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Thursday
Apr032014

RECIPROCITY

The Torah commences this week’s parsha with the following description of the purification process for the person who has contracted tzaraas, an enigmatic skin disease (commonly confused with leprosy):

“This will be the law of the Metzora; on the day of his purification. He should be brought to the Kohen-priest. The Kohen should go forth to the outside of the camp; the Kohen shall look, and behold! – the tzaraas had been healed from the Metzora…”

WHO GOES TO WHOM?

 In this brief introductory passage many questions arise:

First, Rashi addresses the question, why does the Torah state that this law applies to the “day of his ritual purification?” What does the word “day” add? The Torah could have stated simply: “This will be the law of purification for the Metzora.”

Second, why does it say “the tzaraas has been healed from the Metzora?” Don’t we already know that the Metzora is the one who is afflicted with tzaraas? It could have simply stated “the tzaraas has been healed” or “the Metzora was healed,”

Lastly, it says that he is brought to the Kohen and immediately afterwards it says that the Kohen goes outside the camp, implying that the Kohen goes out to the Metzora. Which is it? Does the Metzora go to the Kohen or does the Kohen go to the Metzora?

THE FUTURE PURIFICATION

The key to answering these questions is a fourth question: why does it introduce this section with the words, “This will be the law of the Metzora?” Couldn’t it just say, “This is law of the Metzora?” Why is the verb associated with implementation of this law in the future tense?

The answer is that the ultimate realization of the purification of the Metzora phenomenon will be in the future Messianic Age.

The Torah thus states: “This will be the law of the Metzora; on the day of his purification.” The term “day” is a reference to the future Messianic Age when G-d’s light, which will illuminate the darkness, will render all of our existence as day. And it is then that we will be completely healed from all forms of imperfection, including tzaraas which affects the most external aspects of the individual.

EMULATING AARON

To affect this transformation of the darkness of the night of exile into the light of the day of Redemption, one must be brought to Aaron the Priest.

Each and every Jew is admonished to emulate Aaron the Priest. In Ethics of the Fathers (1:12) the sage Hillel is quoted:

 “Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving all created beings and bringing them closer to the Torah.”

Hillel identifies four traits of Aaron that we must follow:

First, we must love peace. Even when one is legitimately disputing matters of principle and values, one must never lose his or her commitment to peace. One must love the peace that will come when the differences are resolved.

Second, one must “pursue peace.” It does not suffice to feel a desire for peace; one must also actively seek means to bring about reconciliation.

Third, one must love all created beings. It does not suffice to cherish peace because it is a less stressful state to be in than conflict. The pursuit of peace then becomes a selfish endeavor. Hillel’s admonition to us is to want peace because it is based on and motivated by love for the other. Even if the other appears to be utterly wrong and his sole visible positive trait being that he or she is “G-d’s creation,” one should still cultivate love for him or her.

Fourth, one must also bring these people closer to the Torah. As the Rebbe emphasized on many occasions, it does not say “bring the Torah closer to them” but rather bring them closer to the Torah. This implies that we must never compromise the Torah to make it palatable to others. Rather we must find ways of raising them up to the Torah.

While we must pursue every avenue for peace and express unadulterated love for the other even if he or she is wrong on crucial moral issues, we must never compromise on the standards of the Torah to accomplish the above.

COME TO AARON

Applying all this to the ultimate purification of the Metzora we see that we must all have mentors who fulfill Hillel’s directive to follow in Aaron’s path.

The Torah states that the Metzora shall be brought to the Kohen. This means that the person who is need of direction and purification shall recognize that he or she cannot do it alone and must depend on the other (the Aarons) to assist.

Throughout history, the Jewish people knew that they depended on their leaders for their moral and spiritual advancement, not just for the stability and prosperity which a good leader would bring to the community.

