Tazria - Metzorah - No Escaping G-d
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
The comprehensive nature of Halacha addresses every situation and
circumstance and establishes clear expectations for our behavior and
attitudes. Whether issues in the kitchen or the bedroom, our lifestyle is
focused on the constancy of Hashem's involvement in our lives and the
purpose that living life was intended to have. G-d's inclusion in our daily
living transforms the mundane into the divine, the mortal into the eternal;
and it is the mission of the Jewish people to model a lifestyle that
integrates G-d into its every facet. The two Parshiot that we read this
Shabbos underscore the meaning of "Dah Lifnay Mee Atah Omed" - know before
whom you are standing, and the symbolic but real manifestation of that
In the beginning, it wasn't easy. The Jewish people had to come to terms
with a G-d who revealed Himself as a constant in their lives. Along with
His constancy came changes, expectations, and responsibilities. The various
Mitzvos directed the Bnai Yisroel's thinking toward the constancy of G-d,
and the building of the Mishkan established a physical focus for their
devotion. However, it became clear that "Know before whom you are standing"
involved more than praying three times a day, keeping Shabbos, and having
separate dishes. It was a constant demand on their attitudes to consciously
involve G-d in every facet of their lives.
Time took on new and greater significance. Eating and sleeping became the
means toward the greater end of serving G-d. Social engagements and
relationships referenced G-d as the scale by which their integrity and
intent were judged. Family relationships reflected the successes and
failures of parental education and training; and individual accomplishment
was redirected toward the greatness of spirit rather than monetary or
However, more overwhelming and invasive than anything else was the
awareness of being constantly judged. "Know before whom you are standing"
positioned G-d as judge, jury, and executioner. Nothing escaped His
scrutiny. Actions, thoughts, hopes, and dreams were laid bare before the
all-seeing and all-knowing Master of the Universe. Privacy was only in the
eyes of the beholder or the self-delusion of the individual, when in
reality everything was open and recorded by the Judge of all Judges! Add to
this the extraordinary experiences of living in the desert and the
constancy of G-d became nearly impossible.
For example, the Manna. Chazal teach us that the daily "food from heaven"
involved much more than the daily reemphasis of their total dependence upon
G- d. It also involved a daily and public assessment of their relationship
with G-d. The greater and more responsible our relationship with G-d, the
closer the Manna would fall. Some found it outside their front doors while
others had to walk out into the fields to collect their daily allotment.
This created the truest yet most difficult manifestation of "Know before
whom you are standing." It wasn't only G-d who knew your true self, but
every neighbor and stranger could see your truest self!
However, in order for the Jewish people to accept their mission as role-
models for the rest of the world of the integration of G-d into a
lifestyle, this intense training was necessary. As role-models and teachers
our every action would be scrutinized by a critical and unforgiving world.
If we were to accomplish our mission as "a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation" we needed to come to terms with living in a fishbowl and being
constantly and publicly judged. Keep in mind that the Bnai Yisroel had not
yet sinned with the Miraglim - the Spies. They had not yet been punished to
wander for forty years. Therefore, the year since leaving Egypt was
essential to catapult the Jews into the awareness and responsibility of
dwelling with G-d in their midst. It wasn't easy.
The Torah in this week's two Parshiot describes a condition called Tzaraat.
As explained in the commentaries (see Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Vayikra
Chap. 13) this wasn't leprosy. It was a physical manifestation of G- d's
displeasure with an individual's social behavior, especially in regard to
Lashon Harah - slander. Depending on the nature of the skin infection, a
Kohain would diagnose the condition as Tzaraat, or some other
dermatological condition. If it was Tzaraat, the infected individual had to
leave the mainstream of society and live "outside the encampment". If it
was some other condition, the patient would seek out the appropriate
physician for diagnoses and treatment.
A careful analysis of the Halacha shows that the Tzaraat described in this
week's Parshiot was not the dreaded, infectious, leprosy.
- The Kohain
made the determination, not a physician.
- Items in the infected home were
removed prior to the determination so that they wouldn't become impure.
- No determinations were made during the holidays when the greatest number
of people could be infected.
- If the individual was completely covered by
the skin condition he wasn't considered a Mitzora. Only as healthy skin
became evident and he began to heal was he diagnosed as a Mitzora and
forced to leave the camp.
- This condition could only be determined in
Israel. The same condition outside of Israel was not Tzaraat.
abundantly clear that the Torah is not describing a dermatological
condition but a physical manifestation of divine judgment and displeasure.
The overwhelming presence that Hashem established in the lives of the Bnai
Yisroel while in the desert was to prepare them for life in the Land of
Israel. In Sefer Dvorim, Moshe describes the Land as "It is therefore...
constantly under G-d's scrutiny, the eyes of Hashem are on it at all times,
from the beginning of the year until the end of the year." (Dvorim 11:12)
The same quality of "Know before whom you are standing" that was
established in the desert would continue into the Land. True, G-d would not
be as overtly evident as He had been in the desert, but the Land of Israel
would continue the integration of G-d into the lifestyles of the nation.
The various laws concerning agriculture would tie the produce of the Land
to Hashem's direct providence. The presence of the Bais Hamikdash and the
daily services would focus the nation on their daily obligations. The rainy
and dry seasons, as stated in the Shema, would function in direct response
to the nation's devotion to Torah and Mitzvot. The giving of Tzedaka and
the Shmitah year would motivate G-d's direct concern and intervention as He
guaranteed the continued economic welfare of the people.
Last but not least was the affliction of Tzaraat. As the people settled and
grew accustomed to living with "G-d in their midst", the ever present ills
of society would rear their evil heads. First and foremost among them would
be Lashon Harah - slander. The ability to speak and communicate that was
divinely gifted to us as a species would prove to be the most dangerous and
challenging of all human characteristics. As a nation responsible for
modeling the integration of G-d in the daily workings of society, it is
expected that the basic human quality of speech would be treated with the
respect and concern due its potential for good and bad. Therefore, Hashem
chose Lashon Harah - slander, as the most overt manifestation of His
constant judicial presence within the lives of the Bnai Yisroel. Just as
Hashem's presence in the desert was seen daily in the giving of Maana and
the daily judgment that attended that event; so too, Hashem's constant
expectations were manifest in the blemishes that would appear upon the
homes, clothing and bodies of the Bnai Yisroel. In a magnificent display of
"A measure for a measure," justice was served as the cowardly and private
slanderer would be publicly exposed for the destructive social force that
he had become. In direct consequence for his sin against society, the
slanderer was forced to live outside the protected boundaries and structure
of "the camp" that he had undermined.
To say the least, this kind of relationship with G-d isn't easy. Yet, it
also exposed the great love, concern, and closeness that Hashem had for His
children. We only take issue with those people, actions, and ideas that
mean something to us. Hashem's displeasure as evident in the appearance of
a Tzaraat blemish was equally indicative of His love and caring. The only
way to teach others how to integrate G-d into daily living is through
personal example and education. The example we show our children will
directly impact their ability to integrate G-d into their own lives. May we
all merit to soon return to the Land and experience the evident constancy
of G-d in all facets of daily life and society.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.