Parshios Tazria & Metzorah / Pirkei Avos
No Free Lunch
Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Volume XVIII, No. 26
3 Iyar 5764
April 24, 2004
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Chullin 92
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Sotah 7
We are now in the midst of counting the Omer. R' David Avudraham
z"l (13th-14th century Spain) writes that one reason that Hashem
commanded us to count the Omer is that during this period, people are
busy with the harvest and are dispersed in the fields. In order that
people not forget to travel to Yerushalayim for Shavuot, Hashem
instructed us to keep count of the days.
Another reason for counting the Omer is that Hashem decrees the
year's grain output on Pesach and its fruit output on Shavuot. (See
Rosh Hashanah 16a). We count off the days between these two days of
judgment to remind us to repent.
Yet another reason, R' Avudraham writes, is found in a Midrash: To
what may the Exodus of Bnei Yisrael from Egypt be compared? To a
prince who was imprisoned in jail and who screamed for the king to
release him and to give him the king's daughter as a wife. After the
prince was released, he counted the days until he would marry the
princess. Similarly, after Bnei Yisrael were freed from Egypt, they
counted the days until they would receive the Torah. (Sefer
Avudraham: Sefirat Ha'omer)
As part of our preparations for receiving the Torah, we read a
chapter of Pirkei Avot every week during this period. R' Avudraham
explains (in the name of R' Yisrael ben Yisrael z"l) that since we are
eagerly awaiting the arrival of our loved one -- the Torah -- we study
the chapters of Pirkei Avot which encourage us to behave in the way
that the loved one would expect. (Sefer Avudraham: Seder Yemei
"This is the Torah of the tzara'at affliction . . ." (13:59)
"This shall be the Torah of the metzora . . ." (14:2)
"This is the Torah of one in whom there is a tzara'at . . ."
"This is the Torah for every tzara'at affliction . . ." (14:54)
"This is the Torah of tzara'at." (14:57)
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi teaches in the Midrash Rabbah: The word
"Torah" appears five times in connection with the metzora (one who is
afflicted with tzara'at). The word "Metzora" alludes to "motzi shem
ra" / one who speaks ill of another, and tzara'at is in fact a
punishment for speaking lashon hara. The five-time repetition of
"Torah" teaches that one who speaks lashon hara transgresses all five
books of the Torah. Therefore, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi concludes,
Moshe Rabbeinu warned the Jewish people regarding the laws of
What is this Midrash teaching? asks R' Moshe Gruenwald z"l (rabbi of
Huszt, Hungary; died 1909). Didn't Moshe warn the Jewish people
against all of the Torah's transgressions, even those that are not
equal to violating all five books of the Torah?
He explains: An argument could be made that the laws of tzara'at
should have been addressed to the kohanim. It is the kohanim, after
all, who are delegated to "diagnose" tzara'at and to accept the
offerings brought by the "recovered" metzora. Why, the Midrash
wonders, did Moshe address these laws to all of the Jewish people, not
just to the kohanim? Indeed, why were the laws of the metzora's
offerings (chapter 14) not addressed by G-d to Aharon as were the laws
that precede and follow them (chapters 13 and 15)? The answer, says
the Midrash, is that Moshe was to make a special point to all of the
Jewish people: speaking lashon hara is equivalent to violating all
five books of the Torah.
Why are the laws of lashon hara so difficult to observe? R' Moshe
Rosenstein z"l (mashgiach of the Lomza Yeshiva; died 1930) suggests
that it is because the laws appear to many people to be illogical.
After all, why is lashon hara viewed so severely? Why can't I speak
negatively of another person if I am speaking the truth? [Ed. note:
People commonly defend themselves when confronted with having spoken
lashon hara by saying, "But it's true." The halachah makes clear that
this is not a defense. Even true statements are prohibited. Why?]
R' Rosenstein offers several explanations: First, imagine that you
were hired with a group of other individuals to weed a large field.
Pulling up every single weed is back-breaking work, and there is no
doubt that no worker, including you, would do a perfect job. Would
you criticize your fellow workers for not finishing their jobs when
you have not finished yours either? Or, would you praise their
incomplete jobs, knowing that you also look good if they are praised?
[R' Rosenstein says that he does not need to explain the parable
because its meaning is obvious. Simply put, to the extent that we
overlook the faults of others, our own less than perfect characters
and actions can be overlooked also. Conversely, if we focus on
others' faults, then our faults will be highlighted a well.]
