity; and gassut hadaat, the lack of intellectual discrimination. Today, much less sensitive to sin, we don't get tzaraat; many ailments are, however, psychosomatic, often engendered by guilt feelings-- cf. cases of paralysis, cured by Freud's psychoanalysis. Naaman links going toward peace with the earth and waters of Israel; there, no matter how evil before, he can reform and get rid of his tzaraat; so, per Rashi (Ex. 10:22), only those evil Jews WHO WOULD NOT LEAVE Egypt (probably most Levites, who had it good there) were killed in the plague of darkness; Israel, the pure land, might have straightened them out!
Erudite, imaginative, far-fetched and way-out U.S. Prof. Hillel Weiss inaugurated Bar Ilan's C.G. Foundation Jerusalem Project with an exploration of Sex and the Good Place: The Gendering of Jerusalem. He claims that each of the 3 major faiths close to Jerusalem, in their 3rd stage, changed their female image of HER, especially in times of her conquest and desolation-- from mate to zona, a cheap attached woman! He explored the role and image of concubines in various societies, and suggested that the modern image of Jerusalem is male, as it is filled with conquest-- construction and military. Unfortunately, there was no attempt to criticize his views from a traditional Jewish standpoint (Bar Ilan's?), except for a few ?? from the audience, suggesting that mother is a more Jewish metaphor for the holy city. The sandwiches and baklava were first class. Only a few people responded to the Post ad, possibly due to the winter weather. I highly recommend their confab this week on Last Stop Jerusalem: The Place of Jerusalem in Eschatological Expectations, featuring Schwartz and 12 other erudite academics: Sunday 4/13/97, 10AM, at Beck Auditorium, Bar Ilan Univ. (#400 bus); Monday 4/14, 10AM, at Bet Bar Ilan, 2 Shonei Halachot, Jewish 1/4. Be prepared to protest any counter-Torah views, as politcally correct dati university folks will not do so-- Bar Ilan does not want to appear parochial.
G. MTZORA-- A SYNOPSIS
Why do God and His rabbis want us to study tuma, of no practical relevance for thousands of years? Perhaps it's to be ready to practice it when the 3rd Temple is built, or to expound its many symbolic messages. In Shmini (E), we discussed Judaism & Music. The many, often repetitive, technical details of tuma may best be viewed as components of a grand musical composition-- the Torah; not all is crescendos, which need preludes to achieve their full effect-- see our Vayakhel study.
We now deal with the purification and redemption of the victim of tzaraat. The priest must go outside the camp to examine the victim, as he does to prepare the red cow to purify those unclean. True religious leaders follow Moshe's example at the Golden Calf Disco-- descend from your heights to help those lowest on the spiritual ladder. If he's cured, the priest orders to take, FOR HIM, 2 live kosher birds (symbols of chattering slander-- Erchin 16b), a piece of cedar, crimson wool, and a hyssop branch-- these are NOT a sacrifice, but tools of purification, here! One bird is slaughtered over a bowl of water from a natural source. Everything else is dipped together in the water, mixed with blood of the dead bird; this is then sprinkled 7 times on the victim. The live bird is sent off (if it returns, he must send it again-- even 1900 times; Tosefta Negaim 8). His clothing is immersed and the priest shaves off all his hair; he dips in a mikveh. Cedar and hyssop, wool dyed red by a worm, represent the highest and lowest in life's plant and animal kingdoms. All eventually dies, is mixed with blood. However, a soul, which transcends its animal bodily partner, can fly high, free of death, as the live bird. So Shabbat's message of "7", together with purification, can transform the soul (and then the body) of this person, so tainted by sin. Now he may return to the camp, but he still renders things unclean by contact, and may not be intimate with his wife.
The process is repeated on the 7th day (as the 3rd and 7th day use of the red cow potion-- see our Chukas study). On the 8th day he brings sheep, meal and oil offerings. The male guilt offering is presented first. Some of the blood is placed on the right ear lobe, thumb and big toe of the unclean person. A priest sprinkles some of the oil towards the Holy of Holies, 7 times; some is put in the place of the blood, the rest on the victim's head. After sin, burnt, and meal offerings, atonement and purification are achieved. A poor man can bring 2 doves instead of sheep #2, with similar ceremonies.
