“When a woman gives birth…” (12:2). אשה כי תזריע וילדה זכר… (יב:ב).
The Midrash Tanchuma paints a vivid picture of a woman in labor. “She screams one hundred shouts, the first ninety-nine are screams of death; the final yell connotes a new life that has just begun!” A question worth pondering, as I’m sure many have wondered, is the following. Why is birth proceeded by such a torturous process? The following suggested thought can be taken two ways. For those who never thought about this (ie: men), it might not mean anything, and for women who experienced it, it may not do justice, but nevertheless, it is a Torah idea and thus worth sharing!
The rule of the world is that all valuable things are expensive. You cannot buy a real and precious diamond without paying a small fortune! If someone offers to sell one to you for an unbelievably low price, it must be a scam! Even if one steals a diamond, that pleasure must be paid for in the end when he gets caught and sits in jail! The way of the world is that anything worthwhile must be paid for.
A doctor will advise one to keep to a balanced diet and exercise regiment. One with foresight will heed to the suggestions and thereby maintain his health. The fool, on the other hand, will neglect his health and only recognize its importance when his body deteriorates and sickens, forcing him to change his habits. The formula is simple: Everything costs; you can either pay before hand, by putting in the money or effort required, or one will suffer the unpleasant consequences of paying later!
Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt”l teaches a beautiful lesson from the following story. The Russian government had placed high restrictions against performing business across their border. Some men got together to devise a plan on how to smuggle out expensive diamonds to make a huge profit. They brilliantly designed an infallible scheme by which to accomplish their goal. They would fill a genuine coffin with their goods and pretend to be a procession exiting the city to bury their dead. The government was happy to allow coffins to leave their sacred soil. The plan worked many times, until their show started to wane. As they were exiting the city, they were so proud of themselves and their ingenuously dubious scheme, that they tried to contain their laughter but to no avail. Immediately the guards saw that something was wrong. “Open the box now!” came the order. “Please,” they begged, “do not desecrate the honor of our dead, let us continue the funeral undisturbed!” “Liars!” the guard screamed as he ripped open the box to reveal their illegal activity. They stood there pale-faced knowing the Siberia punishment that awaited them. The guard turned to them and made his biting remark: “If you would have been crying before, then you would be laughing now! You fools reversed the order! You were laughing then and now you will cry!”
The message of the story is clear and strong. We can daven and cry to Hashem before problems arise (or worsen) and be happy in the undisturbed future, or we could wait for trouble to plague us and only then begin to pray! The Gemara in Berachos (54a) tells us that, “one should thank Hashem for the past and beg His mercy to help him in the future!” Chazal also teach us that “one should always precede the troubles with prayer” (Sanhedrin 44b).
Birth and Beyond
When a child is in the process of being created, Hashem gives the parents an opportunity to invest oceans of tears and prayers, to carry the child through life! One can then saturate their child with requests to Hashem for health, guidance and inspiration that will carry the child throughout his or her life and all of its challenges! “Those who plant with tears, will reap in happiness!” When one calls out to Hashem in true pain, this call can be channeled into the strongest type of prayer as it is so deeply and emotionally charged! Hashem gives the baby’s caretakers thousands of opportunities for preemptive prayers that will carry the child for a lifetime! This may be one idea behind the trying ordeal and pains of pregnancy and labor and child-rearing as well. May we use all of our situations for growth and prayer!
“…an infliction of Tzaras…” (13:2). לנגע צרעת… (יג:ב).
The Hebrew language is most fascinating. Whereas, words in many languages express deeper ideas, in Hebrew, the very letters that make up the words reveal secrets and beautiful ideas. In the following essay, you will either greatly enjoy this variance from my usual style, or you may find it not your cup of tea. Please bear with me as I think that we can gain a valuable appreciate of Lashon HaKodesh. Even more so than usual, I will leave you to finish off my thoughts….
Chazal (Tikuney Zohar 58a) state that the word “נגע, affliction” can be rearranged to spell “עֹנֶג, pleasure”. What is being said here? Hashem created the world to give man pleasure! What? Yes, the ultimate pleasure is in Olam HaBah. However, this world is meant to stimulate the nerve endings to be used to grow in spirituality as well. This is done by enjoying the pleasures of the world in their correct parameters and by recognizing that they come from Hashem. The Metzora went and spoke Lashon Hara. He has no regard for treating others and Hashem properly. Since his priorities are backwards, Hashem inflicted him with aנגע , Tzaras, in order to help wake him up and allow himself to fix his actions and achieve “ענג”! In life we would benefit by asking ourselves, is this action going to bring me ultimate נגע or ענג?! This may be one hint behind the revolving letters.
