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Thursday
Apr112019

One Man’s Shame is Another’s Claim to Fame

A Joke to Begin with…

Stanley, an elderly Jewish fellow, decided in his late 80s to get a driver’s license. Once he passed his driving test, he took his brand new Mercedes on a drive on one of the busy NY freeways.

A frantic call comes in from his wife, Sara, “Is everything ok, Stanley?” she asks. “Yes, why do you ask?” Stanley asks in return. “All the news stations are reporting that there is a driver on the highway you are on, driving against traffic, causing much commotion. I wanted to make sure you weren’t hurt.” “Oh, I don’t know about one driver, Sara, I see hundreds of crazy drivers driving against the traffic!”

***

Sometimes, what we see is a mirror image of reality. Our perception can make all the difference. 

This week, we read Parshas Metzora, which resumes its discussion of the laws of leprosy. The Torah portion opens with the process of purifying a leper with two birds, shaving all the hair off his body, and the offering of sacrifices.

One of the most interesting points in this Torah portion is the fact that its name stands in complete contradiction to its content! What would you expect from a parsha called “Metzora”? Wouldn’t it be teaching us about the laws spelling out the impurity of leprosy and the leper…

And the truth is…exactly the opposite! The parsha deals at length with the procedure of purifying the metzora. We can already see this clearly from the very first pasuk of the Torah portion: “This shall be the law of the person afflicted with leprosy, on the day of his cleansing”!

Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to choose another name for this parsha? Maybe “Parshas Tahara” – the portion of Purification?

Indeed, there is such a custom mentioned in early sources, but the prevailing custom is to call this parsha by the name “Metzora.” Why so?

But first let’s retell a story of the Talmud, which calls another important and figure, who is a symbol of purity and spiritual perfection, by this derogatorily-seeming name.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi found Eliyahu HaNavi standing near the cave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and he decided to ask him the question of all questions – When will the Moshiach come? The answer was not long in coming. “Why don’t you go ask him yourself?” Eliyahu replied. “Where exactly can I find him, and how will I know it’s him?” asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. “He is sitting at the entrance to the city of Rome, among a group of poor lepers, and he too is a “metzora” – a leper…!”

While the fact that Moshiach is a “metzora” may sound somewhat vague, insignificant, and irrelevant — it was just a way to identify which of the men sitting at the gates of Rome is Moshiach — it teaches us a great deal about the essence of Moshiach and the Redemption. Later, in the sugya in Gemara, leading sages discuss the topic of Moshiach’s name, each one according to his own opinion and approach. One Talmudic opinion has it that Moshiach’s name is nothing less than “Metzora Shel Beis Rabi — the leper of Rabi’s household!”

What a name indeed!

Why is Melech HaMoshiach called by such a negative name? There are surely more positive descriptions befitting a man destined to redeem the entire Jewish People from the exile?

Yet, as with Stanley and his Mercedes on the freeway, you sometimes ought to change your perspective about reality to get it straight…

Chassidus teaches us that everything is concealed within its respective name. When we understand the essence of the leprosy described in Chumash and why it is called a “nega” (plague), we can answer all the relevant questions.

The Alter Rebbe explains in Likkutei Torah an enigmatic fact — that nega, נגע, has the same letters as oneg, ענג — (pleasure):

Tza’ra’as (leprosy) is essentially a supernal light and energy of holiness from the loftiest source. But just like the light of the sun is so bright that when gazing upon it you just see black or darkness, our world can neither receive nor contain the spiritual energy contained in the tzara’as and so, in our warped perception of reality, this great energy becomes a sign of impurity.

[For the Kabbalists among us, the source of this light comes from the Divine attribute of Gevura (as in tigbores ha’chayus – reinforced vitality), and therefore, when it reaches here, our lowly physical world, this produces a contrary result – impurity.]

