In this week's parashah (and last week's), we read that a
metzora must leave the camp or city for seven (or more) days and
sit alone. Chazal say that this is a punishment for the
antisocial behavior of speaking lashon hara.
R' Yaakov Emden z"l (died 1776) points out the many benefits
which man can attain only when he is part of society. Indeed,
Chazal say, "Give me a friend or give me death," and the Torah
says, "It is not good for man to be alone."
All alone, man could not obtain all of his physical needs,
including proper food, drink, clothing, and shelter. A person
also could not fulfill the Torah if he were alone. For example,
he could not carry out the laws of property, the laws of
marriage, and the laws of child-rearing.
A person who is all alone can never pray with a minyan or have
his Torah questions resolved by scholars, and thus he can not
properly practice a single one of the six pillars on which the
world stands (as listed in Pirkei Avot): justice, truth, peace,
Torah, prayer, and acts of kindness. Also, how can man emulate
Hashem if he is all alone? For example, just as Hashem is
merciful, man must be merciful to his fellow men.
Of course, there are times for being alone, but even in those
times, man should not roam too far from home. Man is even
capable of achieving the concentration that comes from solitude
while he is surrounded by people. (Migdal Oz: Perek Aliyat
"This is the law of the metzora . . ."
The Gemara (Erachin 15b) elaborates: "This is the law of the
motzi shem ra /one who speaks evil of another." [The Gemara is
reading the word "metzora" as an abbreviation of "motzi shem ra"
in order to teach that tzara'at is a punishment for speaking
The Chafetz Chaim writes that one may transgress as many as 31
of the 613 commandments with one act of speaking lashon hara. A
partial list of these includes: the prohibition on being a
gossip; the commandment to avoid tzara'at; the prohibition on
placing a stumbling block before another (because the one who
speaks lashon hara causes others to listen to lashon hara, which
also is a sin); the prohibition on forgetting G-d (because a
person who speaks lashon hara thereby demonstrates haughtiness,
whereas a person who remembers G-d is aware of his own faults and
is never haughty); the two prohibitions on taking revenge and
bearing a grudge; the prohibition on giving false testimony; the
prohibition on following in Korach's footsteps (i.e., by bringing
about hostility between people); and others.
(Sefer Chafetz Chaim: Introduction)
The Mishnah (Nega'im 2:5) states: "A person sees all nega'im--
tzara'at wounds--except his own." Literally, this means that a
person, even a kohen, may not be the judge of whether he himself
has tzara'at. Rather, he must go to another kohen.
Figuratively, however, this statement is frequently interpreted
as referring to the fact that people are rarely objective about
their own faults. A person sees everyone else's faults, but not
If so, asks R' Eliezer David Gruenwald z"l (1867-1928;
Hungarian rabbi and rosh yeshiva), how can a person assess where
he stands? The answer is found in another Mishnah: "One does not
search [for chametz] by the light of the sun and by the light of
the moon, but only by the light of a candle." Kabbalists and
mussar works teach that chametz represents the yetzer hara. The
strong "light of the sun" represents wealth, and the weak "light
of the moon" represents lack of success. Wealth is not an
accurate indicator that a person has conquered his yetzer hara
and therefore Hashem is happy with him, and lack of success is
not an indicator of the opposite. Only the "light of a candle,"
an allusion to the verse, "A mitzvah is a candle" / "ki ner
mitzvah," is an accurate indicator.
What does this mean? If a person wants to know where he stands
in his service of Hashem, he should look at his attitude towards
mitzvot. If he or she considers mitzvot to be a burden, then he
or she has a long way to go. However, if a person enjoys
performing mitzvot, then that person is on the right track.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Chasdei David)
A young man in Israel married into a family which did not have
the custom of stealing the afikoman. When he had a son who was
old enough to "steal" his grandfather's afikoman, the latter
insisted that such behavior violated the Torah's prohibitions on
theft and extortion. This dispute was then brought before R'
Chaim David Halevy z"l (Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv; died
1998), who wrote as follows:
The Gemara (Pesachim 109a) mentions a custom of "grabbing" the
matzah in order to keep the children awake. As explained by
Rashi and Rashbam, this does not refer to a custom that children
steal the afikoman, but rather that the matzah was stolen _from_
the children. Why was this not prohibited as stealing?
Apparently, writes R' Halevy, because it is justified as one more
strange thing that we do on the seder night to highlight for the
children the uniqueness of the night.
The Gemara (Bava Metzia 61b) states that stealing is prohibited
even if one does not desire the object of the theft, but merely
intends to pain the victim. Interestingly, Rambam does not quote
this law in his Code. Instead, Rambam writes that one may not
steal, even in jest. Why doesn't Rambam quote the Gemara's law?
Also, what is the source for Rambam's law that one may not steal
R' Halevy explains: Since we know that Rambam did not invent
laws, nor did he ignore laws that were found in the Talmud, we
may assume that Rambam was merely reformulating the law that one
may not steal in order to pain another. Rambam's use of the
phrase "in jest" must be equivalent to the Gemara's phrase
"intended to cause pain." Why did Rambam change the words?
Because he wanted to teach us, incidentally, that the only time
that stealing in jest is prohibited is when it is intended to
cause pain. However, stealing the afikoman at the seder is not
intended to cause pain. Rather, it is intended only to "liven-
up" the seder and interest the children.
(Aseh Lecha Rav Vol. VI, No. 35)
R' Shimon Schwab z"l (1908-1995; rabbi of the K'hal Adath
Jeshurun "Breuer's" community in New York) writes:
From my earliest youth, I remember that the children would ask
each other on the first morning of Pesach, "How long did your
Seder last?" This was true in my youth, and it is still the case
If the children were to ask me this now, I would answer them,
"I made sure to eat the afikoman before chatzot [halachic
midnight]." According to some poskim [halachic authorities],
even the recitation of Hallel should be completed before chatzot.
I must point out, R' Schwab says, that the present-day practice
in which all the children read from their prepared sheets which
they received in school is not exactly in accordance with the
mitzvah of "v'higadeta l'vincha" / "and you shall tell to your
children" (Shmot 13:8). The children have started a new
"mitzvah" of "v'higadeta l'avicha u'l'imecha" / "and you shall
tell to your father and mother," which makes it extremely
difficult to reach the mitzvah of achilat matzah / eating the
matzah - and certainly the afikoman - before chatzot.
R' Schwab continues: Rather than discourage the children from
actively participating, parents should encourage their children
to keep their remarks brief so that the father or other leader of
the Seder can read the text of the Haggadah and explain the
miracles of Yetziat Mitzrayim / the Exodus. Children should be
encouraged to say their divrei Torah during the meal if there is
time or, otherwise, during the daytime meals of Yom Tov.
On the Seder night, concludes R' Schwab, it is a mitzvat asai
d'Oraita / an affirmative commandment from the Torah to retell to
one's children the events surrounding Yetziat Mitzrayim. If one
has merited to have children or grandchildren, it is a mitzvah
for the father or grandfather to hand down to them the details of
the Exodus. The saying of "vertlach" / short divrei Torah is
very nice, but if these are not the details of the narrative of
the Exodus - or its meaning or message - they are not a part of
this mitzvah. On the Seder night, the children are encouraged to
ask any question relevant to Yetziat Mitzrayim, and the father
has a special mitzvah d'Oraita to respond to these questions, and
to tell his children about the miracles that G-d did for us.