Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hilchos Teshuvah - Laws of Repentance

Some relevant laws related to this High Holy Day season taken from the Rambam's Hilchos Teshuvah (Laws of Repentance).

There are twenty-four things that impede teshuvah (repentance) that we would do well to consider and take to heart. Four of them are such great sins, that the one committing them is in danger of not being afforded the opportunity to repent:

(i) Causing the public to sin or preventing the public from performing a mitzvah.

(ii) Influencing another person to turn away from the good way to the bad.

(iii) Seeing one's own son going out to evil ways and failing to admonish him.

(iv) Saying, "I shall sin and I shall repent," or "I shall sin and Yom Kippur shall atone."

Five other sins hinder the path of teshuvah from those who commit them:

(v) Separating oneself from the congregation for [by doing so] . . . he will not benefit as they will benefit.

(vi) Disputing the words of the Sages, for his dispute will cause him to separate himself from them, and he will remain ignorant of the ways of teshuvah.

(vii) Mocking the mitzvot.

(viii) Insulting one's own Torah teachers, for . . . one who does so will not find anyone to teach him and to show him the true road.

(ix) Abhorrence of admonition and correction, for it is admonition that brings about teshuvah.

Five other sins make it impossible to do complete teshuvah, for they are sins against another person, but the person does not know against whom he has sinned, to whom he must make restitution, and from whom he must ask forgiveness:

(x) Cursing the public.

(xi) Sharing stolen property with a thief, thus not knowing to whom to make restitution.

(xii) Finding an identifiable object and not advertising it so that it may be returned to its owner; if he seeks to repent after a period of time, he will not know to whom to return it.

(xiii) Unlawfully taking and eating that which belongs to paupers, orphans, or widows, or other such unfortunates who are not well known and often are homeless, having to wander from city to city, so that the thief will never know to whom he must make restitution.

(xiv) Accepting a bribe to bend the law, for one can never appraise the ramifications and loss caused by bribery, and will therefore not be able to rectify the matter completely.

Another five are sins for which the one who commits them will most likely not repent, for most people do not consider them wrong; thus one sins, but does not become aware of his guilt:

(xv) Eating from a meal that is insufficient for it's owner, for the perpetrator thinks, "I have not eaten anything without permission."

(xvi) Using a poor man's tools, such as an ax or a plow, that one holds as a pledge, for one will say, "They are missing nothing; I have not stolen from them."

(xvii) Gazing lustfully at women, for one thinks he has done nothing wrong, and says to himself, "I have not had relations with her or even touched her," unaware of the great sin he has committed with his eyes.

(xviii) Glorying or rejoicing in another person's degradation, for one thinks that he has not sinned so long as the other is not standing before him and therefore is not embarrassed.

(xix) Suspecting innocent people, thinking that such suspicion is not sinful, and saying, "What have I done wrong? Have I done anything more than raise a possibility - maybe he did it, maybe he didn't?" But he does not realize that this is a sin, for it takes an innocent person and turns him, albeit only in the other's mind, into a sinner.

And the final five are sins that become habitual and it is thus difficult to separate oneself from them; so a person must be especially careful and scrupulous to avoid them lest he become attached to them, for they are all extremely bad traits:

(xx) Gossip.

(xxi) Slander.

(xxii) Anger.

(xxiii) Thinking evil.

(xxiv) Friendship with the wicked, with whose deeds he will become familiar and they will become impressed in his heart.

All these twenty-four things and their like, despite the fact that they hinder and impede teshuvah, do not prevent teshuvah. Rather, if one does succeed in repenting from them, he is a penitent and he has a share in the World to Come.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Confession: Taking Responsibility

A man or woman who commits any of man's sins, by committing treachery toward Hashem, and that person shall become guilty - they shall confess their sin that they committed (Numbers 5:6-7).

Sefer HaChinuch (364) explains that the mitzvah of viduy, confession, has a number of beneficial outcomes. By verbally enunciating his misdeeds, a sinner acknowledges that he believes that Hashem is aware of his actions, good and bad. Also, by specifically recalling his transgression and expressing remorse for it, he makes it more likely that the next time the sin comes his way, he will be more careful to not transgress by doing that which is forbidden.  Through this, his actions will be pleasing to his Creator.

R' Saadiah Gaon (Emunos VeDei'os 5:5) identified four components of repentance. They are: abandoning the sin; regretting the sin; requesting forgiveness for the sin; and accepting upon oneself not to repeat the sin. These are alluded to in the verses in Hoshea:

O Israel, return to the L-RD your G-d, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; Take words with you, and return to the L-RD. Say to Him, "Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.  Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, 'You are our gods.' For in You the fatherless finds mercy."  " I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him (Hosea 14:2-4).

Return, O Israel refers to abandoning the sin, while for you have stumbled in your iniquity - by virtue of realizing that sin is an obstacle - refers to regretting the sin. Take words with you alludes to requesting forgiveness, and we will no longer say 'O our gods!' to the work of our hands refers to accepting upon oneself not to repeat the sin.

R' Saadiah Gaon says that one should add three more practices to these four things - additional prayer, additional giving, and helping other people repent from sin. [These are derived from Mishlei 16:6: Through kindness and truth iniquity will be forgiven, and Tehillim 51:15: I will teach transgressors Your way.]

When a person wholeheartedly accepts upon himself not to repeat his sin, his repentance is accepted:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10)

R' Israel Salanter writes (Ohr Israel, Letter 15): The foundation of the Days of Repentance is accepting upon oneself to abandon one's sinful ways. This is the most difficult of all toils.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Remember Me

Rosh Ha-shana is the name which designates the onset of the new year. The Rabbis, however, have chosen a more definitive and descriptive phrase: yom ha-zikkaron, “the day of remembrance.”

To remember, so we are inclined to think, is primarily to preserve in our consciousness a fact or an experience.  A “good memory” is one which retains precisely and vividly, that which has been seen, heard or learned. In short, we tend to regard memory as simply one comprehensive archive. Retention of the past has great significance per se . However, it hardly exhausts the full range of memory, of zikkaron.

There is memory which is not the recollection of an emotion but which is itself an emotion; and as such it may, strangely enough, relate to present and future no less than to the past. When the Torah tells us (Bereshit 30:24), “And G-d remembered Rachel, and G-d hearkened to her, and opened her womb,” are we to understand that she had been forgotten at some point?

Does the verse (Bereshit 8:1), “And G-d remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark,” describe some change in the range of His knowledge? Clearly, vayizkor in these verses signifies attention rather than knowledge. They tell us that G-d heeded Rachel and Noah, respectively; and they suggest that zikkaron may denote response and relationship. That relationship may of course vary. Generally, it is sympathetic. However, it may be negative as well. The mishna (Rosh Ha-shana 4:6) speaks of retributive zikkaron, and in at least one instance, hostile remembrance is even commanded.

The implications for Rosh Ha-shana are clear. The day and its sanctity are grounded in memory in both senses. The first aspect – recollection of the past, retention of information, recall of events – is unquestionably present. It finds its foremost expression in the opening lines of zikhronot, “memories,” the middle blessing of the mussaf prayer in which the character of Rosh Ha-shana as a day of judgment is emphasized:

“You remember what was wrought from eternity and heed all that has been formed from of old; before You all secrets are revealed and the multitude of hidden things from the beginning. For there is no forgetfulness before the throne of Your glory, nor is anything hidden from Your eyes. You remember every deed and no creature is concealed from You….”

However, it is equally clear that the second dimension is present as well. It, too, is reflected in zikhronot.   Shortly after the declaration, “For the remembrance of every creature comes before You, a man’s deeds and destiny, his works and ways, the thoughts and designs of a man and the motives of human action” a fresh note is struck:

“For the remembrance of all works comes before You, and You search into the doings of them all. Noah, too, did You remember with love and did visit him with a promise of salvation and mercy." Nothing is worse than being cast off from Him and left to our own devices.

Even punishment at His hands is better than oblivion: “Even such wrath may the Almighty pour upon us,” said Rav Nachman, “and may He save us” (Rosh Ha-shana 32b). Obviously, however, the remembrance for which we plead is a favorable one: “Remember us for good and visit us with a visitation of salvation and memory from the primordial heavens.” With that plea, the movement from one sense of zikkaron to another becomes fully explicit.

“Rosh Ha-shana,” wrote the Ramban, “is a day of judgment with mercy.” In light of that description, it may be said that in reciting zikhronot, we open with praise of “the L-rd of judgment” and hence celebrate that zikkaron which stores and recalls – and therefore accuses and reproaches. We conclude, however, with a plea to “the L-rd of our fathers,” and hence relate to that zikkaron which empathizes and redeems, to the source of “a visitation of salvation of mercy.” This range reflects the dual character of Rosh Ha-shana as yom ha-zikkaron.

We have dealt with yom ha-zikkaron as it appears in our prayers, as the occasion of divine remembrances. However, as the opening day of the period of repentance it obligates man to remember as well. On the one hand, repentance requires search and recall of the past. It demands that we do not content ourselves with attending to what we happen to be mindful of at the moment but rather that we mine our consciousness and that we examine the innermost recesses.

There can be no teshuva without knowledge of the past. One begins with the cognition and recognition of sin. “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me” (Tehillim 51:5). To this end, we of course activate the memory of retention, the storehouse of the mind. However, repentance enjoins a second zikkaron as well. “Remember then your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh when you shall say: ‘I have no pleasures in them’” (Kohelet 12:1).

It parallels G-d’s remembrance of His covenant with Israel, and its essence is yearning, longing, a deeply felt need to cling and to cleave. “My soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind; therefore have I hope. Surely, the L-rd’s mercies are not consumed; surely, His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Eikha 3:20-23).

