Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tazria, Vayikra 13:5 and 13:55. Tzara’as, Gore Vidal, the Gerrer Rebbe and the Ben Ish Chai.

This parsha discusses the symptoms of Tzara’as, a disease that Chazal say is of purely spiritual origin. The Gemara in Eirachin 16a tells us that there are seven aveiros which can cause tza'aras. (Loshon horo, shfichas domim, shvu’as shov, gilui aroyos, gasus ru’ach, gezel, and tzoras ayin.) The common denominator of these character flaws is expressed in the word “Tzara’as.” They all represent Tzarus Ha’ayin– a narrowing of the eye. We are all familiar with this syndrome; a tzar ayin is a person who begrudges the success and happiness of others, who sees only flaws in the people he deals with. This is a person who denies the truth of the bracha we make in the morning, “she’asa li kol tzarki.” He feels that he unfairly is missing what is due him, and he resents the success of others.

The state of Tzara’as, and its healing, can be declared only by a Kohen. The Kli Chemda explains that the trait of Tzar Ayin/Tzara’as expresses itself in three characteristics: Lashon Horoh, gassus Ru’ach, and chemdas mamon, or, Envy, Pride and Greed. Aharon Hakohen represented the opposite of those three bad middos; he was a rodef shalom, an anav, and as far as chemdas momon, since Kohanim didn’t get a share of the Land of Israel, they lacked the capitol base to build a financial empire. They lived Mishulchan Gavo’ah, so they had the middah of histapkus, serene contentment.

The only way to cure Tzara’as is to uproot the selfishness that caused it; to slay the green-eyed monster.

An excellent example of this problem was once expressed by that famous man of letters of our time, Gore Vidal. Mr. Vidal is famously talented and sophisticated, and also a queer and an anti-semite. He once said, “It is not enough to succeed; others must fail.” To make this even clearer, he once said “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.“ Gore Vidal personifies this spiritual disease; He is the Poster Boy for Tzara’as.

(Rabbi David Zupnik Zatzal once told me that he and Rav Wolbe once went to visit R Chatzkel before R Chatzkel became mashgiach in Mir, and he told them pshat in Kin’as sofrim tarbeh chochmo. Koshereh kinoh is when you want to know more than the other so that you will be greater than he is. Traifeh kinoh is when you want the other to know less than you, so that you will be greater than he is.)

The truth is, it’s easy to sit here and think that it’s good to be a tov ayin, it’s bad to be a tzar ayin, “I would never be that small minded and jealous to begrudge someone his success.” But it’s not that easy. As R’ Mottel Pagremansky said, to sympathize with someone’s tzoros, you have to be a mentsch. To enjoy someone else’s simcha and success, you have to be a malach. It is a natural trait to be jealous, especially when you are not as successful as you think you should be, and nobody thinks they have everything they ought to have. When a person sees somebody buying a second mansion in Florida while he can barely make his own home expenses, or when the person sees someone else cruising around with a phenomenally expensive pleasure car while he has to drive a "tzara'as-mobile", an old jalopy, it is not easy to avoid kinah. Avoiding tzoras ayin, and learning to be a tov ayin, is hard, hard work.

In the description of the Kohen’s examination of the Tzaru’a, the passuk describes a potential tzaru’ah who is to be declared Tamei and banished. This is a person whose symptoms remain as they were, with no improvement. This state is described in two ways: One pasuk says “ v’hinei hanega omad b’einov,” and the other says “v’hinei lo hofach hanega es eino.”

The Chidushei HaRim

and the Ben Ish Chai
both say a very similar vort, but there is an interesting difference between them. They both say that the word "nega" is an anagram for the word "oneg." The only difference is where the ayin is. The "nun" and the "gimel" are in the same place. Where the ayin is makes all the difference between being a metzora and being a tahor. That is the difference between having an eye with the nega of jealousy, and having an eye with the ability to enjoy someone else’s happiness. When the pasuk says, “Hanega omad b’einov” it means to tell us about both the cause and the effect. If the nega hasn’t changed its appearance, if “Hanega omad b’einov,” this is because the metzora, or the owner of the object that has tzara’as, hasn’t changed. “Lo hofach hanega es eino,” His ayin didn’t change, lo hofach es eino.

