THREE ROADS TO REDEMPTION
April 17, 2018
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1114, Parsha Thought, Tazria-Metzora

SUPERFLUOUS AND UNUSUAL SYNTAX

This week we read a double portion consisting of Tazria and Metzora, both of which discuss the laws relating to a person afflicted with a skin disease called tzaraas.

The second of these two Torah portions (Metzora) that we read this week begins with the following words:

“This will be the Torah-law of the Metzora (the person afflicted with tzaraas) on the day of his purification; he should be brought to the Kohen.”

Several questions have been raised by commentators:

First, why does the Torah have to add the words “will be?” It could have simply stated, “This is the Torah-law of the Metzora…” The words “will be” imply that it is dealing with the future.

Second, why does it say, “This will be the Torah-law of the Metzora on the day of his purification.” From the beginning of the verse it sounds as though the laws that will follow govern the manner we treat a Metzora when he is still afflicted, when it really addresses how he cleanses himself from this malady. Why do we have to wait for the end of the verse (“on the day of his purification”) to modify the meaning of the beginning of the verse?

Third, the Torah could have stated this more succinctly: “To purify a Metzora he must be brought to the Kohen.” Why mention that this is the Torah-law of the Metzora? Isn’t it obvious that what follows in the Torah represents the Torah’s laws?

IT IS NOT THE IDEAL

The commentary Michtav Sofer answers the first question by saying that G-d did not want to give credence and legitimacy to the laws of the Metzora. Rather, the Torah states that if “it will be;” i.e., if it will happen, G-d forbid, this is the way to deal with it.

If the Torah had stated “this is the law of the Metzora” it would have accorded an air of legitimacy to these laws. The words “will be” imply that the provision of these laws does not suggest that this is an ideal situation. No, it doesn’t have to be this way; indeed, it is a regrettable situation and here is what one must do to react to it.

The fact that there is a need to purify the Metzora is sad because he would have been better off if he had not been afflicted with tzaraas.

TZARAAS: STATE OF EXILE

One could add to Michtav Sofer’s thesis by reinterpreting the word tzaraas as a state of exile. The Midrash states that the four different manifestations of the disease, mentioned in the beginning of the double-parsha, correspond to the four exiles we have endured.

This analogy to exile is reinforced by the requirement to quarantine the Metzora; he is forced to leave the boundaries of Jerusalem and other walled cities in Israel and stay in a state of exile until purified.

G-D’S “REGRETS”

We can now better understand why the terminology “will be” is used here. The message conveyed by this expression is that Galus-exile is an undesirable state of affairs. While Galus is a cleansing process, it would have been far better had we not been subjected to it.

This approach echoes the statement in the Talmud that G-d regrets the existence of exile. We cannot, of course, ascribe the human idea of regret to G-d. Rather, it means that our exile is not G-d’s true desire; He would rather we never had to be subjected to it. Once it occurred, however, we had to take advantage of its purifying and cathartic properties.

We still have not answered the other questions: (a) Why does it say, “This will be the Torah-law of the Metzora,” which can give an erroneous impression that we are dealing with the Metzora’s state of impurity rather than his purification; and (b) Why mention that this is the Torah-law of the Metzora? It could simply have stated “To purify a Metzora he must be brought to the Kohen.”

METZORA: MOSHIACH

To answer these questions, we must introduce an alternative answer to the first question, why the Torah adds the words “will be,” based on another, apparently contradictory, way of understanding the symbol of the Metzora.

Whereas the Midrash associates tzaraas with Galus-exile, the Talmud applies it to Moshiach. In discussing the identity of Moshiach, the Talmud states that he will be a Metzora. This imagery is understood to depict him as one who begins his mission in exile; one who feels acutely the pain of exile. As a result, he empathizes with all those who suffer. His passion and obsession are therefore necessary to relieve the Jewish people and humanity in general from their suffering and pain. As long as there is pain and suffering in Galus, Moshiach is in pain.

Moshiach’s purification from his state of tzaraas is thus the next stage in his life, where he purifies himself of his tzaraas affliction and thereby purifies and liberates the entire world.