The first step in repentance and return to Him is to remember the past and take responsibility for it. We then commit ourselves to a different and better future, to walking in all His ways and not going our own way.  We can rest assured that our return to G-d will be met by a complementary return on G-d's part.  G-d will answer the simple words of the lowliest thief in his hour of need who, after acknowledging and taking responsibility for the deeds of his past and upon recognizing the One to Whom he must commit his future, turned to the Messiah and said:

“L-rd, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  To which the L-rd replied: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (cf. Luke 23)

May we dedicate and consecrate ourselves to Him, not only at the beginning and the ending of our year, but every single day and at every single hour; may we let no one day serve as a proxy for another day, let alone for an entire year.  Have a blessed New Year and may you be inscribed in the Lamb's Book of Life.  May He remember us favorably with mercy.  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Lack of Understanding

Our Sages teach: "If a person does not have understanding, it is forbidden to have compassion for him" (Sanhedrin 92a).  Our Sages understand this as speaking of someone who lacks the quality of hakaras hatov, or gratitude.  By describing the ingrate as someone who lacks understanding, the root of his personality flaw is identified.  The ingrate's view of himself and others is completely warped. Such a person lacks the understanding that is basic to successful interpersonal relationships.

In the words of the Steipler Gaon, Rabbi Kanievsky:

Instead of feeling appreciation to his benefactors and humility before them, the ingrate looks down at them with arrogance and scorn.  He views them with disdain and sees himself as an important personage before whom they should humble themselves.  Instead of recognizing the goodness of their hearts and their generosity, he sees them as weak "pushovers" who should feel obligated to benefit him and who should view it as an honor to be counted among his supporters.  In his twisted mind, he thinks that he deserves whatever they do for him, and he almost believes that he is doing them a favor by allowing them to benefit him!

The Richest Man in Town

Baruch the beggar had a compassionate friend, Chaim, who desperately wanted to pull Baruch out of the depths of poverty.  Chaim offered Baruch a lottery ticket; for only a few pennies, Baruch would have a chance to become a millionaire.  But Baruch wasn't interested.  

"You know what, my friend," Chaim told Baruch, "take the ticket for free.  If you win the lottery, you'll just pay me the price of the ticket."   Baruch  accepted  this offer. 

The drawing was held at midnight in the midst of a terrible blizzard.  And the winner was . . . Baruch! Chaim, who was present at the drawing, was overjoyed.  But his joy would not be complete until Baruch knew.  

On a night when no one else dared to venture outside, Chaim trudged through the waist-high snow and braved the fierce winds to make his way to Baruch's hut.  He finally arrived, frozen to the bone. His repeated, insistent knocks were ignored for a long time until finally Baruch opened the door a crack and asked, "Who's there?"

"It's me, Chaim," came the excited reply.  "You won!  The grand prize in the lottery!  A million dollars!  Baruch, you're now the richest man in town!"

"I don't believe it!" said Baruch.  "What chutzpah!  You mean you knew that I'm the richest man in town and you still had the nerve to wake me up in the middle of the night?"

And he slammed the door shut.  

A good-hearted person refers to one who is happy with his lot.  For him, life is a never-ending feast, because he is grateful for every bit of good that Hashem sends his way, and therefore is perpetually happy and content.

Every morning upon wakening we say to Hashem: "I gratefully thank you, O living and eternal King, for you have returned my soul to me with compassion ...." This is known as Modeh Ani.  Modeh Ani simply means: "Thank You, Hashem, for once again granting me the greatest gift of all - life itself.  I don't take it for granted; I thank you for the blessings of the past and for the blessings that You will grant me in the future."

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Divine Chariot


Command the Children of Israel to send out of the camp all with an eruption (tzara'at), or discharge (zav) and whomever is defiled by the dead. Both male and female shall you send out, and they shall not defile their camps amidst which I dwell. (5:3)

It is imperative that a person afflicted with tzara'at, suffering from an abnormal discharge known as zav, or one who has come in contact with a dead body (tamei la-nefesh), be sent from the camp. These three cases, know in halakhic terminology as avot ha-tuma (fathers of contamination) are severe cases of defilement. For these avot ha-tuma, the Torah requires isolation.  The text concludes: "Amidst which I dwell" (5:3). It would appear that the thrice-reiterated command to "send out" the defiled (5:1,2,2) stems from the presence of the Divine in the camp.

The very location of the passage is curious. The Book of Vayikra, the book of the Torah normally considered dedicated to issues of sanctity, holiness and defilement, indeed contains both a lengthy discourse on the laws of tzara'at (Vayikra 13:1-14:57) and a segment on the laws of discharge (15:1-15). While the laws of those defiled by the dead are mentioned in Sefer B'midbar (19:1-22).  The material would seem to belong in Sefer Vayikra, the book of holiness, sanctity, and defilement.

So, the Sages wonder about the placement of this particular segment of the larger "defilement code," laws pertaining to sanctity and holiness, at this particular point in the Book of B'midbar.


In formulating the command to expel the metzora, zav, and tamei la-nefesh from the camp, the Torah employs the phrase, "Amidst which I dwell" (5:3). The core of the phrase consists of two terms, shokhen, rooted in the stem sh.kh.n and meaning rest or dwell, and betokham, meaning amidst or among. This formulation should be familiar. It is a slight variation on the phrase used to describe the purpose of building the tabernacle. In Shemot 25:8 G-d informs Moshe of the ultimate end goal of constructing the Mishkan:

And they shall make me a sanctuary (mikdash) so that I may dwell amidst them (ve-shakhanti betokham).

The sanctuary is the dwelling place of the Divine presence. The most common term for the sanctuary, mishkan, comprises yet another variation of the stem sh.kh.n, meaning dwell or rest. In a similar vein, the Book of Shemot and the completion of the construction of the Mishkan, closes with the image of the Divine cloud, symbolizing the Divine presence, resting upon the Mishkan (Shemot 40:34-35). In this light, the phrase utilized at the end or our parasha, "Amidst which I dwell (asher ani shokhen betokham)" (5:3), is perhaps a technical reference to the Mishkan, the abode of the Divine presence located at the center of the Israelite camp.

Whoever touches a dead body and does not purify himself, defiles the Mishkan of G-d, his soul shall be cut off from Israel. (B'midbar 19:13)

While the text here does not explicitly refer to trespass or physical contact, that does appear to be the intent. As Rashi (19:13) comments: "if he enters". Once again, tuma and the presence of the Divine are inherently contradictory categories. Defilement prohibits one from approaching the Mishkan.

Consequently, some have interpreted the expulsion of the metzora, zav and tamei la-nefesh from the camp as a pragmatic matter, that their presence in the camp may lead to their approaching the sanctuary or trespassing upon its grounds. As already noted, this is defined by the Torah as "defiling the Mishkan of G-d" (19:13). Therefore the three severe avot ha-tuma are sent from the camp, so that they do not trespass the border of the Divine.


A cursory reading of the first four chapters of B'midbar are often thought of as an accounting, concerned primarily with numbers, and rendering for us the precise number of Israelites and Levites numerous times. However, this is only part of the story. The chapters should also be understood as a sustained discourse upon the physical arrangement of the Israelite camp.

On some level, it is no surprise that the numberings and consequent arrangements of the camp detailed in the census narrative (1:1-4:49) are followed by a legal segment detailing the expulsion of the metzora, zav and tamei la-nefesh from the camp. These laws of encampment follow naturally on the heels of the narrative detailing the arrangement of the camp. Both are variations on the theme of hilkhot ha-machaneh, the laws of the arranging of the camp.  But there is more to it than this.

Early on in the census narratives, the Torah informs us that the Levites will be counted separately (1:49). This is due to their unique function as servants of the Mishkan (1:50). In elaborating upon this point, the Torah informs us that the Levites are to encamp around the Mishkan so that "there will be no wrath (ketzef) upon the Children of Israel" (1:53).

Immediately afterwards, in the conclusion of the verse, the Levites are charged with guarding the Mishkan. After all, the Torah informs us that "the stranger" or non-Levite who attempts to participate in the transport of the Mishkan is subject to the death penalty (1:51). To put all of this together, part of the Levite's role consists of guarding the Mishkan from the possibility of encroachment. Just as the census narrative (1:1-4:49) is concerned with the possibility of trespass, so too the encampment code (5:1-3), which immediately follows, is concerned with the possibility of trespass.

This leads us to an even deeper thematic element. Throughout the census narrative, the Torah focuses not just on the physical arrangement of the camp, but also on the functional arrangement of the camp. The Levites are counted separately and encamp around the Mishkan because of their unique function as servants of the sanctuary (1:48-53). These functions devolve upon the Levites by virtue of their being selected by God to replace the first-borns, those who might have otherwise had the privilege of serving the sanctuary (3:11-13). As the text emphasizes, the mishmeret, or charge, function, and duty of the Levites is in fact the mishmeret, or charge of the Israelites, one they (the Levites) carry out as replacements or perhaps representatives of the Israelites (3:8-9).

None of this is coincidental. The physical and functional arrangement relation to Mishkan described above should be understood as reflecting a particular spiritual arrangement and relationship. The Mishkan constitutes the dwelling place of the Divine and the location of Divine service. As such, the physical and functional arrangement of the Israelite camp in the desert naturally revolves around the Mishkan. The structure of the community must have holiness and sanctity at the center. But it must also be concerned about how to preserve sanctity in its midst and the implications of the Divine presence in the camp.

As such, once again it is no wonder that the narrative depicting the physical, functional and spiritual arrangement of the camp (1:1-4:49) is followed by a segment of the laws of defilement and holiness, the Divine directive to expel the three avot ha-tuma from the camp. Both involve the themes of sanctity, relation to sanctity and the protection of sanctity. In contrast to our original assumption, the opening of B'midbar is in fact also about some of the key themes of Sefer Vayikra. It too is concerned with sanctity, relation to sanctity and the safeguarding of sanctity.


However,  haven't the Levites already been commanded to guard the sanctuary? In light of the Levites mandate, can the pragmatic concern of trespass be considered a viable interpretation?  Or is thee something more?  Let us take a look again at the text. The precise language of the rationale provided by the Torah reads as follows:

And they shall not defile their camps amidst which I dwell. (5:3)

While this can be interpreted as a technical reference to the presence of the Mishkan at the center of the camp, the text makes no explicit reference to the Mishkan and nor do we have any reference to any pragmatic issues of trespass.  A simpler reading of the text would seem to indicate that G-d's presence is located in the camp itself. For this reason, these three severely defiled individuals must be removed from the camp. In point of fact, the Ramban (5:2) adopts this interpretation. To paraphrase the Ramban's terminology:

"It is necessary for the camp to be holy and suited for the resting of the divine presence." 

