Body and Soul (part 3 of 3) – Metzorah


In this three part series we explore the connection and interaction between the physical body and the neshama, specifically relating to the mouth. In the first part (Shmini), we discussed what goes into the mouth and the laws of kashrut. In the second part (Tazria), we examined the role of the mouth in serving HKB”H בשמחה, with a smile on your face (and a smile in your heart). In this, the third and final part we will learn about the third primary function of the mouth, what comes out of it – speech. Many of the meshalim in this shiur I heard from HaRav Baruch Rosenblum shlit”a.

Some of us may have had the doubtful of pleasure of sitting in a hospital waiting room (רחמנא ליצלן). Imagine sitting opposite the operating theatre. You see two people enter, one a nurse and the second a surgeon. “This must be something minor”, you think to yourself, “Perhaps cosmetic surgery”. Now imagine if you see two nurses, an anesthetist and a surgeon enter the theatre. “This already looks more serious”, you think “Maybe an appendectomy”. What do you think, however, when you see 5 nurses enter the operating room, wheeling two drips, a defibrillator, an ECG and a heart/lung machine. They are accompanied by two anesthetists and three surgeons. “This looks really bad, perhaps open heart surgery!”

In the beginning of this week’s parsha, it describes the procedure for purifying someone who had צרעת and recovered from it. Remember, all the נגעים, including צרעת, were not (contagious) medical conditions, they were punishment for speaking lashon harah.  The purification procedure is the most “over-the-top” process in the Torah, compared with any other sin.

If someone spoke lashon harah, they would first get blemishes appearing on the walls of their house. If they didn’t get the message and mend their ways, the blemishes would get progressively worse and move from the walls to their clothing and eventually to the skin of their body. The actual order in the Torah is reversed – skin, clothing, walls. The reason for this is that the Torah is a warning. When HKB”H issues a warning, He starts with the worse-case scenario (for example when Moshe first confronted Pharaoh, HKB”H’s message was – if you don’t set Am Yisrael free, I will kill your firstborn. In reality though, there were nine other plagues before that). The punishments specifically affect the different layers of your “body coverings”. First the outmost layer – your house that provides shelter. Second – your clothing, an external covering for the body. Third – your skin, the closest layer, an integral part of your body. What is the connection between lashon harah and your body coverings? We will return to this later.

The Kohen would isolate the sinner outside מחנה ישראל. The sinner could not speak with anyone, could not study Torah, etc. The only thing that they could do was to reflect on their sin and do tshuva. If the person did not do tshuva, the צרעת would get progressively worse. If they did do tshuva, the צרעת would disappear and the purification process would begin.

First you start with two birds, a piece of cedar wood, a thread dyed scarlet (with the dye of the תולעת שני) and a clump of fresh eizov (Origanum syriacum – the main ingredient in za’atar).  One of the birds is slaughtered and the blood is collected in an earthenware vessel containing water from a stream. The live bird, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet thread and the eizov, are dipped in the blood and are then used to sprinkle blood on the sinner seven times. The second, live bird is then set free and takes flight.

Next up the sinner must wash all their clothes and shave off all the hair on their body and I mean all - head, beard, eyelashes, arms, legs, etc. the whole caboodle. Then comes dunking in the mikvah and washing the body. The sinner is then allowed to return to מחנה ישראל, but cannot enter their tent. They must sit outside for seven days. On the seventh day, the person receives a second “shearing” – all hair on the body shaved off again and another dunking in the mikvah.

Now begin the Korbanot. On the eighth day the sinner brings three offerings - a קרבן אשם and a קרבן חטאת and a קרבן עולה. Two male sheep, a female sheep and a mincha offering with three isaron of solet mixed with oil and one additional log of oil (seven components in all). The sinner, along with all the animals, are presented at the entrance to the Ohel Mo’ed. The Kohen then brings one of the male sheep and the log of oil as an אשם and waves them in the air (תנופה). The Kohen then takes the blood and spreads it on the sinner’s right earlobe, right thumb and right big toe. The Kohen then takes the log of oil, pours it onto his left cupped palm. The Kohen then dips his right finger in this oil and sprinkles it seven times before Hashem. The Kohen takes the remaining oil and spreads it on the sinner’s right earlobe, thumb and big toe, on top of the blood already there. Whatever oil that remains is spread on the sinner’s bald scalp. The Kohen then proceeds to sacrifice the חטאת and the עולה. If the sinner is poor, instead of three sheep and three isaron of solet, they may instead bring one sheep, two doves and one isaron of solet.

There is no other single sin in the Torah that requires three separate korbanot, lashon harah is the only one.

What strikes you most about this whole procedure is its over-emphasized “visual aspect”. Everything about it is visual. Blemishes progressively appear - visual. The sinner is visibly removed from the camp - visual. Every hair on their body is shaved off and they must sit exposed outside their tent for seven days – visual. The sinner is presented with all the animals for all three korbanot at the entrance to the Ohel Mo’ed – visual. Blood and oil is spread on the earlobe, thumb and big toe – visual. Oil is spread over the bald scalp – visual.

