Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tazria, Vayikra 13:3. A Kohen Must See the Tzara'as.

The Torah says that if a nega appears, only a kohen may pasken whether it is Tzara'as. If he is not a Talmid Chacham, he has to take a lamden with him to tell him what to pasken. But the Kohen has to examine the nega'im, and, ultimately, he has to pasken.

Rabbi Dr. Gary Schreiber pointed out that the avoda of the miluim, the process by which the Kohanim were inaugurated, has similarities to the tahara process of the metzora. If you carefully compare the two, you will find that they have avodos in common which are rarely found elsewhere. He said an excellent, and, I think, new, pshat that explains both connections of Kehuna to Tzara'as.

A kohen is subject to the temptation of gaavah, because of his entitlements (the twenty four Matnos Kehuna) and his kedusha (which enables him to do the avodah and requires him to be tahor). Also, Kohanim are aware of everyone’s sins, because whoever brings a korban chatas has to be misvadeh; furthermore, when someone brings a chatas, he has to clearly explain to the Beis Din of the Kohanim why he is bringing it, so they can be sure that the Korban Chatas is indeed required and that it is not chulin ba'azara. So he might say lashon hora. This is a dangerous position to be in: you are born with superior kedusha, Klal Yisrael has to sweat to wrest a living from the earth while you sit at home and get your food-- grain, fruit and meat-- delivered tied with a bow, and you are privy to all their embarrasing failures and sins. It would not be surprising if Kohanim viewed the rest of Klal Yisrael as if they were a bunch of donkeys. This natural tendency to ga'avah and lashon hara can bring Tzara'as.

So the Torah says that the kohanim must personally look at nega’im. They need to see what the result of gaavah and lashon hara are. This constant visual reinforcement will help them control their yetzer hora. Very few oncologists smoke, and many dermatologists obssesively avoid exposure to sunlight, because day after day they see the deadly results of irresponsible and self destructive behavior; so, too, Kohanim are obligated to closely examine the nega'im of Tzara'as, and this will remind them to eschew the traits that bring Tzara'as - Ga'avah and Lashon Hara.

And this explains why the Avodas HaMilu'im recalls Taharas Metzora. The foundation ritual of Kehuna mirrors the taharas metzora process, so that every kohen will read this parsha and remember that the superior status he was granted brought with it a concommitant danger, and that every day he must be on guard against the temptations of ga'avah and lashon hara. Indeed, this concept is found in the Bracha the Kohanim give Klal Yisrael: Yevarechacha Hashem Veyishmerecha: every blessing brings along a heightened risk and the need for shemira. Kohanim, too, are blessed with many things, and these blessings create the need for greater shemira.

(Dr. Schreiber's words:
"...the similarity between the avoda of the taharas hametzora and the miluim of the kohanim which requires blood placed on the the bohanos of each of them. The kohen will hopefully carry the initial impression with him through his years of avodah and refrain from the failings that lead to one becoming a metzora.")

Update 2017: R Avrohom Bukspan sent a comment that connects a Medrash on this inyan. Vayikra Rabba 15.

רבי בשם רבי חמא בר חנינא: 
צער גדול היה לו למשה בדבר, כך הוא כבודו של אהרן אחי להיות רואה את הנגעים?! 
אמר ליה הקב"ה: לא נהנה (אותו) מהם כ"ד מתנות? 

מתלא אמר: דאכיל בהדי קורא ילקה בהדי קילא, (= האוכל מן הקור לוקה מן הקורה).

There are too many pshatim on the words דאכיל בהדי קורא so we won't go into that, but, as I responded to Reb Avrohom, 

Very interesting pshat in the Medrash. Pashtus, it means that if a person shares his blessings with you, you can't turn your back on him when he's suffering and say it has nothing to do with you, you have to share his pain as well. But the way you're connecting it to this pshat, it's Chazal's way of describing what Gaavah is all about- that when it comes to taking, you think you're entitled, so that when the man needs sympathy, you don't feel any obligation to him. "I took because I deserve, and it's an honor for him to give me. I owe nothing to him!" So the Torah says, no. It was a gift, and you should be makir tov to the extent that his pain is your pain.

9 comments:

  1. wow< that is very good

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  2. The torah is beautiful, but what's with the pictures all of a sudden? One more and you will have a chazakah.

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  3. Thank you. I'm negotiating a contract for work at a building, and just paid my taxes for '08, and the pictures are just my alternative to banging my head against the wall.

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  4. So the picture of R.D. Schreiber is a sublimated masochism... I'm sure he appreciates that.

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  5. V'talmud torah k'neged kulom!
    As the author's father in Cincinnati, I take a little pride and credit, but most goes to Rabbi Solovetchik of Brisk Chicago and of course to Dr. Rabbi Gary Schreiber for being an excellent pupil and teacher.
    Mazal Tov

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  6. Your pride is certainly justified; he is one of the very rare role models for those that aspire to high achievement both in their career and in torah scholarship, and Chicago is lucky to have him.

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  7. http://www.latimes.com/media/photo/2009-02/44992032.jpg

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  8. With this idea,that among other things the matnos kehuna can be the cause for gaavah we can have a new reading of the following medresh.

    (Vayikra Rabba 15) comments that when Moshe heard this command, that a person with a suspicious skin discoloration must approach a kohen for guidance, he was distressed. He said to God, “Is this respectful to my brother, that he must look at infections?” Moshe protested the role of the kohanim in this process, claiming that it is not befitting the honor and stature of the kohanim to have to examine skin infections. But God dismissed Moshe’s claim, noting, “Does he not receive from them twenty-four priestly gifts?

    While the punchline of the medresh can lead several ways perhaps it is saying ; :of course they need to be humbled by dealing with tuma nad tzoraas, after all they recieve the matnos kehunah which engenders gaavah...

    the connection between matnos kehunah and the need to check tzoraas is also seen in the medresh Tadshei (cited in Torah Shleima to 13:2):

    Why did the Almighty command not that infections should be shown to a person from Israel, but rather only to Aharon and his sons? For just as they receive their gifts, their teruma and all the sacrifices from Israel, similarly, they should receive their troubles…

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    Replies
    1. Very interesting pshat in the Medrash. Pashtus, it means that if a person shares his blessings with you, you can't turn your back on him when he's suffering and say it has nothing to do with you, you have to share his pain as well. But the way you're connecting it to this pshat, it's Chazal's way of describing what Gaavah is all about- that when it comes to taking, you think you're entitled, so that when the man needs sympathy, you don't feel any obligation to him. "I took because I deserve, and it's an honor for him to give me. I owe nothing to him!" So the Torah says, no. It was a gift, and you should be makir tov to the extent that his pain is your pain.

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