April 16 2016, 8 Nisan 5776 פרשת מְּצֹרָע, ח’ ניסן, תשע”ו
This is the continuation of the last parashah, Tazria which addresses the regulations for the woman after giving birth and is followed by the rulings for tzaraat which has been translated as leprosy. This is not the Hansen’s’ disease that we know today but rather a skin disease or the mold which could be found in textiles and on the walls of the houses. A better understanding of this given to us by our sages is that tzaraat is a spiritual rather than a physical disease. There are two areas that they emphasize relative to tzaraat which are “gossip and arrogance”. Also there are two words which are repeated over and over in this portion — “tahor” – clean and “tamei” – unclean and they concern whether or not one could enter the Mishkan. Only someone “pure” in the spiritual sense was allowed to enter and participate in the service. Tzaraat was thought by the people to be the result of sin where our Creator was warning us that we were doing something wrong and that we needed to acknowledge what we had done, to make it right and then return to Him. There are several instances in the Tanach where we see the consequences of gossip and arrogance. One is the case of Miriam in Bamidbar 12 where she gossiped about her brother Moshe and faced the consequences. Another is found in 2 Kings 15 and 2 Chr. 26 which show us the result of King Uzziah’s arrogant attitude. He was a good king who became arrogant. He entered the Temple, took the incense in order to perform his own ritual to God. He did this in spite of the warnings of the cohanim and immediately broke out with tsaarat at the level of his crown and then his entire body. He had to be removed from the holy of holies and until the end of his life he was isolated from the people while his son replaced him as king. This display of arrogance showed the people that not even a king could do whatever he wanted. The higher you are, the greater the fall. With these stories our Creator is warning us about these two behaviors.
The Torah teaches us through wonderful pictures. There is a good reason that the portion about the woman giving birth is followed by the rulings of tzaraat. The baby is usually born bald, smooth and hairless. It is totally dependent upon the mother and is almost like a fish, breathing through tiny gills at the side of the neck. At the moment of birth, the baby literally dies and is resurrected back to life when the breathing has to switch over to the lungs. It is a very traumatic moment when the baby is slapped in order to start the breathing process. Our Creator is making the comparison between tzaraat and giving birth. The afflicted person was separated, abandoned to the womb of the earth, and when he completed his time of separation he was able to come back to life. Metzora speaks about the rituals after the person infected has been declared clean and can now come back into the community. He had to be shaved completely, hair, eyebrows, then bathed like a new born baby. These are beautiful pictures to show us practical teachings from our Creator. He is telling us that the worst disease that we can have is a disease of the soul. Spiritual diseases destroy us, eat us up. When our Creator allows something terrible to happen to us, instead of asking “why me, LORD”, we need to see that we must be very loved by Him, very special because He is giving us the opportunity to talk to Him and to open ourselves up to Him. I had that experience three years ago when I had a near death experience. I had the most beautiful time with my Creator. I felt born again, like the leper who is declared clean and I needed to go through certain stages. We all try to blame others for what happens to us but when our Creator gives us tsaarat, we need to acknowledge it, to do a deep search within ourselves to find some answers and then make some changes. The doctors say that the most dangerous cancers are in the stomach and colon because they go undetected until it is almost too late because there are no nerve endings in these two organs. Feeling pain is actually a blessing because we know there is something that needs our attention. That’s the problem with leprosy where they feel no pain because the nerve endings are dead thus infection sets in and they don’t know it.
Two expressions that come from the word Metzora are Motzi Ra or Motzi Shem Rah or speaking badly about someone to the point of destroying their name or reputation or in other words – gossip. Gossip is considered like leprosy because it destroys the human being and goes against the Creator because we have all been created in the likeness and image of God. Our Messiah Yeshua told us “don’t worry about what you eat; rather worry more about what comes out of your mouth.” Gossip is very destructive. Our rabbis tell us that there are two types of lashon ha rah (evil tongue) – the spoken and the unspoken. It is easy to speak badly about someone else but what is worse is the one who listens to the gossip and doesn’t say anything. They are as guilty as the one who gossiped. Both are condemned and both are destroyed. Have you ever seen a life guard who is trying to save a drowning person but the person tries to bring the life-guard down with him? He literally has to be knocked out in order to be saved if he doesn’t calm down on his own. This same principle is at work with gossip. Instead of climbing the ladder of success through one’s own merits, the gossiper tries to pull others down. Unfortunately no one wins. Our Messiah Yeshua gave us an excellent formula for how to deal with this. It is the principle on how to confront someone who is doing something that you believe is not right. You are to go directly and in love to that person and confront him. If he won’t listen, bring two people as witness without speaking to them about it in advance so that they can be objective and speak about it again. If that person still won’t change, bring him before the entire community. When nothing works, he can be asked to leave. This is a good process because it shows that you want the best for that person and for the community. Lashon ha rah is the action of speaking about a person behind his back; in so doing, you not only destroy his character but you destroy the reputation of the person listening and this ultimately spreads to the entire community. This was a malady in Israel that could spread even to the material. Our Creator warned us about this since we are all made in His image so when we destroy the character of a person it reflects badly upon the Creator.