A house in Israel can get tzaraat too. When the owner "spots" it, he tells the cohen: "Something like a plague mark appeared in the house"; the priest orders the contents removed-- then they won't be unclean, tho he declares the house unclean!-- no "disease" is involved here. Mystical entities, unlike physical, are determined by the cohen's pronouncement. His holy speech supersedes the unholy tongue of the slanderer, a common victim of tzaraat. If there are bright green or red streaks on the walls (as re cloth), the cohen quarantines the house 7 days; if the spot expands to at least 2 stones, they're removed to an unclean place (the law applies only if ALL the walls of the house are of "building stone", another proof that no "disease" is involved here). The stones are replaced and the house replastered. If the affliction returns and spreads, the house is demolished and its stones, wood (its presence in the building is a precondition, another proof that no "disease" is involved), and mortar are taken out to an unclean place. A quarantined house engenders tuma. If the mark disappears, the cohen orders 2 birds, etc., and processes them to purify the house (as is done for the unclean person, so purified).
A ZAV, a male with a discharge, other than semen or urine, from his organ is unclean, and so renders others in contact with him, his bed, seat, saddle or saliva. If he touches the INSIDE of a clay vessel (cf: "...as a clay vessel in the hands of the potter...", "the soul which YOU have placed IN me is still pure"), it must be broken; a wooden vessel so touched may be purified by immersion in water, AFTER CLEANING IT. The zav immerses in a mikveh (or ocean, spring, etc.) 7 days after healing; his clothes must be immersed too. On the 8th day he takes 2 mature turtle doves (who mate with extraordinary devotion), or 2 young common doves (who turn nasty as they age), one a sin offering, one a burnt offering, for the priest to render atonement. A minor can be a mtzora or zav, engendering tuma; tho his sins are not punishable, they have their natural consequences (Arachin 3a).
A seminal discharge only renders the man and any cloth or leather which it touches unclean until evening. Intercourse has similar consequences for both parties (see Shabat 86). A normally menstruant woman is unclean 7 days; touching her or her bed, or sitting where she sat or lay, renders one unclean 1 day; a 3 day flow OUTSIDE her normal period has similar consequences, except that she must count 7 clean days before immersion, and bring sacrifices, as the zav. Today we're afraid to distinguish between nida and zava, so observant couples separate at least 12 days if she is bleeding; perhaps a scientist will invent a computer to calculate her periods w/o confusion, restoring the natural Torah cycle; observant family life might then be much pleasanter. One wonders why the Torah doesn't continue here with the main human defilement-- via a corpse; perhaps it waits for the remedy in Numbers 19, the red cow potion.
If you'd like to learn more about nida, we sell and recommend Rav Norman Lamm's A Hedge of Roses and Arye Kaplan's Living Waters, and show a video on mikveh. Back in the bad old days, before me, in 1934, my esteemed teacher Rav Leo Jung's The Jewish Library, Vol. 3, dealt with issues of women and Judaism; Rivka Levi Jung, a graduate of the Univ. of McMaster, wrote Tahara- a Way to Married Happiness, preceded by Art and the Jewish Woman, by Hebe Rahel Mayer, who combined the traditions of the Bentwich family and Cambridge Univ., and followed by Neurosis and the Modern Jewess, by W. M. Feldman, F.R.S. (Ed); may the memories of our early great teachers of Torah and Derech Eretz be blessed by our reading and repeating their writings. Ms. Jung opens:
"Happiness is the goal of people about to be married. And yet,a large proportion of marriages nowadays have produced only bitterness and disillusionment, and there seems to be a consensus that the institution of marriage has failed to justify itself. If it has failed, it is not for want of expert attention, diagnosis and prescription. We have had more books on the nature of marriage, its physiological, psychological and economic aspects, than on any other phase of our social and economic life. The purpose of this article is to define the attitude of Judaism towards marriage, and the solution offered by Judaism to the problems that arise in the married state."
H. THE HAFTARA OF MTZORA is IIK 7:30-20
It is also read when Mtzora is combined with Tazria. 4 lepers, allegedly Gechazi & Sons, are excluded from the camp. They're helpless-- Aram holds the Jews in siege and famine. They go to seek mercy from Aram and find the camp deserted, loads of booty left behind. The 4, concerned about their desparate fellow Jews, bring back the good news. After initial doubt, the Jews joyously confirm that Aram fled, hearing the noise of a huge force (God's hoax-- cf. 1948)! Food again becomes cheap and the politician who denied God's power to stop inflation died, as Elisha prophesied. CONCLUSION: the worst can quickly become the best, both in human character and the physical circumstances which it engenders. Yes, God hurls "the proud" down, but once they're "the lowly", acknowledge their limits and dependence upon Him, He may lift them up again. Man's downfall is to save him, to prod a return to God and self (cf. Israel today).