I would like to bring a few more examples of words whose rearrangement of their letters speak for themselves. The Ramchal (especially in Sefer Tefillos) points out many of these fascinating messages and hints.
1- יון – נוי: The Greeks (יון) stressed the worship of the physical body (נוי, beauty).
2- זמן – נזם: The Seforim write that time passes as a spiral. Throughout the year we do not just commemorate a Yom Tov, we so to speak go through it again; relive it. Hence, זמן, time, is like a נזם, round ring.
3- חמש – שמח: What is the connection between five (חמש) and happiness (שמח)? It represents process. Moshe is the fifth of our Ushpizin (Holy Shepherds), his trait is one of effort and hard work. The only path towards happiness comes through toil.
4- חמה – המח: The Sun (חמה) is a bright light upon earth just as the brain (המח) is the powerful machine of the body.
5- נח – חן: Noach (נח) found favor (חן) in the eyes of Hashem!
6- עד – דע: A witness (עד) must know (דע) precisely what happened.
7- אדם – מאד: Man (אדם) has the ability to accomplish great heights, he is limitless (מאד) in his greatness! See Bereishis Rabbah (9:12) and Rav Hutner’s explanation.
8- חבר – חרב: The Shlah writes that one must assure that his acquaintances are true friends (חבר) and not God-forbid, swords (חרב) dragging him down.
9- תשובה – הבושת: True repentance (תשובה) comes from embarrassment/humility (הבושת) before Hashem.
10- צרה – רצה: On Shabbos we transform from a weekday of pain (צרה) into a radiant day of rejoicing and acceptance (צרה) before Hashem. (See text of רצה in Bentching!)
Here are a few more to ponder: חשך – שכח, זקן – נזק, יד – די.
The Torah contains amazing lessons for us to learn from!
If someone found that he or she was inflicted with Tzaraas, he would contact the Kohen in order to receive his diagnosis. Whatever the Kohen said was the final decision. The Kohanim had many Mikdash related jobs and responsibilities. They brought the Korbonos, sprinkled the blood, and performed most of the Avodah, but the Tzaraas department has always perplexed me. Why is it that the Kohanim were appointed by Hashem to deal with the questions and decisions related to Tzaraas, perhaps a doctor would have been better suited?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l (1895-1986) explains that this advent expresses a fundamental lesson regarding our entire Torah outlook. He says that people should not think that the Rabbis are only useful for deciding religious laws. The Rabbis have input, advice, and guidance to share with us regarding our everyday living as well. The Mikdash was a holy and spiritual place, but the Kohen’s reach should not end there. The Kohanim dedicated their lives to the service of Hashem and were experts in Torah law. The Tzaraas malady showed that someone had an issue in his personal integrity. He was not honest, he was stingy or he was speaking Lashon Harah (Erachin 15b). This was a matter that deserved to be brought to a Talmid Chochom in order to gain guidance in how to improve. Certainly, stated Reb Moshe, the Torah requires one to seek medical attention when sick (“V’Rapo Yirapay”), however, there is another Torah requirement as well. One should seek Torah guidance in all areas of life to know how Hashem wishes for us to act.
Bava Basra (116a) states, “if one has a sick person in his home, he should go to the Chacham and have him beg Hashem for mercy.” Our Rabbanim and Gedolim have much insight and support to provide us with. Whether it is a topic of business, marriage, Chinuch or another personal matter, one should seek the guidance of a Torah authority whom he knows and trusts.
Our Parsha teaches us the importance of connecting with the great Jewish leaders in any time of need for any topic in the world. May we all merit to receive clear and proper advice that will bring us closer to Hashem and others and will help us achieve much success and happiness.
The Real Birth
There is much discussion about birth, a woman’s tumah (ritual impurity) and Tzaras (leprosy) throughout Tazria and Metzora. The laws of a Tzaras (the punishment one got for speaking Lashon Harah), the laws of childbirth and the laws of a woman’s tumah and tahara process are all found together especially with the advent of the two parshios of Tazria and Metzora coming together on one week.
