23 Apr 2020 Tazria-Metzora: Creating Clouds of Glory in Our Times
In this week’s double parshios, Tazria-Metzora, we once again read of the affliction of tzara’as, which perhaps is aptly defined as a spiritual malady with a physical manifestation. According to his sin, and the degree of sin, a person may notice an eruption of tzara’as on his clothing, the walls of his home, or his body, with varying degrees of color and severity. According to the diagnosis of the kohen, the individual may be declared impure with negah tzara’as.
His punishment? בָּדָ֣ד יֵשֵׁ֔ב מִח֥וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֖ה מוֹשָׁבֽוֹ – He is to sit alone, in solitude, outside of all three camps, pondering his sin, and calling out to all passerby, טָמֵ֥א ׀ טָמֵ֖א יִקְרָֽא – “impure, impure!” so that others shall stay away from him, his impurity and his sin (see Vayikra 13:45-46 w/ Rashi).
What are the underlying causes of tzara’as?
R’ Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of R’ Yochanan: על שבעה דברים נגעים באין –Tzaraas afflictions come upon a person for any one of seven sinful things: על לשון הרע ועל שפיכות דמים ועל שבועת שוא ועל גילוי עריות ועל גסות הרוח ועל הגזל ועל צרות העין – for the sins of: (1) lashon harah (2) murder (3) vain oaths (4) illicit relations (5) haughtiness (6) theft and (7) stinginess (Arachin 16a).
Rashi (to Vayikra 14:4) quotes both the sins of lashon harah and ga’sus ha’ruach/gay’vah (haughtiness) as the causes for the tzara’as malady..
It is fitting, therefore, that since the Metzorah – the one who was motzi shem rah (spoke badly about others) – caused a divide between people with his poisonous attitude, and venomous words, he is to be separated from society, to dwell alone (Rashi to 13:46), all the days that the affliction plagues him.
As we read these parshios once again (halavay that we would merit to return to Beis Knesses and hear them read from our holy Sifrei Torah), it is an opportune time to remind ourselves of the power, blessing, and danger of the spoken word.
R’ Yaakov Edelstein zt’l (1924-2017 – chief rabbi of Ramat HaSharon, Israel) teaches, “There is a terrible illness – tongue disease. A person gets used to talking, and he can’t feel the words coming out of his mouth. Speech is automatic. In Chovos Ha’Levavos (Duties of the Heart), it is written that a person has to get into the habit of thinking that the hardest thing for him to move is his tongue.
“Before a person walks anywhere, he thinks about where he is going. He needs to make a decision. His hands and feet don’t move automatically without his thinking about it. When a person picks up a hammer to pound in a nail, he thinks about what exactly he needs to do. But speech emerges from a person’s mouth. He needs to make it a habit of thinking that moving the tongue is harder than moving a hand or leg. This way he will think before he speaks, before he says a word” (Reaching for Heaven, Artscroll, p.145-146).
How powerful is the spoken word, which can create worlds; and how dangerous is the very same tool, which can destroy worlds. As the holy Chafetz Chaim zt’l wrote in his hakdamah (introduction) to his Sefer Kuntres Chovas Ha’Shemirah: כלל הדברים בדבורו של אדם יכול לברוא עולמות ולהחריבן – the sum of the matter is, that with words, man can create worlds, and with words, man can destroy worlds.
The Sages teach (Taanis 9a) that the Clouds of Glory that protected the Israelites in the desert for forty years were in the merit of Aharon Ha’Kohen, the man of peace. R’ Yitzchok Zilberstein offers a fascinating chiddush as to why Aharon, the lover and pursuer of peace, merited to create these special Clouds.
R’ Zilberstein writes, “A person has the power to sow discord, but he also has great power to create a protective shield through love and unity towards his fellow Jews.
“During the forty years that the Jewish people were in the Wilderness, they were protected by the Clouds of Glory, which came in the merit of Aharon. We generally think of these clouds as a miraculous spiritual entity that existed only during the time that the Jews were in the desert. But the truth is that we can recreate these protective clouds even today. How?
“The Sifsei Tzaddik (d.1920, Poland) teaches, ‘The laws of science confirm that the vapor that leaves the mouth of two people who love each other join together in the air. Aharon ha’Kohen loved peace and pursued peace, and because of him, all of the Jewish people loved one another. In Aharon’s merit, the vapor that emerged from the mouths of the 600,000 Jews combined to create the Clouds of Glory.’
“We see from here that when two friends speak to each other with love and camaraderie, the invisible spiritual ‘vapors’ that leave their mouths combine to form ‘Clouds of Glory’ that have the power to protect the Jewish people from harm.
“What a profound insight that ought to inspire each of us to strengthen our friendships (with one another)” (Aleinu L’Shabei’ach, Vayikra, p.182-183).
Let us learn from the sins of the metzorah has we ought not to behave, and let us learn from Aharon, our great leader, how we must behave. As we read in Pirkei Avos this past Shabbos: הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן, אוֹהֵב שָׁלוֹם וְרוֹדֵף שָׁלוֹם, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת וּמְקָרְבָן לַתּוֹרָה – Hillel used to say: Be of the students of Aharon, love peace, pursue peace, love people and bring them close to Torah (Avos 1:12).
Perhaps, if we can think before we speak (halavay!), thereby creating worlds, we too will merit to create (proverbial) Clouds of Glory, where all of Israel can reside within, together as one – כאיש אחד בלב אחד – basking in Divine Protection and blessing.
בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,