God told Moshe and Aharon, “When a person has a blotch, a discoloration,
or spot on his skin like the curse of leprosy, then he should be
brought to Aharon the priest, or to one of his descendants.”
Yesurim shel ahavah—sufferings from love—seem like an oxymoron. In
general, we don’t cause suffering to people we love. Just the opposite; we
tend to do our best to protect them from suffering, and to end it for them
they already are in pain.
Nevertheless, the Talmud speaks of it as if it is a level to be achieved,
avoided, or save from:
Rabbah, and some say, Rav Chisda, says: If a man suffers, let him examine
his conduct, for it says, “Let us search and try our ways, and return to
God” (Eichah 3:40). If he examines and finds nothing [objectionable], let
him attribute it to the neglect of the study of the Torah, since it says,
“Happy is the man whom You chastise, God, and teach out of Your law”
(Tehillim 94:12). If he did attribute it [to this], and still did not find
to be the cause], then it is suffering from love, as it says, “For whom God
loves He corrects” (Tehillim 3:12). (Brochos 5a)
Why, one may ask, would such a righteous person be made to suffer?
He’s done everything right, and has grown above reproach. Furthermore,
wouldn’t making such a person suffer profane the Name of God, making it
seem as if there is no justice in the history, and cast aspersions on the
As to the value of such suffering, Rashi explains that this is God’s way of
cleansing the righteous person of all sin in this world, so that He can in2
crease his reward in the World-to-Come, beyond what he might have otherwise
merited by the end of his life. Such a righteous person is perfect
enough that his suffering in the world can free him from the fires of
which less righteous people will need in any case, and for whom yesurim
shel ahavah may be irrelevant.
What is interesting, as well, is the way that the Talmud used three
verses to refer to three different types of people, and therefore kinds of
suffering, when we might have thought that each verse actually applies to
everyone equally. We all must search our ways when we suffer, and should
be grateful that God cares enough about us to show us our mistakes, which
obviously He does because He loves us.
Thus, we learn an insight. The Talmud is telling you that someone whose
actions are reprehensible, or at least reproachable, is not someone who is
able to appreciate the value of yesurim. He will certainly not consider
to be a fortunate person while he suffers, because the whole reason why
his action are less than what they ought to be on his level is because he
he could have his cake and eat it too. Who would be happy to find
However, someone who is careful about how he acts, but not as careful
about his opportunities to learn Torah, is someone who can at least
the value of yesurim. He is trying to be as righteous as he can, at least
doing the mitzvos he must and by avoiding the sins he can, so he is in
with Heaven, and knows Divine Providence when he experiences it. Such a
person can lovingly grow from such yesurim.
But, someone whose actions are perfect and whose Torah learning is
maximized is someone who not only is pleased that God interferes in his
to make him better, but he is someone who can sense God’s love, even
through the suffering, and loves God back even more because of it. He is a
believer in the World-to-Come, not just in theory, but in action as well,
by the way that he uses every moment of this world for the sake of
the next world.
Don’t get the wrong idea. He is not a masochist. Unlike other religions
from the past, such a tzaddik does not go looking for pain, as the Talmud
later shows. Rather, if yesurim comes to him, in spite of his near-perfect
he makes a point of using it to his spiritual advantage, just as he has
doing with every other aspect of his life.
A connection can be made between these three types of people and their
approaches to life, and the three degrees of tzara’as in this week’s
the person’s house, his clothing, and finally, his body. The question is,
does it ever get to level three? Surely tzara’as on the house, and all
involved in removing it, should be enough to invoke teshuvah and a fear of
even more direct forms of Divine punishment. Why is it not?
Everyone makes mistakes, even righteous people, as Shlomo HaMelech
"For there is not a righteous man on earth who does only good and never
sins. (Koheles 7:20)
And, as the Talmud points out, the difference between a tzaddik and an
evil person is not always based upon mitzvos, but how each responds to
For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, but the wicked
stumble in time of calamity." (Mishlei 24:16)
No, as we have already said, the righteous person is not a glutton for
punishment, just someone who learns from his mistakes, and more
from his Divine Providence. Should he happen to err, and speak
loshon hara, or commit any of the other sins that result in tzara’as to his
home, you can be sure that it will be enough for him to mend his ways,
which he will lovingly thank God for having pointed out his error.
Not so the beinoni—the average person. Not as much a lover of criticism
as the righteous person, he may not respond to the tzara’as on his walls as
quickly and as adequately as the tzaddik, and as a result, slip up again.
However, you can be sure that by the time the tzara’as shows up on his
clothing, he will jump into action and do the proper teshuvah that he
have done earlier. Well, better late than never.
However, someone on an even lesser level, even though he knows the
halachah, will not be fazed enough even after the tzara’as moves to his
clothing. It might be embarrassing to some extent, but being distant from
actual person, he can cope with it, perhaps even rationalize it away. Deep
inside he might know differently, but on the surface of things, he acts as
he has done nothing wrong, or at least that wrong. Not careful about the
way he performs mitzvos, he is careless about his sins as well.
Such a person needs a far more dramatic spiritual wake-up call, and
tzara’as on the body, and what it necessitates to be cured, is it. Imagine
locked up and having to await the kohen’s decision about whether the
sore on your skin is pure or impure? Think about what it must have been
like to have to walk around with clothing pulled over the head down to the
lip, calling out “Impure! Impure!” everywhere you went! The humiliation!
And, there was not hiding it, either. Perhaps in one’s house, and maybe
on one’s clothes, but not on the body. Tzara’as on the body was too
to keep to one’s self, and faking another illness did not work or help the
situation. If a person wanted to return to normal health, he had to face
music and the facts of spiritual illness and make amends. When Divine
Providence knocks, you don’t dare pretend that you are not home.
Similarly in life today, even though we do not have tzara’as today, lacking
the Temple and the purification process, general yesurim works in the
same way. When a person has small problems, he tends to ignore them and
sweep them under the carpet, assuming that either they will go away on
their own over time, or that he can cope with them.
However, as smaller problems become bigger ones, they become harder
to ignore, and sometimes, impossible to ignore to the point that they can
“lock” a person into their own private world, as they take refuge from
embarrassment and the like. Such problems force the hand of the sufferer,
and make them ask, “Why me? Why now?” to which Heaven can finally answer,
“We’re glad you asked. Now we can discuss it.”
In this world, there are a lot of attackers, and even more victims. As
it is only natural to be defensive, and to blame, especially when there
is something to blame and someone to blame it on. And, the law itself
that there are guilty parties and innocent parties in this world,
and they have to be dealt with accordingly. Justice must prevail—even at
the cost of life when necessary—as much as is humanly possible, and when
it does, the Shechinah resides amongst man.
On the other hand, everything is a function of Divine Providence, and all
that happens to a person is for the sake of tikun—personal rectification.
There is no such thing, really, as an accident, from a Torah perspective.
between men is a function of the human courts; all that happens to us is
a function of the Heavenly Court, to the most minutest of details.
Place the blame for your suffering on others, if you must, and when
but at the end of day, know and accept that whatever happens to
you, in whatever form, no matter how severe, was not a mistake, but part of
our own personal tikun. The sooner we realize it, and acknowledge it, and
work to rectify ourselves, the faster we rid ourselves of our suffering,
more we protect ourselves against more severe forms of personal difficulty.