But by what virtue can the camp be said to be holy or to comprise a place where the Divine presence rests?  Let's turn our attention to the story of the degalim, the standards around which the Israelites encamped, which should help elucidate the point.


In introducing the degalim, the Torah refers to "every man by his standard, with the signs of his father's house, around the tent of meeting shall they encamp" (2:2). But what are these standards? What is the point of the reference to the "sign of his father's house"? For that matter, what is the point of the tribes being grouped into four standards, each consisting of three tribes and then arrayed around the Mishkan?

Based upon a Midrash found in B'midbar Rabba 2:6, and in accord with associations already defined in other parts of the Torah, the Ibn Ezra formulates a relationship between each tribe and its respective form. For the standard of Yehuda, the form is a lion, in line with the statement of Ya'akov in his blessing to Yehuda that "Yehuda is a lion" (Bereishit 49:9). For Reuven, the shape pictured upon the standard is a man. It was Reuven who found the dudaim, the plant carrying the power of fertility and the ability to make a man (Bereishit 30:14).

Based upon the blessing of Moshe (Devarim 33:17), the standard of Ephraim carries a picture of an ox, and finally, although the source is obscure, the Ibn Ezra maintains that the standard of Dan bore the image of an eagle. The exegesis of the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban regarding the images depicted upon the four chief standards grouped around the Mishkan creates a fascinating parallel.

The Book of Yechezkel, in describing Yechezkel's vision of the merkava, the divine chariot upon which the Divine throne and presence rides, depicts a vision of four heavenly creatures who comprise the chariot. These creatures have four faces, the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of a ox and the face of an eagle (Yechezkel 1:10). But these are of course the images found on the standards of Yehuda, Reuven, Ephraim and Dan.  As the Ibn Ezra formulates things:

"The degalim resembled the keruvim, the divine creatures seen by Yechezkel" (2:2). 

In a similar vein, the Ramban (2:3) approvingly cites a Midrash claiming that G-d created four directions in the world, surrounded his throne with four heavenly creatures to bear his throne, and in accord arranged for Moshe the degalim. While the theology may remain somewhat obscure, the literary claim should be obvious. The encampment of Israel, the arrangement of the tribes into four degalim surrounding the Mishkan, is meant to parallel the imagery of Yechezkel's vision.

Just as the heavenly creatures surround and bear the throne of the Divine, so too the camp of Israel surrounds and bears the Mishkan, the seat of the Divine presence. The theological or metaphysical significance of the parallel should be interpreted accordingly. Just as the Divine creatures of Yechezkel's vision accompany and bear the throne of G-d upon its heavenly journey, so too the camp of Israel accompanies and bears the throne of G-d upon its earthly journey.

While the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban do not make the point, Yechezkel 1:24 compares the sound of the creatures and the divine chariot to the sound of a "camp." In addition to this connection to the opening of B'midbar, Yechezkel's vision of the Divine first manifests itself as "a great cloud and fire" (1:4). This of course is the very image of the Divine presence that accompanies Israel and its camp in the desert.

A cloud and fire cover the Mishkan upon its completion (Shemot 40:34-38) and during the ensuing journey (B'midbar 9:15-16). This dual parallel between the vision narrative in Yechezkel and the encampment narrative in B'midbar implies that we confront the same story in both cases, the transport of the Divine presence by G-d's merkava, or chariot. The process occurs in both the heavenly and earthly realms.

But there is more to it than just parallel processes. The second book of Shemuel refers to the ark as "the ark of G-d, whose name is called the L-rd of hosts (tzeva'ot) who dwells upon the keruvim" (II Shemuel 6:2). The creatures of Yechezkel's vision are known as keruvim. They possess an earthly counterpart, the keruvim stationed on top of the ark, whose outstretched arms form the throne of G-d.

In the language of Shemuel, G-d can be said to "dwell upon" the keruvim and ark. But as fitting the King of kings, G-d is also accompanied by hosts or assemblies, known as tzeva'ot. The Divine chariot is born and accompanied on its journey by the heavenly angelic assembly. But what is the earthly counterpart of G-d's heavenly host?

The resolution to this question may lie back in Sefer Shemot. During his dialogue with Moshe that proceeds the unleashing of the plagues upon Egypt, G-d informs Moshe, "I will lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring out my hosts (tzivotai), my people, the Children of Israel from Egypt" (Shemot 7:4). Similarly, the story that opens B'midbar constitutes another story of G-d's tzava, his host or assembly, the Children of Israel. It is in fact the story of his earthly host or assembly, which escorts, accompanies and bears His presence as earthly counterpart to His heavenly host.

Therefore, the entire camp of Israel constitutes a microcosm of the heavenly macrocosm if you will, a parallel construction to the Divine realm. This is the point of the organization according to standards. As such the camp serves to bear the Divine presence, not just in the Mishkan, upon and between the keruvim, but in the entire camp itself.  The census narratives (1:1-4) are not merely about counting, or physical, functional or even spiritual organization. Rather they also form a type of organization, where the camp is organized as an echo or copy of the Divine realm, where the Divine presence is brought into the entire camp.


In light of the above interpretation of the degalim as a kind of merkava and the organization of the camp as far more than a mere physical arrangement, we no longer need wonder about the language of the rationale provided by the Torah for the removal of the metzora, zav and tamei la-nefesh from the camp. Likewise we no longer need wonder about the meaning of the Ramban's claim that "it is necessary for the camp to be holy and suited for the resting of the divine presence." As a copy of the divine merkava and resting place of the Divine presence, the entire camp is holy.

Consequently, the severe cases of defilement, those defiled by tzara'at, zav, or death must be removed from the camp. The laws in question, and the placement of our short code of defilement and sanctity (5:1-3), follow naturally on the heels of the census narratives (1:1-4:49), the organization of the camp as tzeva'ot Hashem, the earthly assembly bearing and animated by the Divine presence.

Finally, from this perspective the opening of B'midbar is more than just a continuation of Sefer Vayikra and its key concerns of holiness, defilement and the sanctuary. In a certain sense, Sefer B'mdibar is a continuation of a key theme central to the book of Shemot. As mentioned earlier, Shemot 25:8 reports the true telos, goal, of constructing the Mishkan, "And I will dwell in the midst of them," and the book ends with the arrival of the Divine presence in the Mishkan (40:34-35).

But in some sense, as the beginning of B'midbar reminds us, the Divine presence has in fact arrived amidst the entire community of Israel. The end of Shemot is only the beginning of the story. Sefer B'midbar is in fact where this theme plays out, the story of what happens when G-d dwells in the very midst of the Children of Israel.

This was how it was in the beginning, before sin was introduced into the world through our disobedence to the Divine command.  This desire, to dwell once again in the midst of His people, of course culminates in the person and work of Y'shua the Messiah about Whom John writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d.  He was in the beginning with God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt (lit. tabernacled) among us, and we beheld His glory (shechina), the glory (shechina) as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  (cf. John 1)

And of course, let's not forget how everything wraps up at the end the age:

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of G-d is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. G-d Himself will be with them and be their G-d   (cf. Revelation 21).

*I am indebted to Rabbi Chanoch Waxman for providing many of the ideas and themes presented here.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

In Due Time

"Evil is always ultimately self-destructive ..."


Which is one of the reasons why aligning oneself with evil is a fool's gambit.  The "success" of evil is an illusion.  Human endeavors that displease G-d can only lead to the inexorable downfall of those who seek to advance them.

Therefore, it's not wise to talk too much about the "success" of those who turn their back to G-d and spurn His directives, lest we fall into the mire of resentment and inaction. In fact, we should know, without any trace of uncertainty whatsoever, that it is the apparent success of evildoers which actually serves to bring about their downfall.

We can be confident that G-d will never allow those who use the gift of life for achieving purposes in opposition to His will to enjoy supremacy in His world.  For these people have preemptively cut off their own future by their evil acts. The life of the lawless is astoundingly and fleetingly short. 

On the flip side, we, who are determined to shun any influence that might alienate us from G-d and who are striving to come close to Him with every deed and act of our lives, we have been assured and promised that we will inherit the earth on that future day of salvation for which we all yearn and patiently tarry.

Although the reality may certainly appear otherwise and the battle is going hard against us, we are acutely aware of a greater Reality Who will not be confounded and Who has promised to be with us when we go through the fire and when the water is raging around our necks.  G-d is certainly not sitting on His throne, wringing His hands, wondering what to do next, and neither should we.  Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world. 

And as for those who array themselves against us to do us harm and practice evil, well ... they have already set themselves up for a fall and great will be their fall.  We will look and see them no more, for . . . 

<i>Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them.’ For the L-rd will judge His people and have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their power is gone, and there is no one remaining, bond or free. (cf. Deuteronomy 32)</i>

And also this:

<i>And when the servant of the man of G-d arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”</i>

<i>So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”</i>

<i>And Elisha prayed, and said, “L-rd, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the L-rd opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.</i>  (cf. II Kings 6)

Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.  That's the reality and that's the truth.  May He find us living in the light of reality and holding fast to the truth when He comes.

Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek!  Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Islam as Ideology, Violence as Strategy

Islam's Violence is Rooted in Instability

by Daniel Greenfield

Islamic violence is nearly impossible to deny. But why is Islam violent? The usual answer is to point to Koranic verses calling for the conquest and subjugation of non-Muslims. That certainly covers the theological basis for Islamic violence. But it fails to explain why Muslims continue to practice it. Even against each other. Violence has become the defining form of Islamic exceptionalism.

Optimists speak of reforming Islam. But such reforms had over a thousand years in which to take place.

Islam is an ideology. Its violence is a strategy. That strategy fit the needs of Mohammed. Mohammed chose to use force to spread his ideology. He needed to recruit fighters so he preached the inferiority of non-Muslims, the obligation for Muslims to conquer non-Muslims and the right of his fighters to seize the property and wives of non-Muslims as incentive for them to join his fight. Furthermore he even promised them that if they should fall in battle, they would receive loot and women in paradise.