Rav Kanotopsky sees a similar message in the 3 sacrifices of atonement brought by the mtzora in Lev. 14:18-20: "... the priest will effect atonement for him before God (via the asham, guilt offering). Then the priest shall offer the chatat (sin offering) and effect atonement for "he who's purifying himself from his impurity". After this, he'll slaughter the olah...; `the priest shall atone for him and he'll become pure'". Per Ramban, the first atonement, the asham, is for the sin of slander itself, which engendered tzaraat; it's likely that the sinner will add sin to sin, by questioning God and His justice, after his suffering and isolation. The second offering, the chatat, atones for this. The olah is not to atone for transgression (tho the text indicates otherwise), but merely to purify him to return to his home and normal life. The N'tziv agrees, except that he claims that the olah atones for bad thoughts and mindset, which precede slander.
Rambam (M.T. Tumat Tzaraat 16:10) also attributes tzaraat to slander, but sees a 3 stage process, corresponding, in reverse order, to the 3 sacrifices of atonement. The sinner begins his career with nonsensical frivolous talk; he then goes on to slander serious righteous folks, and to question our ethical prophets. Finally, he'll slander God Himself and even deny His existence. Rav Kanotopsky's analysis is that the whole process begins with self-depreciation, not taking oneself, one's life and one's speech seriously. He/she then lashes out at the "righteous", those whose worthwhile serious lives and speech are a living rebuke to this attitude, perhaps jealous of their success as productive creative human beings; maybe the sinner simply can't recognize good, lacking in himself, in others. I cannot honor or love others if I don't honor or love myself (see Avot 4:1, per Ruach Chayim). So we read (Lev. 19:18): "Don't take revenge or bear a grudge... love your neighbor as yourself"-- Rashi indicates that an automatic negative response to another's negativity toward me indicates a lack of my own self-respect and independence-- I merely react to others.
A poor self-image can be hidden under a cloud of pride and arrogance, leading to denial of God Himself. Thus the first sacrifice atones for his ultimate prideful sin of atheism and/or idolatry-- "atonement before God"; the usual sin offering, chatat, #2 sacrifice, is for his slander of his fellow. The third atonement sacrifice, the olah, attacks the problem at its roots-- his poor self-image. It is to purify him, to teach him his own worth, to give him stature and purpose, to elevate him, to bring him close to God. Then slander is unneccessary, perhaps even impossible-- "the priest shall atone for him and he shall be pure". These life-affirming messages also appear in Joan Brady's recent modern spiritual fable, "God On A Harley", where a burnt-out 37 year single professional woman rediscovers herself and her closeness to God. Only then can she relate properly to others.
Greer Fay Cashman (JP, Pessah 5756) portrays a great human being, the opposite of the self-centered critical mtzora, Rav Chaim Gutnick of Australia. His family's Shabbat and holiday meals were usually attended by many guests, including strangers and non-Jews, besides his wife and 6 kids. The good Rabbi, when pouring wine for kiddush, would "accidently" spill a cup of wine on the beautiful tablecloth, so that no guest would feel bad if it happened to her; looking momentarily crestfallen, he'd apologize to his wife, Rosie, who'd laugh and respond: "Oh Rabbi, you're always doing that!". He never foisted his own strictures on others, and everyone present joined in the constant singing and discussions at the table.
A few weeks after reading Greer's touching tale, I saw a notice of the dedication of a new Torah settlement, Kiryat Shoshana, in Efrat, in Rosie Gutnick's memory, by her son, Rav Joseph Gutnick, both an ardent Chabadnik and a very successful dynamic businessman. He just sponsored a mass bar mitzva for Israeli orphans. As a young lad, he convinced his mother that he'd become wealthy, and help the Rebbe in his good works (so Shadal at 8 was determined to defend and preserve God's Torah by explaining it in modern terms)! I found the ceremony inspiring-- it combined Rav Riskin's depth and vision, shared by Gutnick, his perfect partner, with the enthusiastic reactions of the first kollel students living in the Kirya, despite their early difficulties. The down-to-earth friendliness, joie de vive, and religious sincerity of Gutnick, who aids so many Jewish and Israel causes, not just Chabad, was truly impressive, as was his large family. He's a good modern Montefiorian model for his wealthy cohorts; wealth should be viewed as a gift of God, with the responsibility to use it well to further His ends and help His People.
In 1989, Habad returned a favor from the Gerer Rebbe, who refused Rav Shach's request to condemn Habad, and supported Aguda, tho far from their own approach. Rav Yosef then returned a favor to his then supporter, Rav Shach, by attacking Habad. Rav Eliyahu soon defended them, as I predicted. May "religious" parties truly reflect religion, and may all our legitimate disagreements be polite and harmonious.
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