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Parashat Metzora (Leviticus 14:1-15:33)

“And the priest shall offer then, one for sin offering and the other for a burn offering,
and the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord…” (Leviticus 15:15)

Parashat Metzora describes what happens when someone has tzara-at (a variety of erupting skin diseases), which is accepted as evidence of moral or spiritual failure. While seven things trigger tzara-at (slander, bloodshed, false oath, incest, arrogance, robbery and envy (Babylonian Talmud Arachin 15b-16a)), lashon hara, or evil speech, gets more attention than any other cause.

The kohen, or priest, must diagnose the tzara-at before the person (or clothes or house) is considered tamei, or unfit for contact with sanctity. It is not the outbreak of tzara-at that makes the individual tamei, but rather, the spoken words of the kohen. Metzora is making a subtle affirmation of the power of speech and the importance of community.

The kohen, as a descendent of Aaron, is a disciple of peace. Separating someone from the community (the result of a diagnosis of tzara-at) runs counter to the kohen’s essential nature and mission. The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1902-1994; considered one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century) explains this is precisely why the Torah requires the Kohen to proclaim the diagnosis: only the kohen can utter such fateful words with enough concern and love to ensure the individual’s ultimate return and reintegration into the community.

The purification ritual includes collecting a hyssop plant, two clean birds, cedar, and crimson) to be brought to the kohen (Lev. 14:4). The hyssop plant represents humility, because it grows close to the ground. A Chassidic interpretation explains the cedar is included to model the real goal for humility: to be humble not only when you are bent over and small, but when you stand straight and tall.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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