Another thing is the repetition of the number seven. Seven days sitting outside the tent, sprinkling blood, oil – seven times.

Normally when a person sins, HKB”H tries to minimize his shame and embarrassment. For example the קרבן חטאת is brought in the same place in the Azara as a קרבן עולה to minimize public embarrassment for the sinner bringing a חטאת. Not here! On the contrary, HKB”H goes completely “overboard” to davka expose the sinner and their sin as much as possible.

“Shmulik, what is that green stain on the wall above your front door? It can’t be mildew, it hasn’t started raining yet!” “Shimon, what happened to your coat, did you spill ketchup on it?” “Oy vey Chaimke, you seem to have a nasty rash on your forehead.” “Look at Moishe sitting outside his tent, completely bald! Hey Moishe! The reflection is blinding – turn your head down to dim!” “Wow, look at Srulik, totally bald, covered in blood and oil – it looks like he just went through a freshman inauguration ceremony (what  the Israeli’s call זוּבּוּר).”

We know that everything HKB”H does is מדה כנגד מידה so obviously the entire treatment of someone who speaks lashon harah is justified and every aspect of it addresses some part of the sin.

If the overall impression is overtly visual, it is because lashon harah is called מכה רעהו בסתר. “Reb Chaim, my daughter is interested in Moskovitz’s son. You know the family, is he a good boy? Is it a good shidduch?”  “Yes Reb Mottel”, Chaim replies, “They are a very good family, but don’t tell anyone …. I heard that the son is on medication for something!”

That’s all it takes and it’s “oys shidduch”.  Now Reb Mottel, “knows” that Moskovitz’s son has some kind of “flaw” and he doesn’t hesitate to tell anyone who asks him about it – “Just to protect them, mind you!” It doesn’t matter that the whole thing started when someone saw Moskovitz’s son taking an aspirin for a headache, it has now developed into a full blown “industry”, propagated from one to the other and suddenly Moskovitz’s son cannot get married, nobody wants their daughter to marry him. And from what? Because of this surreptitious, continual tongue wagging.

Who knows how it all got started, if it was someone who had a grudge against Moskovitz or his son, or someone was trying to make themselves look important or “knowledgeable”, or simply because they simply cannot control their mouth and have to say whatever they see, because they think with their mouth instead of their brain. All it needs is a “seed”, for whatever reason, but after that it becomes a monster. The “story” takes flight and it is like a virus, you don’t know where it will reach, who it will affect, who will hear it, what they will do with it. It is now uncontrollable. Try explain that it was only one aspirin for a headache! Explain to who? You don’t know who and how many people have heard the aberration. And even if it was true, that he was on chronic medication, is that a reason to tell the entire world about it, without checking it out?

This is the catastrophic destructive power of lashon harah, that once it takes flight it is uncontainable. And it is all בסתר. Moskovitz’s son doesn’t understand why he cannot find a shidduch. What did he do wrong?

So the person who started the ball rolling, to punish them מידה כנגד מידה you bring the sin out of the dark corridors and into the light for all to see. The person who let the “cat out of the bag” did it to harm the intended victim, embarrass them, blacklist them, ostracize them, etc. So you isolate the sinner, out of the camp, just like they ostracized their victim. They blemished their victims reputation, so they are blemished for all to see.

The sinner has to take a stick of cedar wood, cedar that is tall and straight, symbolizing their גסות רוח. They have to take a thread dyed with the dye from a lowly worm and clump of a lowly plant, to belittle. One of the birds is killed, symbolizing the victim of the lashon harah who has their “blood spilled”. The second bird is released and takes flight, just like the lashon harah spoken by the sinner “takes flight”.

Some people speak lashon harah with the purpose of causing their victim harm. Some do it just to make themselves look important - that they “know juicy stuff”. Most speakers of lashon harah are in the latter category, they are not specifically out to cause the victim harm, but just to “puff themselves up” and look important and “in the know”.

The tikkun for that is to embarrass them and humiliate them as much as possible. The sinner has all their hair shaved off. You can cover your head with a wig, but how do you cover your eyebrows that are shaved off? This person has to go to shul for the next month or two until their hair grows back and endure the humiliation of it. They have to sit outside the tent where everyone can see them.

This sin is not “contained” and defined by one type of korban brought to repent for it. It is “uncontainable”. You do not know who the lashon harah will reach, what damage it will do to the original teller, the perpetuator of it, never mind the original intended victim. It requires all three types of korban to cover all possible bases, עולה, חטאת, אשם, but with a “macabre” visual twist, spreading blood and oil on parts of the body for everyone to see – the ear that hears the lashon harah, the finger that is in every pie and shouldn’t be, the feet that run to tell the “juicy news”.