The strategy was barbarous, but quite effective. Mohammed had created a new super-tribe in a tribal society. The tribe of Islam united different groups in a mission of conquest. The Islamic religion allowed the varying clans to be more effective and ambitious than their victims. Within a surprisingly short amount of time the chain of conquests made Islam into a world religion. The most effective Islamic conquerors could not only claim vast territories, carving up civilization into fiefdoms, but they could prepare their sons and grandsons to continue the chain of conquests.

Islam made the standard tactics of tribal warfare far more effective. Its alliance was harder to fragment and its fighters were not afraid of death. But at the same time Islam remained fundamentally tribal. It made tribal banditry more effective, but didn’t change the civilization. It codified the tribal suspicion of outsiders and women into a religious doctrine. That still drives Islamic violence against non-Muslims and women today.

And yet Islam could have reformed. All it had to do was choose a different civilizational strategy.

The current clash of civilizations is between cooperative societies and hierarchal tribal societies. Western countries are cooperative societies. They succeed by bringing together a variety of peoples into cooperative organizations. These organizations negotiate and exchange everything from goods to mutual defense. Primitive versions of such organizations existed in Mohammed’s time. They have also existed within Islamic societies, but they have been inhibited by the tribal instability of Islamic civilizations. Cooperative societies emphasize internal conscience over external posturing. Religion is a matter of personal morality, rather than collective conquest. Economic resources are developed by harnessing new ideas and techniques to provide wider benefits to the society.

Islamic tribal societies are governed by extended family groups and other hierarchies that, like Islam, serve a similar role. While such societies can be locally stable, albeit backward, expanding them is difficult because their only point of unity comes through conflict with outsiders. Without external conflicts with non-Muslims, tribal societies degenerate into internal tribal conflicts.

That is what happened in Iraq and Syria, not to mention Yemen and Libya. Most Muslim countries are delicately balanced on the edge of a precipice and they can be very easily tipped into horrifying violence between different groups if their fragile internal order breaks down and there are no outside enemies.

The Muslim expansion became unsustainable once the external spread of conquest limited the access of Muslim armies to non-Muslim victims. Islamic unity did not survive Mohammed for very long. Stability came through feudal societies which were slow, backward and unwieldy, but prevented conflict.

Ultimately the only stable Muslim society is a slave state. Modern dictatorships, which strive to imitate modern countries by building up professional elites of doctors, engineers, lawyers and generals, are eventually undone by them. It’s the genuinely backward kingdoms that rely on oil wealth and slave labor which best weathered the changes of the past generations and maintained their ruling privileges.

And here we come to the fundamental crisis of Islamic violence.

Islamic civilization is fundamentally unstable and unsustainable. Contact with the modern world destabilized it setting off a series of chain reactions. Islamic civilization, particularly in the Middle East, could not make the transition to modernity. Those countries that had oil could buy their way out of the problem with generous subsidies at home while purchasing influence abroad. The Saudis made their own people rich while controlling the West. They financed wars without needing generals by funding terrorists. They kept a tribal society going by hiring foreign professionals to do most of the technical work.

Most Muslim countries however couldn’t buy that type of immunity from modernity. And even the Saudis had only bought a temporary immunity that is running down along with oil prices. The most Islamic societies had followed the old Mohammedan practice of exhausting the land. But where were they going to move on to?

The mass migration to Europe is part of the answer. While Europeans are shocked at the sight of millions of people just picking up and walking away, the Middle East still has deep nomadic roots. Most Muslim countries are political and historical fictions. Family groups matter far more than national identities.

Outside Israel, agriculture in the Middle East is sparse. The strong attachment to the land that is found among Israelis or Europeans is absent. Feudalism associates working the land with inferiority and feudalism is a more recent memory among Muslims than among most Europeans. Success means expanding into someone else’s land and living off the spoils rather than staying and working your own.

Western cooperative societies eagerly welcome Muslim migrants because they expect them to cooperate and contribute. But that is not happening. Muslim societies are hierarchal, not cooperative. The new arrivals expect to fit into a hierarchy. If they don’t encounter a strict hierarchy, they seek to “conquer” by establishing their hierarchy with the supremacism of the Koran as their guide.

Western societies seek to settle permanently. They plan for the long term. Nomadic tribals burn through resources, viewing cities and institutions as assets to strip, raid and dispose of, before moving on. The Islamic migration is not a new phenomenon and Europe is not meant to be its stopping point.

This is a variation of Mohammed’s old strategy. While some Islamic groups, such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, stay behind to battle for the dying lands of the Middle East to establish their own perfect society, large numbers of Muslims are choosing to move on to fresher pastures. This cycle will only repeat itself.

This strategy is why Islam continues to be violent. It’s why exporting democracy is useless.

Democracy works in cooperative societies. It can only work within tribal societies as a democracy of groups. And it requires that these groups prefer cooperation to conflict as a civilizational strategy.

Islam favors conflict over cooperation. In the absence of outside enemies, its doctrine allows its quarreling groups to name each other as infidels, heretics and enemies. To reform Islam, Muslims would have to make the civilizational transition to a cooperative strategy. They would have to fundamentally change their values, their priorities and how their societies function.

And there is no sign of that happening.

Islamic civilization becomes unstable once it expands beyond its tribal limits. Its only coping strategy for that instability is violence, whether directed externally at non-Muslims or internally at other Muslims. Its economic development tools are limited and make supporting a modern society very difficult because they emphasize maintaining internal hierarchal stability over innovation and progress.

Islam is violent because it’s unstable. Its only tool is violence. Its societies exhaust their limited resources and then invade their neighbors. They repeat the same strategy until they are stopped. Then the exhausted Islamic civilization becomes a staid slave society that is stable, but backward. If that society is disturbed, then the egg cracks and the whole horrible process of war, invasion and exhaustion begins again. That is what we are experiencing right now. And there is no easy answer to this problem.

We can inhibit the expansion of Islamic migration. Or it will wash over our societies and destroy them

Friday, June 10, 2016

Chag Sameach!

Approximately 3500 years ago this weekend about 3000 Jews died for fashioning a golden calf and reveling before an idol (cf. Exodus).

Approximately 2000 years ago this weekend about 3000 Jews were saved when they responded to the Good News of the Messiah (cf. Acts).

G-d is good!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Nothing Happens by Chance

I ran across this shiur (lecture) last week and I thought it was a nice complement and expansion of my previous post.  I posted the more salient portions of the shiur below.    The parasha (Torah portion) and haftara (reading from the prophets) from last week spoke very much to the admonitions I highlighted in the previous post (Jew, Go Home) and go a long way in explaining the current situation of the Jew at present.  

I am more convinced than ever before that it is not Judaism that needs reforming, but rather the Jew. Our situation will not improve until we stop trusting in man to save us, confess our sins, repent, and return to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The Torah tells us plainly that as long as we are determined to live as if everything is a result of happpenstance, then G-d will respond in kind until we come to our senses, bow the knee, and confess that there is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved.    


The core of Parashat Bechukotai is the rebuke, and the haftara serves as a response to that reproach. The haftara's opening words – "O L-rd, my strength, and my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of affliction" (16:19) – prepares us for a prophecy of consolation. But the continuation of the haftara includes a harsh reproach, and even the concluding verse – "Heal me, O L-rd, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for You are my praise" (17:14) – does not describe consolation and redemption, but merely expresses a wish and a desire for salvation and healing that are not yet visible on the horizon.


It should, then, be understood that the haftara is not one of consolation in the classical sense, that it does not come to describe a rosy future that will replace the gloomy present, and that we must understand its goal in a different manner. If we come to summarize its message in a single word, it is trust.

Over the course of the parasha, the Torah describes the ups and downs that will befall the people in the wake of their actions. G-d will bring upon them a sword that will avenge His covenant and make them flee before their enemies, and at the end of the parasha, we are told that He will return them to the desolate land in the wake of the covenant that had been made with their forefathers. 

It is important to emphasize the haftara's place in the framework of the book of Yirmiyahu. It is found not in the context of chapters of consolation, but rather in the very heart of a series of chapters of harsh and threatening reproach. To illustrate this, let us cite a few verses from the beginning of chapter 16, the same chapter from which the haftara is taken:

For thus says the L-rd concerning the sons and concerning the daughters that are born in this place, and concerning their mothers that bore them, and concerning their fathers that begot them in this land.

They shall die of grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented; neither shall they be buried; but they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth: and they shall be consumed by the sword, and by famine; and their carcasses shall be food for the birds of the sky, and for the beasts of the earth.

For thus says the L-rd, enter not into the house of mourning, neither go to lament nor bemoan them: for I have taken away My peace from this people, says the L-rd, both love and mercy.

Both the great and the small shall die in this land: they shall not be buried, neither shall men lament for them, nor gash themselves, nor make themselves bald for them: neither shall men break bread for them during the mourning, to comfort him for the dead; neither shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for his father of for his mother.

You shall also not go into the house of feasting, to sit with them to eat and to drink.

For thus says the L-rd of hosts, the G-d of Israel; behold, I will cause to cease out of this place before your eyes, and in your days, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride. (Yirmiyahu 16:3-9)

The prophet's expression of the feeling that G-d is his strength and stronghold does not come against the backdrop of success and rescue, but out of the depths of crisis and threat, and here lies its significance.


The words of the Chazon Ish regarding trust:

An old mistake has settled in the hearts of many with respect to the idea of trust. The term bitachon, "trust," which describes a meritorious and essential quality among the pious, has come to be understood as an obligation to believe – in any situation where a person stands before an unknown future, and there are two possible future outcomes, one good and one not – that surely it will turn out well, and that if he remains in doubt, and worries about the opposite result, he lacks trust. This understanding of trust in incorrect, for as long as the future has not been clarified through a prophetic vision, it is not decided, for who knows G-d's judgments. But the idea of trust is to believe that nothing in the world happens by chance, and that whatever happens under the sun is all by G-d's decree.