Why the Tumah?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l (1895-1986) asks, why is it that a woman becomes tamey just for giving birth and bringing a child into this world?! What is the lesson here? He explains that the deepest principle that we wish to instill in the new child is that of self-perfection and development. Hashem created each of us and put us in the world in order to bring ourselves up from being a physical hedonistic being into a spiritual connector with Hashem. The baby’s birth causes tumah in order to stress that physical existence is only granted for the purpose of recognizing the tumah of mankind and working to bring tahara, purity, into the world by means of Torah and mitzvos. He has the rest of life to purify himself though becoming a spiritual being.
Someone who spoke Lashon Harah has used his mouth for the exact opposite reason that he was granted a mouth in the first place. Hashem gave us a mouth so that we can speak the words of Torah and Tefillah. He gave us a mouth so that we can speak nicely and pleasantly to one another. The mouth is a place of connection. It is used for eating, the advent which connects the body and the soul. It is used for expressing love and connection by way of a kiss. It is used to connect people by way of talking and bonding. When someone speaks Lashon Harah he or she is using the mouth to disconnect. The mouth is removed from Hashem and His Torah and causing a separation between people as well.
Chazal tell us that the baby is taught the entire Torah while in his or her mother’s womb. This is a time of great spiritual infusion. The angel hits the baby above the mouth and it forgets the entire Torah before being born. The learning was not for nothing. It was to instill inside the child the truth and power of Torah. Throughout life, he or she will work to bring out his or her portion in Torah, made easier by the original infusion in-utero. The Maharal teaches us that the blow to the infant’s mouth is none other than the power of speech. The depth of Torah cannot be fully articulated verbally and the power of speech is what limits the baby’s expression. He or she will spend life learning Torah and doing mitzvos and learning how to articulate Torah into language, though the greatest Torah will be held in his or her heart. The emunah, faith, and depth of understanding lies deep within.
The Real Birth
The entire process of pregnancy and birth represents the world and its spiritual goal in a microcosm. Nine months of intense pain and suffering represent the existence of the physical world which consists of hardships, trials and tribulations. The woman holds tight with her knowledge that despite all the suffering, it will be worth it in the end. The moment of birth represents the climax of leaving the physical world, just as the baby is leaves the world of his physical nurturer. The Torah that was learned will guide the child forever. Birth represents the resolution, the satisfaction of having lived life to its fullest in choosing a spiritual life and in recognizing that only Hashem is the True Provider. When man uses his mouth to connect with Hashem and others, he has elevated his life to a most fulfilling and productive existence for eternity.
The main bulk of the parsha discusses the issue of tzaras, a spiritual malady with leprosy-like symptoms. One of the main causes of the illness was on account of someone’s improper speech especially in the realm of evil slander known as lashon harah. Rabbeinu Bechaya enumerates ten types of tzaras that one can be inflicted with, 6 on one’s body and 4 on one’s property baesd on ten sections of the parsha. He then states that there are ten types of tzaras corresponding to the Ten Commandments. This is very odd? What does this mean?
Firstly, we must clarify that Rabbeinu Bechaya’s words here are based upon an explicit Midrash (Midrash Tadsheh 15). The Midrash adds words of explanation. “Ten topics of tzaras are discussed in the verses corresponding to the Ten Commandments. This is to teach that if the Jews keep the commandments then they will be saved from them but if not, they will be inflicted.” This is our starting point.
The Talmud enumerates the causes of tzaras. Exploring this will shed light upon the above quoted statement as we will learn that lashon harah was not the only sin punished with this spiritual malady. The Talmud (Erachim 16a) states that tzaras comes for seven reason: evil slander, murder, false swearing, adultery, haughtiness, stealing and negativity perspective. When one examines this list it becomes clear that it indeed includes many of the Ten Commandments. Thus, on a simple level, this is why when one transgressed one the Ten Commandments he was punished with tzaras.
Lashon harah, evil slander, distances people in a most powerful way. It undermines society and can destroy relationships and lives. The Torah wants us to understand the power that our mouths have in building or destroying others. Just as one would be horrified to think about transgressing any of the Ten Commandments, the Torah puts Lashon Harah in that same category. In fact, the Yerushalmi (Peah) states that just as learning Torah is the most significant positive commandment, “Talmud Torah kneged kulam,” so too, in the realm of sins, lashon harah is the most evil. It is now understood why the Torah dedicates so much time to discuss the sin of lashon harah and the punishment of tzaras. We must take great care about how we speak of others and how we treat them. Indeed, parshas Tazaria and Metzorah are the middle two parshios of the entire Torah. There are 54 parshios and number 27 and 28 are Tazria and Metzorah. The entire Torah revolves around the lesson of tzaras and how we treat others.