In order to enjoy the full benefits of the Aarons in our lives we must humbly recognize how much they contribute to our spiritual well-being and not ascribe our progress to our own brilliance and hard work. One of the hallmarks of the Rebbe/mentor-chassid/disciple relationship is the total submission of the disciple to his or her mentor. This devotion is what allows us to be receptive to his guidance and accept the flow of the mentor’s spiritual energy and enlightenment to the follower.

In light of this statement, our original question becomes even more insistent: Why does the Torah juxtapose the statement that the Metzora must be brought to the Kohen with a contradictory statement that implies that the Kohen must go out of the camp to the Metzora?

RIGHTS OR OBLIGATIONS

The answer lies in our understanding of the differences between Jewish values and the prevailing secular values in society today.

In the secular world, society is divided into advocacy groups. Each group lobbies for its own interests and for securing its own rights. The hope is that when members on both sides of a divide act with due diligence in favor of their constituency, fairness and equitable solutions will ensue.

For example: our society is made up of leaders and followers; vendors and consumers; doctors and patients; lawyers and clients etc. Each group looks out for its own interest and the protection of its rights. In theory at least, the outcome should be an equitable balance between interests. However, in reality, we find a society deeply polarized along these self-serving divisions.

In Judaism, however, the focus is not on rights but on obligations. The vendor has to focus on what his obligation is to his customer and the customer has to think about his obligations to the vendor. Each constituency is looking out for the other.

With respect to the relationship between the leaders and mentors (the “Aarons”) and their followers there is a need for a reciprocal attitude. While the followers must be brought to Aaron and recognize that it is he who enables their healing, the leaders themselves have to see it in the very opposite way. The genuine Jewish leader feels that all of his capabilities derive from the people he mentors and assists.

So while the Metzora must be brought to the Kohen and show his total dependence on him, the Kohen must also feel that he is beholden to the one he services, and by going out to the Metzora he is empowered to achieve his goal of helping others.

We can now understand why the Torah states, “The tzaraas has been healed from the Metzora.” The question was asked, why add the words “from the Metzora?” Don’t we already know that the Metzora is the one who is afflicted with tzaraas?

The answer is that the Kohen, to whom the Metzora must be brought and upon whom his purification depends, must also recognize that the Kohen’s ability to heal is not his own. He derives this power from the Metzora himself. It is the Metzora who has the spark of holiness within him that empowers the Kohen to be able to heal. The Metzora thus attributes his healing to the Kohen and the Kohen ascribes his power to heal to the innate healing powers of the Metzora.

LONG LIVE THE KING!

This form of reciprocity can also be seen in the way the Torah views the role of the king. On the one hand, a monarch is head and shoulders above his nation; on the other hand, our Sages declare “there is no king without a nation.” It is the nation’s acceptance of him as their monarch that empowers him to be king. The power of leadership, Chassidic thought asserts, is very deeply rooted in one’s soul and psyche. To elicit this power requires the devotion and commitment of the nation.

The relationship of a Rebbe and a Chassid has also been described in this manner. There is no Chassid without total devotion to his Rebbe and there is no Rebbe without his Chassidim.

In a famous legal battle over ownership of the Schneersohn library, the Rebbetzin (the Rebbe’s wife) was asked to whom the library belonged. Did it belong to the Rebbe personally (and, as his private property, therefore subject to the civil laws of inheritance) or to the community of Chassidim? Her wise answer was: “Both the library and the Rebbe belong to the Chassidim.”

This mutuality is even more pronounced in the leadership of Moshiach. The Rebbe explains that Moshiach’s ability to lead us out of exile stems from our acceptance of his leadership. This we do by declaring “Yechi HaMelech” (the Biblical refrain that translates as “Long live the King”) or any other expression of our sincere desire for Moshiach to get us out of exile.

This notion that Moshiach’s leadership hinges on us, the Rebbe states, is based on the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that each and every Jew possesses a spark of Moshiach. When we allow that spark to ignite, we empower Moshiach to actualize his leadership potential and finally take us out of exile and thereby usher in the Age of Redemption. May we see that imminently!

 

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