The gist of what he says is that trust in G-d does not mean optimism that G-d will only do nice things for a person, but rather trust that whatever will happen to him is most appropriate for him, and that it will be done because of G-d's relationship with him. In words, it is not that I am confident that G-d will act in a particular way on my behalf, bur rather I trust in G-d and in His judgment.

This quality of trust in G-d despite the punishment and the price that He extracts fits in well with the words of Yirmiyahu, which come in response to the difficult reality of his time. "G-d is my strength and My stronghold" despite the fact that mirth will cease and people will die – this is the message of our haftara. This is why the haftara opens with an expression of trust, continues with a description of sin and its punishment, and concludes with another expression of trust.


If we examine the concluding verses, we will immediately discern that the final verse is a call from man to G-d and an expression of his hope for salvation. Expression is thereby given to the continued connection between the prophet and his Maker, despite the troubles, and to his trust that G-d is the address regarding his difficulties. 

In contrast, the two previous verses – which belong, from the perspective of the structure of the chapter, to the reproach that precedes them, as opposed to the final verse which in the prophetic source relates to what follows – well express what we said above. The prophet presents man with two alternatives: continued cleaving to G-d and trusting in Him, which at some point in the future will be translated into salvation from trouble, or else abandoning him. Connection or abandonment – this is the choice that a person must decide between in a time of crisis.

In this context, we must relate to the verses in the middle of the haftara that relate directly to the quality of trust:

Thus says the L-rd; cursed be the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from the L-rd. For he shall be like the juniper tree in the desert, and shall not see when good comes; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, a salt land and not inhabited.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the L-rd, and whose hope the L-rd is.

For He shall be like a tree planted by the waters, and that spreads out its roots by the river, and shall not be anxious in the year of drought, nor shall it cease from yielding fruit. (17:5-8)

The verses illustrate our assertion that the quality of trust constitutes the essence of the haftara, and they are well integrated into this framework. 


Besides the very expression of trust that constitutes the essence of our haftara, it is important to emphasize another point that connects the haftara to the parasha. The primary battle being fought in the parasha is that between providence and chance. The main struggle is with the idea that everything happens by chance, rather than with idolatry in and of itself. A famous expression of the attitude that bursts forth from these verses, and the battle against it, is given by the Rambam:

This is one of the paths to repentance, for when trouble arrives and people cry out and shout, they will all know that it is on account of their evil deeds that evil befell them. As it is written: "Your iniquities have turned away [these things]" (Yirmiyahu 5:25). And this will cause them to remove the trouble. 

But if they do not cry out and shout, but rather they say that this befell us because such is the world and this trouble was by chance, this is a path of cruelty and it causes them to cling to their evil deeds, and it leads to other troubles. This is what is written in the Torah: "… and you walk contrary to Me, then I will walk contrary to you also in fury" (Vayikra 26:27-28). That is to say, when I bring trouble upon you so that you should repent, if you say that it is by chance, I will add fury. (Hilkhot Ta'aniyot 1:3)

In general, Yirmiyahu does not fight against this attitude, but rather he fights against those who abandon G-d in favor of idolatry. One who worships an idol does not necessarily deny spiritual providence over the world, but rather he attributes it to false gods. The issue of trust in G-d versus reliance on man does not even arise, because the question is not whether to trust, but in whom to trust. 

Our haftara relates to idol worship, but it also struggles with the abandonment of G-d owing to the feeling that the world is a place of chance, and therefore a person must put his trust exclusively in man. The words of the prophet who is aware of this problem bring him to emphasize the importance of trust in G-d as He who runs man's world and they are appropriate for the parasha of rebuke which deals with the same issue.

We can now say that the gist of the haftara lies in its expression of the quality of trust. And this in a twofold sense:

1) The trust in providence as opposed to chance and human causality.

2) The importance of trust in G-d in times of crisis.

Themes of the Haftarah for Parashat Bechukotai, by Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Jew, Go Home

This is what the L-rd Almighty, the G-d of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.   Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters.  Increase in number there; do not decrease.   Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the L-rd for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  (cf. Jeremiah 29:4-7)

They say the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  The Jews have been sent into exile and the exile will come to an end in one of two ways: (1) when we begin to properly discharge our duties as Jews or (2) when the ancient hatred and animosity of the nations is leveled against the Jew yet once again.  In either case, there will be none to blame except ourselves and, sadly, considering the history of our people, I fear it will only be the latter which will serve to wake us from our slumber.  

For centuries men have discussed Jew-hatred and more recently, anti-Semitism, postulating as to its causes.  More often than not, the discussion lays much of the blame at the feet of of the nations as evidenced in their baseless hatred borne of ignorance, madness, and paranoia.  To a certain degree this is arguably true.  Our history is certainly filled with Amalekites and Hamans whose attacks against us were based on nothing more than the premise that "there is a certain people dispersed among the peoples . . . . who keep themselves separate.  Their customs are different from those of all other people . . . it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them." (cf. Esther 3)  

And yet, what we have so often failed to ask ourselves is when do we need to fear Amalek the most? Is it not when our hands are slack and no longer raised towards the heavens? Were those not the moments when the battle favored Amalek against Joshua?   Should we really expect that it would be any different today?  Do not our sages remind us that when Amalek comes, the Jewish people must somewhere or other have neglected their duties?  

In the Midrash Tanchuma and Talmud Arakhin 5b it reads: "The enemy comes (against the Jews) only for laxity of hands in upholding the Law."  All too often the Jewish people have called into question the divinity of its mission and expressed doubts about whether G-d was among us or not, and as a result of this doubt and mistrust, neglected their duties as Jews i.e. performing the Word of G-d.

Rabbi S.R. Hirsch comments:

So long as the Jewish people fully comprehends and carries out its duties, so long as it remains a "kingdom of priests" to its G-d and a "holy people" in its intercourse with mankind, then it matters not that, so long as there is night upon the earth, it should be "scattered" and also appear to be "different" in the eyes of the peoples; it matters not that its priestly and holy wandering should "set it apart" from the customs and ways of the peoples and that - so long as there is night upon the earth - this very separation should provide enemies like Haman a welcome excuse for persecuting the Jews for their own ends.  Above the madness of the nations, the intrigues and plots of ministers, and the weakness of princes stands G-d, Who can sway not only the waves of the ocean but also the hearts of the princes for the deliverance of His faithful ones.  (R' S.R. Hirsch, Adar I, p. 368-369)

As long as there are Jews in the world, Haman and Amalek will always find a way to justify their enmity and hatred.  That is simply the way it is in this present world.   My concern lies elsewhere. My concern primarily lies with the willing defection from Judaism and Torah-observance of my brethren which actually does much to infuse and augment the persecution of the Jews by the nations with plausibility.  

The sense of security and comfort of which many Jews in this country boast couldn't be more illusory, hollow, and false.   And the Jews who boast the loudest are often the ones who have shirked their duty as Jews with the greatest fervor, while imagining that they could buy the friendship of the nations and permanently secure that friendship by discarding everything that distinguishes them as Jews.  

So, what has happened here in America?   In no other place and in no other time have we failed to demonstrate to the nations how to live a life of Divine service more than here in America; here in America, where we have enjoyed unprecedented benefits of citizenship, we have failed to show ourselves as loyal servants of G-d.  Instead, we have obtained and fought to secure and maintain those benefits, in large part, by slackening our hands and diminishing our commitment to the Torah.

For the most part, we have not related to American society in a very positive way.  We have done very little to inspire our fellow-citizens to live righteously.   Instead, we have advanced causes which are not only contrary to the Torah, which we are supposed to represent, but we have championed policies which have worked against the peace and prosperity of this nation whose welfare was to be our chief concern during our temporary sojourn here. What opportunities we have forfeited.

What we have forgotten is that we are citizens of a territorial state and also a member of the Jewish people, a people who are rooted in the Torah and who belong to Him no matter where we have been scattered.   G-d's objective was never for us to disappear among the nations, but expressing and demonstrating loyalty to our host nations was actually a religious imperative and obligation, as detailed so clearly in the passage from Jeremiah 29 above.  And those obligations are not mere payment for the hospitality of our gracious benefactors.  We owe loyalty even to oppressive regimes.

G-d prescribed for us a duty to be loyal to every state and every country which provided for us a home, along with our wives and children, even when this hospitality grew cold and the nations became indifferent and even hostile.  We were never exhorted to seek special representation or advocate for special treatment.  Rather we were to live as inconspicuously as possible and pray to the L-rd for the prosperity of the nations with the understanding that the welfare of the nations was bound up with our own.

Our chief duty among the nations to which we have been scattered is to demonstrate to the world the highest ethical and moral standards the world has ever known.  The Chasam Sofer expressed concern that assimilation and compromising Torah principles might even serve to prolong the exile.  He compared the betterment of the Jews' position in exile to a king who built a palace for his exiled son. Instead of rejoicing, the son lamented that his improved and luxurious living conditions only indicated that the king did not intend to bring him home any time soon.  [Rabbi Shlomo Sefer, Chut HaMeshulash].

Instead we abandoned the Torah and even exchanged its "burdens" for the acceptance of our host nations and began to seek how we might satisfy, gratify, and enrich ourselves, rather than remain true and loyal to the countries who allowed us dwell in their midst.  Our desire to be rid of the burden of serving Him blinded us so that we could no longer see that the heavier the oppression the greater the opportunity we had to sanctify G-d's name by promoting the welfare of our host nation.

Somewhat ironically, perhaps, non-observance has proven to be the cause of antisemitism rather than the cure so many thought it would be.  The persecution of the Jews will not spare those who are determined to desecrate the Sabbath, eat pork, and continue living non-Jewish lives.  The hatred of the Jewish way of life is merely a disguise for hatred of the Jew.  Who knew that there would be so many antisemites among our own?  The only result that we will reap from our rejection of and deviance from the Torah will be more suffering and a deepening of the exile for our recalcitrance and rejection of Him as predicted by that same Torah for which we currently harbor so much disdain.

I am not hopeful that the Jews in America are going to awaken any time soon and return en masse to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But I am confident that Hashem is going to once again use the nations to remind the Jew who he is, who G-d called him to be, and the lives he called us to live.