In addition, writes R' Rosenstein, it is impossible not to
exaggerate when describing the faults of another. Thus, even if one
intends to tell only the truth, he is bound to tell a lie.
Finally, one who sees a fault in another is bound to rebuke him.
Thus, one who speaks about another instead of to him is neglecting the
mitzvah of giving rebuke.
(Ahavat Meisharim p. 32)
"Take care regarding a `lighter' mitzvah as you would a
`stricter' mitzvah, for you do not know the reward that is paid
for mitzvot." (Chapter 2)
R' Yitzchak of Volozhin z"l (1780-1849; son and successor to R'
Chaim of Volozhin) asks: Why couldn't the mishnah say, "you do not
know the reward for mitzvot"? What is added by, "that is paid"?
He answers with a parable. Two merchants (call them Reuven and
Shimon) traveled to the market day in a distant town. Reuven had a
cousin in that town (call him Levi), so the two travelers stopped-in
at Levi's house instead of going to an inn. Levi was overjoyed to see
his relative, Reuven, and the two of them sat down to catch up on
family happenings while dinner was prepared. Shimon, having no part
in this discussion, went to take a nap.
By the time dinner was ready, Shimon was sound asleep. Reuven tried
to awaken his fellow traveler, but Shimon preferred to remain in bed.
In exasperation, Reuven said, "How much would you pay for a dinner
such as this at the inn? Here it is being offered for free!"
Explains R' Yitzchak: We read in Devarim (30:11-14), "For this
commandment that I command you today -- it is not hidden from you and
it is not distant. It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, `Who can
ascend to the heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen
to it and perform it?' Nor is it across the sea, [for you] to say,
`Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us,
so that we can listen to it and perform it?' Rather, the matter is
very near to you -- in your mouth and your heart -- to perform it."
Rashi comments: "`It is not in heaven" - for were it in heaven, it
would still be your duty to go up after it and to learn it."
Accordingly, says R' Yitzchak, we must appreciate the kindness that
Hashem did for us by giving us the Torah. We do not realize the
reward that we would have to pay for the mitzvot if G-d had not given
them to us for free. This is what the mishnah is teaching.
Letters from Our Sages
The following is an excerpt from a letter written by R' Avraham
Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l in 1913 to R' Yaakov David Willowsky z"l
(the Ridvaz). At the time, R' Kook was Chief Rabbi of Yafo (Jaffa).
Later, he would become the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz
Yisrael. The recipient had been rabbi of Slutsk, Poland and Chicago,
and was then living in Tzefat. In the letter, R' Kook defends himself
against criticisms that he is too close to the secular and even anti-
religious Zionists. The letter is reprinted in Igrot Re'iyah Vol. II,
Regarding your response to my comment that I am not degraded by the
fact that sinners praise me - just as the Torah says that Avraham
Avinu was blessed by all the nations of the world (Bereishit 18:18) -
you said that the nations of the world surely recognized that Avraham
was not one of them. Trust me! Most of those on the outside [of
Torah Judaism] who love me know well that I am not, G-d forbid, like
them, and that the distance from my thoughts and ways to their
thoughts and ways is like the distance from east to west. They
themselves say this. They have no choice but to admit openly that,
thank G-d, I have my head on straight and there is no deceit in my
heart. The fact is, that I am, thank G-d, filled with Ahavat Yisrael /
love of all Jews. Praised is G-d who gave me such a soul; it was
neither my wisdom nor my righteousness that made me like this, but
rather His kindness and mercy which know no end. Thank G-d, I cause
quite a stir against their impurities when necessary; however, I speak
gently and in a well thought-out way, as the wise king [Shlomo] has
commanded us. [Ed. note: R' Kook's son (and publisher) cites Kohelet
9:17 and Mishlei 27:5, with the commentary of the Vilna Gaon.]
There is no doubt that if your honor, the great sage, and other
great sages of the generation, may they live and be well, would
support me, join with me, and act as I do as much as their
personalities allow, that the Name of Heaven would be sanctified and
much peace and blessing would come upon the people of Israel and the
Land. Many, many people would return in full repentance, and the
sprouting of Israel's redemption would become obvious. The goodness
and holiness that would come about as a result is indescribable. I
hope that this will indeed happen eventually, that those who fear
Hashem will recognize the purity of my heart and the truth of my
views, and we will all become one union to do the Will of G-d and to
increase the light of G-d and His honor upon His nations and His
Copyright © 2004 by Shlomo Katz
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