This is the meaning of “will be;” it refers to the future period of Redemption.

Thus, when the Torah adds the words “on the day of his purification,” it refers to the stage of the Messianic Age which commences after Moshiach has eliminated the suffering of the world. This state of healing and purification will follow Moshiach’s building of the third Beis HaMikdash, the ingathering of the Jews to the Land of Israel and the introduction of peace to the entire world. When Moshiach ushers in the period of Redemption, there will be no more illness and suffering.

We can now reinterpret the abovementioned verse:

“This will be the Torah-law of the Metzora on the day of his purification; he should be brought to the Kohen.”

“THIS…”

The word “this” is said to be an allusion to t’shuva (repentance or return), one of the prerequisites for Redemption. This is based on the gematria–numerical equivalent of the word zos-this (408) which is also the gematria of the three aspects of repentance that we mention on Yom Kippur:

Tzom (fasting-T’shuva = 136), kol (T’filla-prayer = 136), mammon (money for Tzedakah = 136), totaling 408.

“WILL BE…”

The words “will be” refer to the effect of T’shuva; it will help to usher in the future Redemption.

The correlation between T’shuva and Redemption is rooted in Maimonides’ statement (based on the Talmud): “Israel shall do T’shuva and they will be redeemed immediately.”

“THE TORAH-LAW OF THE METZORA…”

Torah study, specifically the study of the laws concerning the “Metzora”-Moshiach and Redemption, is, as the Rebbe emphasized repeatedly is the “straightforward path” to transform our Galus mindset into a Geula-Redemption mentality.

The difference between T’shuva and Torah in the pursuit of Redemption is that T’shuva makes us worthy of Redemption, whereas Torah study constitutes the Divine power that takes us out of our own internal exile. Through Torah study we begin to think like free and holy people.

More specifically, T’shuva removes the impediment created by improper behavior, whereas Torah study removes the impediment caused by a boxed-in, constricted and confined way of looking at the world.

“ON THE DAY OF HIS PURIFICATION…”

Day is associated with light and clarity. T’shuva and Torah study will help reveal the intrinsic and innate state of purity of the world by removing the immoral external and confined crust. At that point, the spirit of impurity will cease and the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d.

There is one final prerequisite for Geula:

“HE SHOULD BE BROUGHT TO THE KOHEN…”

The Kohen completes the purification process of the Metzora. T’shuva and Torah study need to be augmented by a third component of the Redemption process, symbolized by the Kohen.

The Kohen personifies the attribute of kindness.

Aaron, the first Kohen, is known as the single most loving and caring individual, even more so than the kindness-obsessed Patriarch Abraham. And it is this legacy that Aaron bequeathed to every Kohen, which bestows upon them the ability and responsibility to bless the Jewish people with love.

Thus, one additional prelude to Redemption is to reach the state of Ahavas Yisroel-love of our fellow and translating that love into unbounded kindness.

While T’shuva and Torah study remove the impediments to true liberation, Ahavas Yisroel tests the sincerity of the T’shuva and whether we were receptive to the Torah’s ability to change the way we see the world and others.

THREE FUNCTIONS OF MOSHIACH

These three approaches: T’shuva, Torah study and Ahavas Yisroel-love of one’s fellow Jew are three functions of Moshiach, based on Maimonides’s description of Moshiach’s resume.

Maimonides writes that Moshiach is a leader, a scion of King David, who is “steeped in Torah thought… will influence all Jews to follow in its path (T’shuva)… and gather all the Jews.” The ability to accomplish this feat can only come through his unbounded Ahavas Yisroel-love for every Jew.

Moshiach’s resume also challenges us to emulate him. It therefore behooves us to focus ourselves on T’shuva, Torah and Ahavas Yisroel.

One could add that the word zos, a component of the gematria for T’shuva, can actually relate to all these components of change.

Tzom-fasting is associated with T’shuva; kol, when translated literally, means “vocalizing” and can apply to either prayer or Torah study, which requires vocalizing, and mammon-money for tzedakah is the way we translate that love into action.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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