Has the Emancipation, with its newly found freedom and opportunity, resulted in more joy, greater satisfaction and a still happier existence than what our forbears experienced?  Do you believe that you no longer need to remember the past?  Do you really think that somber times will never recur?   

O, you deluded ones!  Look at the society which is now freely open to you.  Look around in the marketplace of life.  Has the race of Haman died out completely with his ten sons? Could you not find someone from the Rhine to the Oder, from the Volga to the Danube who is capable of being his successor?  Be sober and observe.  Indeed, the horizon of the Jew may well become somber; sultry clouds hang in the German sky.  Even in our own Jewish circles indications for gloom are apparent.  No one is secure.

[R' S.R. Hirsch, 1858]

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Stricken, Smitten of G-d, Afflicted


G-d spoke to Moshe saying: this shall be the matter of the Metzora on the day of his purification: he shall be brought before the Kohen.  The Kohen shall go out of the camp and see that indeed the afflicted one has been healed from the plague of tzara'at. The Kohen shall command that two clean living birds be brought for the individual undergoing purification, along with cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop.  The Kohen shall command that one of the birds be slaughtered, upon water from a living spring that has been gathered within an earthenware vessel.

He shall then take the (remaining) living bird, along with cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop, and he shall immerse them along with the living bird into the blood of the slaughtered bird that is upon the water from a living spring.  He shall then sprinkle seven times the one undergoing purification from tzara'at, and when he has purified him, he shall release the living bird into the wide open field…
(cf. Leviticus 14:1-7).

Thus begins Parashat Metzora, with a detailed account of the purification rites for one who has emerged from the condition of tzara'at and now waits to rejoin the community.  In many respects, these rites are particular to the metzora (or to the related situation of house tzara'at – (cf. Leviticus 14:33-57) but there are also a number of points of contact between these rites and those associated with other sufferers from various forms of tum'a (ritual uncleanness).


From the Mishna, Tractate Nega'im Chapter 14:

First of all, the Kohen must ascertain that the metzora has indeed been healed from his condition, much as the Kohen was responsible for initially declaring him tamei and causing his banishment from the community.  Then, while the metzora is still residing outside of the encampment of Israel, two birds are to be taken, of a tahor (fit for consumption) and undomesticated species.  Additionally, the Kohen must take a new earthenware vessel, and fill it with a small amount ("revi'it" – approximately 100-150 ml) of water drawn from a flowing spring. 

One of the birds is then slaughtered above the vessel, and its blood is drained into the waters.  The Kohen then takes the cedar wood, hyssop and a ribbon of wool dyed scarlet, and bundles them together, securing the grouping with part of the scarlet ribbon.  The living bird is brought together with the bundle, so that its wingtips, head and tail are all in contact with it, and then all of the items are ceremoniously immersed into the earthenware vessel.  The Kohen then sprinkles the liquid seven times upon the hands of the metzora, and then the living bird is released to its freedom.

Afterwards, of course, the metzora must follow the rest of the ritual as it is described later in our text: he must shave all of the visible concentrations of hair upon his body and immerse himself, before entering the confines of the camp. In this transitional stage, he may not have relations with his wife for a period of seven days. On the seventh day, he must again shave the hair of his body and immerse a second time, but he remains unfit to partake of sacrificial meats until the presentation of his offerings on the eighth day. 

These eighth day offerings consist of a sin offering, a burnt offering and a guilt offering, the attendant meal offering and a special presentation of oil.  The specific species for the offerings are adjusted in accordance with the financial state of the supplicant, and the exact ceremonial of the presentation that includes the placement of some of the blood and oil upon parts of his body is described in Leviticus 14:10-20.


What might the significance of these things?  Why must the metzora present two birds at the outset and why is one of them then set free?  What about the three species of cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop, as well as the need for the living waters of a free-flowing spring?  

We may begin our investigation by noting that at least in so far as the basic scheme is concerned, we have already encountered a similar ceremony.  Recall that as the people of Israel were poised to leave the land of Egypt and the plague of the firstborn was about to strike, G-d commanded the people to prepare the Pesach lamb.  This special sacrifice, a statement of Israel's trust in G-d as they took their first tentative step away from Egyptian polytheism, was to be slaughtered on the eve of the fourteenth day of Nissan.

The blood of the lamb was to be gathered into a receptacle and then smeared upon the lintel and doorposts of the Hebrew houses in order to ward off the destroyer from their households.  But the Torah specifies in that context that the people were to take "a bundle of hyssop and to dip it into the blood that is in the receptacle…" (cf. Exodus 12:22), thus providing us with a precedent for the purification rites of the metzora that also include a dipping of hyssop into a mixture of blood and spring water.

On the other hand, we also find a similar series of steps associated with the purification rites of one who had come into contact with a human corpse.  As spelled out in Parashat Chukat ( cf. Numbers  19), corpse tum'a can only be relieved by the puzzling ceremony of the para aduma or red heifer.  In this scenario, a perfectly red-haired cow that had never been utilized to draw the plow, is slaughtered beyond the confines of the camp.

Its body is then completely incinerated in a specially prepared bonfire, and the ashes are then carefully gathered.  These ashes are subsequently mixed as needed into a vessel containing spring water (living waters), and the Kohen then takes a bundle of hyssop, dips it into the mixture and sprinkles it upon the tamei individual on the third and seventh day.  After the sprinkling of the seventh day, the person immerses himself in a mikvah and after nightfall is tahor, clean.


In all three situations, a liquid that is either exclusively blood or else at least includes it as a main ingredient, is first gathered into some sort of receptacle, typically earthenware.  A bundle of organic material that includes hyssop is next dipped into the liquid and some sort of sprinkling or smearing is then done with it.  Afterwards, the status of the afflicted individual is transformed.  Interestingly, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra not only links the various ceremonies together, but maintains that the paradigm for them all is the Pesach sacrifice of Exodus Chapter 12:

Behold, the purification rites of the metzora, the house stricken with tzara'at, and the individual who has come into contact with a human corpse are all similar.  Behold all of them are modeled after the Passover sacrifice in Egypt (commentary to Leviticus 14:4).


In more general terms, when considering the experience of Egypt, one may speak of exile and redemption.   They were not only far from their land and their familiar landscape, but from their G-d as well. In Egypt, Israel fell prey to self-alienation, becoming estranged from their mission and destiny in the world (cf. Ezekiel 20).

The metzora as well, stricken with a condition that our Sages maintain is a consequence of spiritual deficiency, is banished from the camp.  In effect, he too must suffer the estrangement of "exile" as he ponders his sorry state and begins the process of spiritual repair.  How he pines for restoration to his family and community, eagerly anticipating the day when the Kohen will pronounce him fit!

Though he too may succumb to temporary despair, the memory of his former life will sustain him until he is remembered by others in turn.  As that day finally dawns, he too takes the ritual objects of the Exodus from Egypt, the blood and the hyssop, and marks the moment of his self-transformation, before he begins the arduous process of returning to the camp in complete form.


Any man who has come into contact with a human corpse is unfit to stand before G-d.  The Mishkan as the place of experiencing G-d's presence is the source of all life and, as such, represents our ultimate destination; tum'a is the antithesis of those things.  We do not blame the human being for being mortal, but we protest against the state of death that our moral choices have introduced into the world.  While in a state of tum'a, we suffer spiritual estrangement and experience a form of exile, exile from life and from vitality.

When we are ready to emerge from that state to once again stand in the presence of G-d, we prepare by undergoing the rites associated with the red heifer.  Once again, a mixture of living waters and ashes, life and death, is sprinkled upon the individual with the aid of the organic hyssop, a tenacious plant that thrives in even the most arid and ashen environments.  Thus, the threshold of experience is once again marked by the taking of these items that mark the passage from death to life, as the tamei person transcends morbidity to once again secure life.

Though we tend to associate blood with death, the rites of the Passover and the metzora relate it to life, to the organic life force that is bound up with the oxygenated sanguine cells.  The living waters, drawn from a flowing spring, are also symbols of life, for where there is water there is vitality.  We may of course also relate the Passover and the red heifer to the metzora. The two birds, presumably, signify the two antithetical states and the emergence from the one to the other.

Thus, the Mishna (cf. tractate Nega'im 14:5) relates that at the outset, they must be equivalent in appearance, size and value.  And they must be of an undomesticated species in order to emphasize the vital spark that animates and invigorates.  At the conclusion of the first stage of the ceremony, the live bird is set free into an open space, "the field", signifying the metzora's re-emergence and rebirth into a state of pristine potential.

The three situations, then, the slave in bondage in Egypt, the metzora banished from the camp, and the person who has experienced death, all share a common fundamental link.  All have experienced, in one form or another, the sting and the stupor of mortality, whether physical and real, or spiritual and no less real.


The pictures of the Messiah, the latter Redeemer couldn't be clearer.  Two doves are used in the cleansing ritual.  The doves must be perfectly identical to one another in every detail so that one cannot tell them apart.  One of the birds is slaughtered over and earthen vessel, a vessel that contains living water.  And so one of the birds is killed and it's blood is shed and mixed with living water.  The live bird is then tied with a scarlet thread to the woody hyssop plant, wings outstretched and dipped into the vessel containing the blood and living water.  The metzora is sprinkled with the blood and water and declared clean as a result.  The live bird is then released into an open field.

Did the Messiah not urge the thirsty to come unto Him and drink of living waters that would result in eternal life?  Did the Messiah, in the form of an earthen vessel, not shed His blood after being stretched out upon a tree, and did not blood and water flow when the Roman soldier later pierced His side when they came to remove His body from the tree?  The Messiah, as represented in the two identical doves considered to be one bird, died, sprinkling the sinner with His blood, and like the bird that was released into the field, conquered death and rose victorious three days after His death to set all who would place their faith and trust in Him free.

We, like the metzora, who have been afflicted with the stain of sin and covered with the shadow of death have been cleansed, purified, and brought near again, restored back into a proper relationship with the G-d Whom we had so grievously offended.   Some of the Sages liken the process of the cleansing of the metzorah to being born again.  The metzorah shaves his body completely, immerses himself in a mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) and emerges from the process much like a newborn babe into the world, born from above, as it were.