There is a ceremony described for the process of cleansing the person afflicted with tzaraat. Two birds were taken, one would be killed and the other set free similar to the Yom Kippur service with Azazel. The blood of the bird killed was taken and mixed with Mayim Chaim (spring or running water) into which they would bind together cedar wood, crimson wool and hyssop each of which has a meaning. Most religions will explain that the blood represents the forgiveness of sin however this is not what the Torah teaches. The blood represented a covenant, a brit between man and God. While the blood was still in the body it was alive and when the blood was spilled outside the body, it was dead and had to be put in the earth and covered. The bodily fluids like blood or semen when they are out of the body are dead. It is meant to show us that our God is a God of the living and not of the dead. The blood at the Brit Mila for the male is a covenant between the men of Israel and the Creator. The female has her time of the month as a reminder of her covenant with God giving her a time of rest and reflection. The water was for cleansing while the other elements allude to arrogance and humility. The cedar tree is the tallest tree in the Middle East while the hyssop is the shortest shrub. The cedar represents arrogance and pride while the hyssop represents humility. The crimson color came from a worm which is such a lowly creature. These are elements to picture for us that our arrogance needed to be brought low and we needed to humble ourselves before the Creator. After this ceremony we were bathed, shaved, naked and born again like a new born baby.
Today is Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Shabbat before Pesach which is the day of deliverance, freedom where we are no longer subjugated by other forces and we are free to be ourselves. The relationship between freedom and responsibility is important to understand. The freer we are, the more responsible we are. The Haftarah portion is taken from the prophet Malachi who spoke of the corruption of the priesthood in his day. They had lost their relationship with the Creator and had replaced it with liturgy and a show. Their unbelief led them to offer lame and impure animals as if God wouldn’t see what they were doing. They deceived not only the people but the God of Israel. Yeshua called them hypocrites and accused them of bringing to God what they didn’t need. This is so important for us to see in our relationship and commitment to our Creator. How many of us are truly robbing Him and then we wonder why everything is going wrong in our lives? We wonder why we don’t prosper but maybe it’s time to look at what we are doing. Tzaraat is a warning.
Shabbat Hagadol before Pesach is when we begin to prepare ourselves. We start by cleaning the chametz out of our homes but we also need to cleanse ourselves from leaven. How are we within? Are we holding leaven within that we don’t want to let go? What is holding us back? This is how to begin spring. In Italian and Spanish spring is called “primavera” which means “prime view”. Our Creator wants us to have a prime view because we will be in the Presence of our Creator. This is a family festival of thanksgiving for our Creator delivering us from oppression. There are many types of oppression today and they all come from the spiritual realm. How many of us are holding onto things that we don’t want to let go of or don’t know how? How many of us have made certain things more important than our relationship with the Creator? Are we prioritizing what is important and what is not important? Do we have any idols within us? Do we have something holding us back from serving Him? My desire is that we have a Chag Pesach Sameach v’ Kasher. Kosher has nothing to do with what we eat. It has to do with doing it the “right way.” Pesach has sadly become more oppressive than giving freedom because of so many rules and regulations that now rule this holiday. Simply put, Pesach begins at home. When we do the bedikat chametz, the searching of the leaven, let us start in our own “home” and then extend outwards. Yeshua told us not to try to take small speck out of the eye of our neighbor but remove the log that is in our own eye. When you point at someone with one finger, three are pointing back at us.
It is my desire that we all have a wonderful Pesach as we remember and give thanks for all that our Creator has done for us. We honor our Messiah Yeshua whose Yahrzeit is at Pesach. He died standing up for truth and justice as he was bringing us back to the Torah and setting the example for all his talmidim then and now. Let us follow in his footsteps.