There is no worse form of darkness than the darkness that comes from light so sublime that it cannot be revealed, as is written in Sefer Yetzira (2:4): “There is no good higher than oneg and no evil lower than nega.” However, the truth of the matter is that “oneg” and “nega” are comprised of the same letters, the same essence, and the difference is only within usour ability to accept and perceive. If we change how we “read” the Divine message, we can change and transform the “nega” into what it truly is… “oneg” — from immense impurity and pain to immense purity and pleasure!

Thus, the manner of healing the plague is to expose its inner nature and spiritual source, showing that it is in essence, “oneg,” thereby enabling the Divine illuminations to reveal themselves.

“This shall be the law of the person afflicted with leprosy, on the day of his cleansing” says the Torah, and also hints that the purification of the leper is achieved through “day”, shedding light on it and revealing the essential nature of the “nega” and turning it into “oneg.” What in the dark of night is perceived as an obstacle course, is really a set of beautiful and comfortable furniture.

Accordingly, we have a rational explanation why a Torah portion dealing with the purification of the plague of leprosy is called “Metzora,” since the process of purification does not come to nullify or negate the affliction, rather, to reveal the very quality of the affliction itself, namely its spiritual radiance.

The exile is compared to leprosy, a state of terrible and dreadful concealment of Divine Providence, where it is difficult to perceive G-d’s Presence in the world. However, as we find with the plague of leprosy, the phenomenon of the exile is only in the external sense, whereas in its inner essence, the exile is actually the “celestial illuminations” of the Redemption. It’s only that we are unable to see it for what it truly is. And so, we sense, see, feel, and breathe the appalling darkness and concealment of the exile.

Therefore, Moshiach himself is called by the name “Metzora,” since the whole concept of Moshiach is not to do away with the exile, but to reveal the exile’s very own true essence. This will be the marvelous innovation to the Redemption and the days of Moshiach. The Redemption will not negate or nullify the exile, rather it will shed light upon the essential meaning of the exile. The exile itself (gola – גולה) will be transformed into Redemption (Geula גאולה)!

Can we do anything about this dark, or do we just need to patiently wait for the sunrise?

The Rebbe explains that we are in a time when all the energies of Moshiach are already active within the world, as the fast-paced changes for the good in the world around us show.

We need to open our eyes and begin living the true reality – Moshiach. “Mitzvos are candles and Torah is light” — the way to change our perspective is with the light of Torah, increasing in Torah study, and particularly on the subject of Moshiach and the Redemption. This is alluded to in the parsha’s opening verse: “This shall be the law (torat) of the person afflicted with leprosy,” “his healing is … through the Torah” (Likkutei Torah, Metzora 25a).

A Story to conclude…

We will conclude with a story on the power of Torah to effect change in the world:

One of the tzaddikim of past generations was asked a complicated question regarding the kashrus of a certain chicken found to have an illness that perforated its stomach, something that usually renders the chicken treif. (Trefah in Halacha, is an illness that the animal in question cannot survive with for more than 12 months.)

The tzaddik sat down together with his students, and he toiled for several long hours trying to find a way to declare the chicken kosher.

The Chassidim were quite puzzled. It appeared that this was a very simple question to answer – the chicken is treif! There is simply no way to make it permissible…

Finally, after an intensive and in-depth study of the relevant halachic rulings, the tzaddik stood up and spoke before his students. According to the amazing and deeply profound innovation he explained, everyone reached the conclusion that the chicken, in fact, was kosher!

Just then, a woman burst into the room, crying bitterly. “Rebbe! My husband is lying in bed, totally unconscious. The doctors say that he has no chance to survive! They discovered that he has an illness that has perforated his stomach…”

“Don’t worry,” the tzaddik calmed her. “Just now, we ruled by the strength of Torah that this illness is not life-endangering, and it’s possible to be cured of it. Your husband will recover and become healthy again!”

At that moment, the Chassidim realized why the tzaddik strove to find a way to make the chicken permissible because the Torah changes our reality – and the world’s!

Take-Away

Instead of seeing the whole freeway as crazies, the time has come to change perspective and transform the world and ourselves by increasing in studying the Torah topics of Moshiach and the Geulah!

Good Shabbos!

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