We all like sheep have turned to his own way and gone astray.  We are all afflicted with the tzara'at of sin and death.  Interestingly enough the Torah tells us that once we are completely covered from head to toe with tzara'at that the priest declares us clean.  How can that be?  The lesson is clear: it is only when we acknowledge our complete sinfulness and unworthiness that the process of cleansing can begin.  As long as we are pointing to the clean spots and patches here and there we remain unclean and banished outside the camp.  There is no one who has not sinned, no not one.

And so the latter Redeemer, Y'shua the Messiah, the Great High Priest, was able to achieve what no earthly priest ever could: offered himself without spot to G-d, to purge our consciences from dead works to serve the living G-d, for the Messiah came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.  Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.  (cf. Hebrews 9).

*I am indebted to Rabbi Michael Hattin for providing the insights into the connections between the metzorah and the Passover.   

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Leper Messiah

It is in the most unlikeliest of places that we often discover the most precious of treasures. From time to time I hear from people who read the Bible how they skip certain sections when reading because those sections seem tedious and boring, or even irrelevant.  When expressing this sentiment they often cite the lengthy genealogies or the detailed laws concerning sacrifices or laws pertaining to cleanliness.  

Although I understand and sympathize with the sentiment somewhat, I often respond by reminding them that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of G-d, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of G-d may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (cf. II Timothy 3:16).   And all means all, including the passages we are about to consider in this and subsequent posts.  

I believe that G-d's Word is inspired, literally "G-d-breathed," all of it.  Not just some of it, or just the part starting with the Gospels, but all of it, very single word, every single syllable.  I also believe that in the beginning was the Word, that the Word was with G-d, that the Word was G-d, and that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (cf. John 1).  That being said, I believe that we can find the Messiah being proclaimed on every page of the Bible. Let's begin by taking a look at one of those long, tedious, and detailed sections of the Torah and see what we might discover.


Immediately after the deaths of Nadav and Avihu in Leviticus 10, Moshe received an important communication from G-d regarding the requisite conditions for entering the holiest part of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). 

And the L-rd spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon, who died when they drew too close to the presence of the L-rd.  And the L-rd said to Moshe: Tell Aharon your brother that he should not come at will into the holy place within the curtain in front of the covering upon the ark, lest he die, for I appear in the cloud over the cover. Thus only shall he enter the holy place… (cf. Leviticus 16:1-4). 

The Torah does not place this passage (Lev. 16:1-4) in chronological sequence with the death of Nadav and Avihu which is recorded in Leviticus 10.  We finds an intervening bulk of text (chapters 11-15 of Leviticus), primarily consisting of the laws of tzara'at (erroneously translated 'leprosy' in most English translations, is not leprosy at all, but rather a physical manifestation of a spiritual condition in the form of various afflictions visible on the skin of the afflicted one), that can be categorized as the laws of tum'a (contamination) and tahara (purity).

All of its component parts of Leviticus 11-15 relate to the concepts of "clean" and "unclean," or perhaps more accurately, "pristine" and "defiled."  The overall segment (Leviticus 11-15) breaks down as follows:

Sample mention of "tamei" and "tahor"
Section 1- Permissible and Forbidden Animals
11:4-8, 24-38, 47
Section 2- The laws of the postpartum women
12:2, 4-8
Section 3.1- Tzara'at (lesions) of the body and tzara'at upon garments
13:3, 6-8, 11-14, 46, 51, 55, 58-59
Section 3.2- Purification from tzara'at- the post tzara'at procedure
14:1, 4, 7-9, 11, 19-20, 31-32
Section 3.3- Tzara'at of the house-home
14:36, 40, 48, 53, 57
Section 4- The laws of male and female discharges and menstruation
15:2-6, 13-14, 16-18, 19, 25-26, 29-31

For the Sages, an obvious question arises: Why does the Torah choose to "interrupt" the natural flow of the narrative from the death of Nadav and Avihu (10:1-20) to the laws for Aharon's entrance into the holy area (16:1-34) with the laws of tum'a and tahara (11:1-15:33)?   Alternatively, we may approach the problem from another direction: Why does the Torah place the laws of tzara'at, and the overall code, in close juxtaposition to the death of Nadav and Avihu?


The answer may well lie in connecting the two concepts, "tum'a and tahara" and "entrance into a holy place," discussed until this point.

Let's consider the purification period of postpartum women.  The Torah states the following:

She shall remain in a state of purification from her blood for thirty-three days, she shall not touch any consecrated thing (kodesh), nor enter the sanctuary (mikdash) until her period of purification is completed. (cf. Leviticus 12:4) 

Given that she is tamei (unclean) and has not yet re-entered the pristine, pure and holy state of tahara (pure), the postpartum woman is banned from contact with sanctified objects and sanctified space. This mutual exclusivity of holiness and tum'a is also present as a theme in the other segments of the overall section outlined above.  The sufferer of tzara'at lesions is banned from the camp, whose center consists of the abode of G-d.  This is not only alluded to by the text of Vayikra (cf. Leviticus 13:46), but stated explicitly in Bemidbar, during the arrangement of the camp:

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Instruct the Israelites to remove from the camp anyone with tzara'at lesions… put them outside the camp so that they do not defile the camp of those in whose midst I dwell (cf. Numbers 5:2-3).

Likewise, in summing up the laws of discharges, section four of the overall code of tum'a and tahara, the Torah reiterates the tension between a state of tum'a and the sanctuary, and mandates the death penalty for the improper mixing of the two:

And you shall warn the Children of Israel regarding uncleanness, lest they die through their uncleanness by defiling My Mishkan which is among them (cf. Leviticus 15:31).  

Moreover, the verse of Bemidbar (Numbers) partially quoted above also mandates the expulsion of the zav and the zava, those suffering from emissions, from the camp.  Finally, this connection, or perhaps need to disconnect, between tum'a and sanctity can be located not just in sections, two, three, and four of the code, but even in section one, the laws of permitted and forbidden animals.  In closing out the segment, G-d informs Israel that he has high expectations:

For I the L-rd am your G-d: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not make yourselves unclean through (eating) any swarming thing… For I am the L-rd… you shall be holy for I am holy. (cf. Leviticus 11:44-45)

Sacredness does not end at the borders of the sanctuary nor even at the borders of the camp. The category of the holy extends to the very person of each and every individual member of Israel.  As members of the holy nation, another type of mobile sanctuary, another method of encapsulating the L-rd's presence in the world, the Israelites are enjoined from improper mixing of the sacred and profane, of contacting or ingesting certain kinds of animals.

To put this all together, the common denominator of Chapters Eleven through Fifteen, the laws of tum'a and tahara, consists not just of the categories of tum'a and tahara but also of the need to separate between the tamei and the holy.  Whether in the context of the sanctuary itself, the camp within which it resides, or the people within whose camp G-d resides, holiness demands special care, and particular conditions for encountering and preserving it.

This brings us back to the sin and death of Nadav and Avihu.  They died because of lack of care for the details of hilkhot kodashim, the laws for the proper treatment of sanctity and approach to sanctified space.  They entered the sanctuary and G-d's space when not commanded.  It is no wonder, then, that in between the story of their death (cf. Leviticus 10:1-20) and the story of the proper conditions for entering the holiest space (cf. Leviticus 16:1-34), the Torah teaches the full corpus of hilkhot kodashim, the laws of sanctity and relation to holiness (cf. Leviticus 11:1-15:33).


Alternatively, we may wish to link the "laws of tum'a and tahara" (cf. Leviticus 11:1-15:33) to the death of Nadav and Avihu in a slightly different, albeit related fashion.  At the close of the laws of permitted and forbidden animals, section one above, the Torah teaches the following:

This is the Torah of the beasts, and of the birds, and of every living creature… to distinguish between the unclean (tamei) and clean (tahor), between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten (cf. Leviticus 11:46-47). 
The phrase "to distinguish between the unclean and clean" should bring to mind the immediate aftermath of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu.  As mentioned, the Torah follows the story of the deaths with a code of priestly conduct.  The latter part of the code consists of two imperatives:

And you must distinguish between holy and unholy and between unclean and clean. And you must teach (lehorot) the Children of Israel all the laws which the L-rd has imparted to them through Moshe (cf. Leviticus 10:10-11). 

After a summary of the various types of tzara'at (cf. Leviticus 14:44-46), the Torah states the following:

To teach (lehorot) when it is unclean and when it is clean, this is the Torah of tzara'at. (cf. Leviticus 14:57)

While this verse may refer to the Torah's purpose in expounding upon the laws of tzara'at at length, it most probably refers to the role of the priests in making the determination as to whether a particular lesion is clean or unclean.  After all, the Torah elaborates upon this role extensively throughout the one hundred and sixteen verses of the laws of tzara'at (cf. Leviticus 13:1-14:57).

Moreover, the linguistic parallel to the terms "teaching," "unclean" and "clean" found in the code of priestly conduct (10:10-11), and the apparent fusing of the concepts into a montage of teaching, ruling and governing the arena of tum'a and tahara, further strengthens the connections outlined above.  If so, like section one, section three provides a corpus of "differentiation laws" that the priests are charged with guarding and teaching.

In a similar vein, it is Aharon the priest, along with Moshe, who is charged with "warning" the children of Israel regarding their uncleanness and the possibility of death in section four, the laws of emissions (cf. Leviticus 15:1, 31).  Finally, regarding section one, the laws of the postpartum women, it is the priest who plays the key role in restoring her state of tahara (cf. Leviticus 12:6-7), guides her in her passage from tamei to tahor and facilitates her approach to the sanctuary.

In sum, the placement of the "laws of tum'a and tahara" in the middle of the narrative of Nadav and Avihu's death stems from more than just the concern of both of these parts of the Torah with hilkhot kodshim, the rules for the treatment of sanctity. The juxtaposition also stems from the definition of the role of priests in the aftermath of the death of Nadav and Avihu.  It stems from the overarching concern of both segments with the role of priests, their job description and their special responsibility for the "laws of differentiation."

Next, let us begin consider the treatment given to one who manifests tzara'at upon his body.