When we see the “extreme” treatment HKB”H prescribes for someone who sins with lashon harah, we begin to understand how severe and catastrophic the sin actually is. It is like the last scenario in the operating theatre above.

Speech is possibly the most powerful gift HKB”H gives to us humans. The power of speech is what separates us from the animals. HKB”H used “speech” כביכול - He created the world with עשרה מאמרות and following each creation HKB”H observed it כביכול visually - and it was good וירא א-לקים כי טוב. This is the awesome power of speech to do good. It can be used to create worlds.

Then along came the נחש and also used speech. But it was a different kind of speech, it was not visual for all to see, but spoken in “dark corridors”. The נחש pulled Chava aside and surreptitiously whispered in her ear, so that Adam could not hear. “You know why Hashem doesn’t want you to eat from that tree? Because that tree was here before Hashem was. Hashem ate from that tree and it gave Him the power to create worlds. If you, Chava, eat from the tree, you will also be able to create worlds and be like Hashem!” That was the first lashon harah in history. It was spoken to cause harm to Adam Harishon, out of righteous indignation by an angel who could not stomach that Hashem had given a human such immense stature. It was spoken with the purpose of diminishing Adam Harishon, which it ultimately did. That is the destructive power of speech – it can also destroy worlds. 

By speaking that lashon harah, the נחש affected Adam and Chava’s house (they were evicted from it), their garments (כתנת עור וילבשם) and their skin (they became ashamed ויתבששו, something they were not prior to the sin). The prototype lashon harah affected the house, the clothing and the skin, the layers of shelter, protection we have from the (dangerous) elements. The lashon harah was like a virus, when Hashem asked Chava why she ate, she spoke lashon harah about the נחש, when Adam was asked, he spoke lashon harah about Chava. 

The נחש was given the punishment of צרעת – the skin of the snake is stained with blemishes (some people think this is cool and buy shoes and handbags made from it – it is not cool). Chava was given a “blemish” (דם נידה) and Adam was given a "blemish" on his forehead (בזעת אפיך).

The prototype lashon harah was the model for all future lashon harah and led to the destruction of worlds (מרגלים, חורבן בית שני).

The sequence of parshiyot we have read in the past few weeks, and which we will continue to read after Pesach, seems strange. In parshat Shmini we read about the death of Nadav and Avihu. Following this, the natural progression should follow with Acharei Mot. Instead we have three parshiyot separating in the middle, the parshiya of the מאכלות אסורות and the two parshiyot  of the nega’im.

Chazal give seven reasons why Nadav and Avihu died. See, based on the above if you can recognize why the Torah saw fit to insert these three seemingly unconnected parshiyot between the death of Nadav and Avihu and parshat Acharei Mot.

  1. הורו הלכה בפני משה רבן (עירובין סג).
  2.  אימתי ימותו שני זקנים הללו ואני ואתה ננהיג את הדור? (סנהדרין נב)
  3. פרועי ראש (תורת כוהנים)
  4. שתויי יין (תורת כוהנים)
  5. מחוסרי בגדים (תורת כוהנים)
  6. שלא נשאו נשים (תורת כוהנים)
  7. נכנסו לקודש הקודשים (תורת כוהנים)

These are parallel to -

  1. The נחש said it was permissible to eat from the עץ הדעת
  2. The נחש spoke lashon harah (see above)
  3. The נחש was ערום
  4. One opinion is that the עץ הדעת was גפן (forbidden food)
  5. HKB”H made כתנת עור for Adam and Chava
  6. Adam did not do פרו ורבו as commanded, only after eviction from גן עדן
  7. Adam and Chava entered an area which Hashem forbade.

From this we see that all the different explanations given for Nadav and Avihu’s death were related to the first lashon harah in history - the preamble, the lashon harah itself and the consequences. This perhaps reconciles and unifies all the different reasons given above, because they were all connected to the same source – sins of the mouth and their consequences. Isn’t it interesting that there are seven perushim given for Nadav and Avihu’s sin and the predominance of the number seven in the purification process for the מצורע?

HKB”H gave us only one mouth, as opposed to most other body parts which are duplicated, because the mouth is too powerful and …… too dangerous for there to be more than one of them.

When we open our mouth, be it to put food in, or to let speech out we must think not twice, but a hundred times before we do. The mouth is too powerful to be used recklessly. More than any other physical part of the body, it has the power to positively or negatively impact the neshama.

One of the central features of the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim was that it had a מסגרת around it, the only vessel in the Mikdash to have one (מאיר פנים, פרק טו), to teach us to put a fence around our mouths and guard what goes in. Chazal also teach us סייג לחכמה שתיקה (Pirkei Avot 3, 13), to put a fence around our mouths to guard what comes out.

And the fence is - shaping our mouths in the shape of a smile, serving HKB”H בשמחה תמיד. This is the sure fire way to protect us from the dangers of the mouth and their impact on our neshama.

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