Ki Seitzei: An Honest Remembrance

This week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Seitzei, commands us regarding many mitzvos.  According to the Sefer HaChinuch, the parsha delineates a total of seventy-four mitzvos; twenty-seven mitzvos asei and forty-seven mitzvos lo ta’aseh.  Two important mitzvos – which are recorded one after another – concern neggah tzaraas and zechiras Miriam.

The Torah commands us regarding the affliction of a negah tzaraas, which can be defined as a physical manifestation of a spiritual malady (see Parshios Tazria-Metzora in the book of Vayikra).  Due to sins of (including but not limited to) lashon harah, haughtiness and stinginess of eye (Arachin 16a), one is afflicted with the illness of tzaraas, whose treatment, and subsequent habilitation, are under the watchful eye of the kohen.  

The pasuk states: הִשָּׁמֶר בְּנֶגַעהַצָּרַעַת לִשְׁמֹר מְאֹד וְלַעֲשׂוֹת: כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁריוֹרוּ אֶתְכֶם הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִםתִּשְׁמְרוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת, beware of the tzaraas affliction, to be very careful and to act; according to everything that the Kohanim, the Leviim, shall teach you – as I have commanded them – you shall be careful to perform (Devarim 24:8).  

Commenting on this verse, Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes, “According to our sages, this verse comes to teach us the prohibition of trying to conceal, remove or otherwise tamper with the negah tzaraas.”  It is a warning to an afflicted person might truly desire – and attempt – to remove the blemish so as not to have to go through the humiliating ordeal of isolation, banishment from all three camps, and the subsequent purification process (Parsha Parables, Devarim, p.665).  

The very next verse in the Torah states one of the shesh zechiros (Six Remembrances): זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁרעָשָׂה האֱלֹקיךָ לְמִרְיָם, בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם, Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way, when you went out of Egypt (Devarim 24:9).  Writes Rabbi Kamenetzky, “Indeed Miriam was afflicted with tzaraas.  She did speak lashon harah about her brother Moshe, to her brother Aharon.  The pasuk therefore exhorts us to remember not to speak gossip, lest we suffer the same fate she did.”

While this is all true and well, Rabbi Kamenetzky posits a compelling question: “Why mention zechiras Miriam here?  There are other portions in the Torah that teach us about negah tzaraas.  Why not use the example of Miriam in context of those portions?  Better yet, after the incident of Miriam’s lashon harah (Bamidbar 12), why didn’t the Torah exhort the people to remember what happened to her?  Would that not be the most appropriate place to remind us not to forget her sin and subsequent punishment?

“Why mention it right after warning us not to remove or try to hide a tzaraas affliction?” (Parsha Parables, Devarim, p.665)

With great insight and relevance, Rabbi Kamenetzky proposes as follows: “Perhaps the juxtaposition of these two verses bears tremendous relevance.  First, the Torah tells us to heed the tzaraas negah.  We must not attempt to remover or tamper with the affliction in any way, nor may we attempt to alter – or cover up – its appearance.  

“Then the Torah tells us to remember Miriam.  If we analyze the two directives, we will find a very powerful connection.  Miriam had what we might call ‘friends in high places.’  Her brother Moshe was the supreme leader of the nation and her brother Aharon was the kohen gadol (the high priest).  If anyone could cover up the affliction of tzaraas, it was these three siblings.  Her brothers could certainly have swept her blemish ‘under the rug,’ and carted her off for fourteen days to a secret location outside of the camp, perhaps saying she was taking an extended vacation for personal reasons.

“However, they did not.  Moshe prayed openly for her healing while the entire nation was informed that they were waiting to journey forward until she was recovered.  There was no cover up… Miriam spoke incorrectly about Moshe and she was duly punished.  And the greatest powers in government, her brothers Moshe and Aharon, informed the nation of her affliction and taught them the lessons that we ought to learn from this incident.

“Instead of whitewashing the incident, Moshe, Aharon and Miriam candidly confronted, and dealt appropriately with, the situation.  Thus, the Torah first tells each and every one of us to beware of the tzaraas plague and not to cover it up (24:8).  It then reminds us to remember what happened to Miriam (24:9) – the sister of our great leaders who was indeed afflicted, but whose experience, honesty and integrity taught endless generations of descendants” (Parsha Parables, Devarim, p.666-667).

What a powerful insight into human nature, into the honesty and integrity that the Torah expects and demands of us, and the greatness of our leaders, who set an example through the yoshrus (straight path) and emes (truth) of their lives.  

This is also an especially relevant lesson for Chodesh Elul, as we quickly approach the yimei ha’din (Days of Judgement).  It is easy to stand before the RS”O and attempt to “cover up” and “whitewash” our sins.  It is easy to be melamed zechus upon ourselves, even as we klap an al cheit.  And yet, when we stand before The Judge of Truth and King of all kings, we must present ourselves as we really are – the good and bad; the zechuyos and chovos that we all have (for a full essay on this topic, see The Rav Thinking Aloud Shemos, p.155-158).  Remember, the Torah warns us, that when you are spiritually blemished, healing is always possible through the gift of teshuva.  Just don’t stand before Me, G-d says, attempting to cover-up your sins.  Stand as you are, and your repentance will surely be accepted.  

שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם לָרָחוֹק וְלַקָּרוֹב, אָמַר הוּרְפָאתִיו, peace, peace to the far and the near, says Hashem, and I will heal him (Yeshayahu 57:19). 

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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