And the leprous man (i.e. metzorah, lit. 'afflicted one') whom the lesion is upon, his clothes shall be rent, his head shall be left bare and he shall cover his upper lip, and shall cry, "Unclean, unclean." (cf. Leviticus 13:45). 

The four actions required of the metzora, the sufferer of tzara'at, can all be thought of as connected to disgrace and shame.  The rending of the garments and baring of his head constitute symbols of dishevelment and disgrace, similar to the baring of the head of the women suspected of adultery. Similarly, the covering of the upper lip, probably done by the garment worn upon the upper body involves the covering of the metzora's mouth and his silencing. 

Having been visited by an affliction from G-d, the metzora stands speechless in front of divine retribution.  He possesses no explanation and no rationale for his behavior and affliction.  He is like the false prophets of Micah 3:7 who "shall be put to shame" and "cover their lips."  Having been afflicted by a divine plague, the metzora can do no more than proclaim his own disgrace and utter, "Unclean, unclean."

However, some of these actions symbolize not just shame, disgrace and self-negation, but also the related phenomenon of mourning.  This brings us back to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu.  Right after the deaths, Moshe tells Aharon, Elazar and Itamar:

Do not bare your heads and do not rend your clothes, lest you die… But your brothers, all the house of Israel shall bewail the burning that God has wrought (cf. Leviticus 10:6).

Aharon and his sons are forbidden from mourning. They cannot express their pain and anguish nor demonstrate physically the impossibility of continuing normal existence as if nothing has occurred. Consequently, they cannot bare their heads nor rend their clothes.  If so, the acts of the metzora resemble acts of mourning; in other words, they resemble the response of one visited by death.  In fact, tzara'at itself is connected with death numerous times throughout the Torah.  The term nega, translated as "lesion" above, constitutes the Torah's standard term for tzara'at affliction and appears innumerable times throughout the laws of tzara'at.  

The term literally means "touch" and is used in the contexts of Bereishit (Genesis) and Shemot (Exodus) to connote a plague from G-d, the concrete manifestation of the "finger" or "hand" of G-d (cf. Genesis 12:17; Exodus 11:1).  Exodus 11:1 uses the phrase od nega echad, one more touch or plague, to herald the plague of the firstborn, the visitation of death upon the Egyptians.  In other words, visitation by a nega, the touch or hand of G-d, logically results in death.

This connection between nega-tzara'at and death is further strengthened by both the story of tzara'at found in Sefer Bemidbar (Numbers).  Upon speaking ill of Moshe and being chastised by G-d, Miriam is stricken with tzara'at (cf. Numbers 12:1-10).  At this point, Aharon, who had been party to the slander, beseeches Moshe not to hold a grudge against them and to pray for Miriam's welfare.

And Aharon said to Moshe: Please my master, account not to us the sin which we committed in our folly. Let her not be as one DEAD, who emerges from his mother's womb with half his flesh eaten away (cf. Numbers 12:11-12). 

Apparently, tzara'at symbolizes death.  The appearance of tzara'at resembles the appearance of a grisly miscarriage or stillborn baby.  The death of the flesh in tzara'at comprises a harbinger and portent of the ultimate punishment soon to be visited upon the sinner.  No wonder the metzora responds to his tzara'at as one responds to death.  In a last-ditch effort to stave off his fate, he proactively mourns his soul and his impending doom.


This connection between death and tzara'at should help shed some light on the topics contained within the latter parts of the "laws of tum'a and tahara."

As has often been pointed out, death defiles.  The corpse constitutes the "father of all tumot (contamination)."  Similarly, the shadow of death, the affliction of tzara'at, defiles.  But the metzora is not the only one in these sections of the Torah who has encountered death and had its shadow cast upon him. The people mentioned at the end of Parashat Metzora, those suffering from emissions, have also encountered the shadow of death.  The menstruating women faces the loss of potential life implicit in her bleeding, and zav and zava the "loss of life" implicit in their diseases and consequent inability to procreate.

Similarly, the postpartum woman, mentioned at the beginning of Parashat Tazria, has passed through the harrowing and life-threatening experience of childbirth.  Within her experience of birthing life, she has encountered the shadow of death.  If so, the topics of Tazria and Metzora are united by their connection to death and the consequence of defilement.

But this is not all that unites the postpartum women, the metzora, and the sufferer from emissions.  In general, the texts focus not just on the cause of the defilement, but also on the process of return, the means of restoring a state of tahara (purity).  Each parasha (weekly Torah portion) depicts the process of "passing through," not so much the encounter with death, but the return from its touch, the approach to the sanctuary and the bringing of offerings (see cf. Leviticus 12:6-8, 14:1-20, 15:13-15, 28-30).

Putting this all together and linking up with the story of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu yields something rather interesting.  The dynamic implicit in the legal material of Tazria and Metzora parallels the dynamic implicit in the narrative frame of the text, the story of the death of Nadav and Avihu

From the perspective of narrative, the text is about Aharon, a father who at his very moment of triumph has suffered a devastating loss.  In his own words: "Such things have befallen me" (cf. Leviticus 10:19).  Due to his sacred status he is even forbidden from explicit mourning (cf. Leviticus 10:6-7).  Yet somehow he must pass through, he must continue through death, return to the sanctuary and perform the divine service.  Likewise and in keeping with the implicit theme, the legal material is about "passing through death" and approaching the sanctuary.

Are we not familiar with another Great High Priest Who has passed through death and performed the Divine service in a Sanctuary that was not of this earth:

For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 

For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever. Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,  a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the L-rd erected, and not man.  (cf. Hebrews 7-8)

But this is not all.  In a striking parallel to the story of Nadav and Avihu, a story of the "eighth day" (cf. Leviticus  9:1, 9:23-10:2), each of these "passing through" or "purification" passages contains a reference to a period of seven days and a climactic eighth day. 

The postpartum woman who bears a male is tamei for seven days.  On the eight day her son is circumcised (cf. Leviticus 12:2-3).  After a seven day waiting period outside his own tent upon his return to the camp, the metzora brings his climactic offering, approaches the sanctuary and achieves "tahara" on the eighth day (cf. Leviticus 14:8-11). Likewise the zav and the zava count seven days and only then, on the eighth day, bring their offerings, approach the sanctuary and reenter a pristine and undefiled state (cf. Leviticus 15:13-15, 28-30).

Is the eighth day some sort of magic number in Sefer Vayikra?   The eighth day of the miluim ceremony (consecrating the priests for their service) was intended to be the day of G-d's descent to the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the day when the very source of all being, of life itself, came and dwelt amongst the people

If so, we may formulate yet one more reason for the juxtaposing of Tazria and Metzora with the story of the death of Nadav and Avihu.  The "passing through" stories of the postpartum woman, the metzora, the zav and the zava serve as a counterweight to the death of Nadav and Avihu.  The dynamic of passing through death and returning upon the eighth day to the sanctuary and G-d's presence, to full and pure life, reverses the linkage between the eighth day and death in the story of Nadav and Avihu.

The legal material reminds the Children of Israel of the ideal relation between G-d's presence in the sanctuary and the categories of life and death.  Rather than holiness causing death, death causes distance from the presence of G-d.  The transcendence of death and affirming of life finds its concrete expression in approaching the sanctuary and entering into G-d's presence.

Do we know of Another Who 'came down' and dwelt among us?  One who spent a great deal of His time demonstrating plainly that he was here to reverse the effects of sin and death?  One, Who would by His death and resurrection, give life to those who would call on His name and be saved?  It is important to note that one of the ancient rabbinic titles for the Messiah was the "Leprous Messiah", the "Metzorah", ie. the "Afflicted One", which is recorded in Sanhedrin 98b (the Talmud) and is in accordance with the prophet Isaiah:

"The Messiah --what is his name?...The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, `surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b).

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by G-d, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the L-RD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. (Cf. Isaiah 53).

This idea may have arisen from the rabbis as they struggled with Isaiah 53. They either saw the Messiah's sufferings as tzara'at or split the Messiah in two, one a sufferer and one a conqueror. The Hebrew words in Isaiah 53:4, stricken nagua (related to nega, touch/plague) and smitten (mukkay) are interpreted as referring to a tzara'at condition.  Were not some of the Messiah's more prominent miracles related to tzara'at a testimony to Who He was and why He came?

Then Y'shua put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately his tzara'at was cleansed.  And Y'shua said to him, "See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."  (cf. Matthew 8:3-4) 

And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of tzara'at saw Y'shua; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, "L-rd, if You are willing, You can make me clean."  Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately the tzara'at left him.  And He charged him to tell no one, "But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded."  (cf. Luke 5:12-14)

It is critical to keep in mind that tzara'at is NOT a medical condition treatable by a physician or medical remedy.   The metzora was instructed to show himself to the priest, not a doctor for examination and it was the priest who guided the metzora through the detailed procedures outlined in the Torah.  Y'shua does something interesting.  He commands the people He healed of tzara'at to go show themselves to the priest and go through all of the procedures outlined in the Torah, as a testimony unto them.  

A testimony unto them.  What was this testimony?   That the Messiah had come and was working among them as demonstrated clearly by not simply sending them to the priest for examination and determination of tzara'at, but sending those whom He had cured of tzara'at to the priests.  No where in the Torah do we read that the priests ever healed anyone of tzara'at.  

Their role, as outlined in the Torah, was to determine if the affliction was tzara'at and, if so, to guide and restore the sufferer back to a right standing with G-d Who had afflicted the sufferer in the first place.  Remember, tzara'at is not a physical ailment, but the result of a spiritual problem, an affliction of the soul that manifested itself in a physical manner.  

Is this not precisely why the Messiah came, walked among us, suffered, died and rose again?   Was He Himself not One Who was despised, afflicted, and rejected of men as One Who was considered smitten by G-d?  Touched by G-d with the plague of death?  Did He not endure and conquer death so that we who believe in His name would live and have life in His name? 

But the Messiah came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.  Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.  

For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to G-d, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living G-d? 

And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.  (cf. Hebrews 9)

*I am indebted to Rabbi Chanoch Waxman for providing many of the ideas and themes highlighted in this post, which provided a foundation for revealing Messianic connections with the text of the Torah under consideration.