Metzorah/Leil Ha’Seder: The Sweet in the Bitter

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Metzorah, the Torah continues to teach us about negah tzara’as – the affliction of tzara’as.  The pasuk tells us: כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶלאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם לַאֲחֻזָּה; וְנָתַתִּי נֶגַע צָרַעַת, בְּבֵית אֶרֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶםWhen you come to the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I will place a tazra’as affliction upon a house in the land of your possession; וּבָא אֲשֶׁרלוֹ הַבַּיִת, וְהִגִּיד לַכֹּהֵן לֵאמֹר כְּנֶגַע נִרְאָה לִי בַּבָּיִתand the one to whom the house belongs shall come and declare to the Kohen, ‘something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house’ (Vayikra 14:34-35).  

Rashi comments, quoting Medrash Rabbah:

ונתתי נגע צרעת. בְּשׂוֹרָה הִיא לָהֶם שֶׁהַנְּגָעִים בָּאִים עֲלֵיהֶם; לְפִי שֶׁהִטְמִינוּ אֱמוֹרִיִּים מַטְמוֹנִיּוֹת שֶׁל זָהָב בְּקִירוֹת בָּתֵּיהֶם כָּל אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה שֶׁהָיוּ יִשְֹרָאֵל בַּמִּדְבָּר, וְעַל יְדֵי הַנֶּגַע נוֹתֵץ הַבַּיִת וּמוֹצְאָן

This is good news for them (the Bnei Yisrael) that afflictions are to come upon them; for the Emorim hid treasures of gold in the walls of their houses all forty years that Israel was in the desert, and as a result of the affliction (of tzara’as that the Jews would find on the walls of the homes), he (the Israelite) breaks down the walls and find the treasures.

It is compelling to note that the Torah tells us that when the ba’al ha’bayis (home owner) comes to the kohen to inform him of the tazra’as affliction, he says: כְּנֶגַע נִרְאָה לִי בַּבָּיִתlike an affliction appeared to me in the house.  Why doesn’t he just say “an affliction appeared to me in the house”?  Why must he say “like an affliction”? 

How we do understand these verses?  Is the tzara’as in this case a reward or a punishment?  Is it good news, or bad news?  What is Rashi coming to teach us?  And why can’t the owner say definitively: ‘I saw an affliction’?

Putting it all together, weaving a beautiful tapestry of Torah, Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski zt’l teaches, Why should the owner say ‘Something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house?’  Why not say, ‘An affliction has appeared to me in the house’?  

“The Divine statement ‘וְנָתַתִּי֙ נֶ֣גַע צָרַ֔עַת בְּבֵ֖ית אֶ֥רֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶֽםI will place an affliction upon a house in the land of your possession’ appears to be a promise rather than a punishment.  Rashi explains that the Canaanites used to hide their treasures in the thick walls of their houses.  The affliction in the house resulted in the walls being demolished, which would expose the hidden treasure.  Thus, the affliction in the house was a blessing rather than a punishment.

“This is why the owner should not say ‘An affliction has appeared to me in the house.’  An affliction is a punishment, whereas the lesion in the wall of the house was a blessing leading to the discovery of hidden treasures.  Therefore, all he may say is ‘it seems like an affliction to me.’

“This has far-reaching application and relevance.  We all experience unpleasant things which at the moment are distressing and appear to be bad.  In many instances, we realize much later that what we had assumed to be bad was really something good in disguise.

“The Baal Shem Tov said that when an adversity occurs, one should not say: ‘It is bad.’  G-d does not do bad things.  Rather, we may say, ‘This is a bitter happening.’  Some life-saving medications may have a bitter taste.  Remembering this should help us keep our bearings in times of adversity” (Twerski on Chumash, Artscroll, p.221).

This is a powerful message and lesson for our lives.  Often what seems to us like difficulties, trials and tribulations are part of Hashem’s Master Divine plan to bestow goodness upon us.  Though to us it may look like the “negah tzara’as” – the affliction of tzara’as, from Hashem’s vantage point, it is nothing but bountiful treasures to bring great wealth upon us and into our lives.  And so, we must say “it seems to be, it looks like, it appears as if” it is an affliction; but in reality, it is a treasure of Hashem. 

On Leil ha’Seder, we are involved in many unique mitzvos on this glorious, holy night when we celebrate our freedom from slavery.  One of the mitzvos of the night is achilas marror – eating the bitter herbs.  These bitter herbs remind us that the Egyptians embittered the lives of the Israelite slaves, as the verse says: וַיְמָרְרוּ אֶתחַיֵּיהֶם בַּעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה, בְּחֹמֶר וּבִלְבֵנִים, וּבְכָלעֲבֹדָה בַּשָּׂדֶהand they embittered their lives with hard work, with mortar and bricks, and with all work of the field (Shemos 1:14).  

And yet, before we eat the marror we recite a special bracha: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה‘, אֱלֹקִינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מָרוֹרBlessed are Your Hashem our G-d the King of the world, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to eat the marror.  

If achilas marror is to remind us of the bitterness our forefathers faced in Egypt, why do we bless G-d for it?!  

Perhaps, based on the above insight of R’ Dr. Twerski, we can answer as follows: A Jew must always have the fortitude, faith and courage to say: “This looks like it’s bitter; this looks like an affliction; this looks like a terrible time in life.”  And yet, we must remember that hiding behind the tzara’as stricken walls were great treasures.  Within each difficulty we face, there is certainly Divine blessing.  We may not recognize it, we may not be able to see it, we may not understand it – but we are still able to say: כְּנֶגַע נִרְאָה לִי בַּבָּיִתlike an affliction appeared to me in the house.

From the bitterness of marror came the sweetness of redemption.  And so for this, indeed, we must bless G-d.  

May we merit the end of this bitter galus, may we merit the ultimate geula for our nation and our Land, and may we see the fulfillment of לשנה הבאה בירושלים הבנויה immediately and in our days.

בברכת שבת שלום ובשורות טובות,


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