The Chiddushei Hari'm ends there. According to the Ri'm, then, Tzara’as is the physical manifestation of a spiritual disease, and curing the middos naturally cures the Tzara’as.

The Ben Ish Chai goes on to add an interesting twist. He brings the stories of Nachum ish Gamzu and Reb Akiva, who each faced seemingly disastrous events. He explains that their unpleasant experiences were a nega, they were a gzeirah ra’ah from Hashem. But because they had such bitachon, they trusted in the love and hashgacha of Hashem, the gzeirah ra’ah was rearranged, so it became a gzeiroh tovah. They were m’hapeich the nega to oneg through their bitachon.

He uses the passuk “hechochom einav b’rosho” to express the idea that their chachma, in other words their emunah in Hashem, brought the ayin from the end of the nega to the beginning of the word– einov b’rosho, which is oneg, not einov b’sofo, which was nega. The gzeirah was bad, but their ability to be m’hapeich the osios made it into a good gzeirah, the zechus of their bitachon made it into a good gzeirah.

(I found the Ben Ish Chai very surprising. We usually think of bitachon, of "gam zu le'tova," of "kol de'avid Rachmana le'tav avid," as showing a person's - this person, for example- Panglossian assumption that everything that happens is meant for the good. According to the Ben Ish Chai, apparently, this is not true. It is the bitachon itself that changes the character of the event; if not for the bitachon, it would have been a disaster. Tzaros are misragshos u'ba'os le'olam. So the expressions 'le'tav avid,' or 'zu letova,' don't mean "the events are good per se". They mean "this may be a terrible event, but I trust that Hashem can and will turn it around and make it good."

This is the theme of Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik in his Kol Dodi Dofeik, translated into English as "Destiny and Fate." (p. 6)"Man's task in the world, according to Judaism, is to translate fate into destiny; a passive existence into an active existence; and existence of compulsion, perplexity and muteness into an existence replete with a powerful will, with resourcefulness, daring and imagination.")

The difference between the Ri’m and the Ben Ish Chai is that the Ri’m learns that Tzara’as is generated by bad middos, and cured by eliminating its cause, by becoming a tov ayin. This is specific to Tzara'as. The Ben Ish Chai, on the other hand, learns that yes, in the case of Tzara’as, it does stem from and end with the middah of tzarus ayin/tovas ayin; but the basic idea is of universal application. Many other nega'im can be resolved with this change of attitude. Sometimes, rachmana litzlan, we are menaced with frightening things. If a person is a tzar ayin, the nega will just continue unabated on its horrible course. But being a tov ayin can cure the nega: You can be turn any nega into oneg by showing faith in Hashgacha Pratis and trust in Hashem's love.

Now, here’s the fascinating thing. I realized that this is exactly the point Ravah is making in Brachos 60a. He brings the passuk “Mishe'mu'a ra'ah lo yir'ah, nachon libo batu'ach ba'hashem”, and he says that the passuk can be darshened forward or backward. This doesn't seem to be very interesting, until you realize that he means that the passuk is teaching both the derech of the Chiddushei Hari'm and the Ben Ish Chai.


  1. TZaras To atzeres also depends where you put your Ayin

  2. AIU Reb Neumann's vort, it's more like Tehillim 131: Lo gavah libi, v'lo ramu einai, v'lo hilachti, big'dolot uv'niflaot mimeni.

  3. I am embaressed to Admit it but it is in the Mayanah Shel Torah otherwise Known as DI TORAH KVAL That all the Bar MItzvah kids get three sets of the set of white seforim,But then again "Kol shomomer BShem Omro Mevi Es Hageulah".