Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on April 12, 2024 (5784) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Volume 38, No. 27
5 Nissan 5784
April 13, 2024

Sponsored by Nathan and Rikki Lewin in memory of her father Rabbi Morris E. Gordon (Harav Eliyahu Moshe ben R’ Yitzchak Dov a”h)

This week’s Parashah introduces the laws of Tzara’at, an affliction that the Gemara (Arachin 16a) identifies as a punishment for certain anti-social sins–most famously, speaking Lashon Ha’ra. R’ Eliezer Kashtiel shlita (Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Bnei David in Eli, Israel) observes: Of all forms of Tum’ah / ritual defilement, none has anywhere near as many verses devoted to it in the Torah as does the Tum’ah of Tzara’at. Likewise, none requires that the Tamei person be banished from the camp as a Metzora / person with Tzara’at is banished. Indeed, our Sages go so far as to say, “A Metzora is likened to a dead person,” a statement not made about any other Tamei person.

R’ Kashtiel continues: Halachah requires that a Metzora be banished from a walled city in Eretz Yisrael. A city’s wall symbolizes that which protects it. We read in Shir Ha’shirim (8:10), “I am a wall,” which our Sages interpret as a reference to Torah scholars, who are a city’s true guardians. How so? Because Torah scholars care about the welfare the Jewish People, they devote their time and energy to bringing about unity, and they try to build bridges, notwithstanding the differences between individuals. That is what strengthens a community and gives it security. Hence, it is a “wall.”

A Metzora–one who speaks Lashon Ha’ra–in contrast, does not know how to raise himself within the fabric of society. Instead, he feels the need to separate himself from it; to tear it apart. He seeks to divide, which destroys a city’s security. Therefore, his place is outside the wall.

R’ Kashtiel continues: The Gemara cited above teaches that an army’s success in war depends on the purity of the people’s speech. For example, Yisrael’s King Achav was so evil that he has no share in the World-to-Come. Nevertheless, say our Sages, his forces were victorious in battle because his subjects were not tale-bearers. They were idolators, yes, but they did not speak Lashon Ha’ra, and that great merit protected them.

The inner strength to avoid divisiveness and Lashon Ha’ra is more important to our success than any weapon, R’ Kashtiel concludes. Achieving this requires us to rise above divisions and differences and not to highlight the differences between us. Rather, we must maintain clean mouths that bring only joy and encouragement to others and that speak only of positive things. This will be our wall. (R’ Kashtiel spoke these words during the Sheloshim for Major Eliraz Peretz Hy”d, who was killed in Gaza on 11 Nissan 5770 / March 26, 2010, and who, R’ Kashtiel said, embodied these qualities.) (Nefesh Ha’Shabbat)


“On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (12:3)

Midrash Mechilta teaches: We read (Shmot 15:1), “Az yashir / Then Moshe and Bnei Yisrael sang this song . . .” The Gematria of “Az” (זא) equals eight, acknowledging that the Splitting of the Sea occurred in the merit of Brit Milah, which is performed on the eighth day. Thus we read (Tehilim 136:13), “L’go’zer Yam Suf li’ge’zarim” / “[Give thanks] to Him Who divided the Sea of Reeds into parts.” In Aramaic, a Mohel is called a “Gozer.” [Until here from the Midrash]

R’ Aharon Lewin z”l Hy”d (the Reisher Rav; killed in the Holocaust) explains: Another Midrash relates that when Moshe approached to split the Sea, the Sea refused to split. It said, “I should split for you? I am greater than you, for I was created on the third day and you were not created until the sixth day!” [Until here from the Midrash]

What did the Sea mean? asks R’ Lewin. Was it Moshe’s will that the Sea to split? It was Hashem who told Moshe to split the Sea! Apparently, R’ Lewin explains, the Sea was arguing that Hashem should have spoken to the Sea directly, just as He did on the third day of Creation, when he established the boundaries between the seas and dry land.

Midrash Tanchuma relates that the Roman general Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva: If Hashem wants men to be circumcised, why did He not create them that way? Rabbi Akiva answered that Hashem wants man to play a role in perfecting himself. We learn from this, writes R’ Lewin, that Hashem desires mankind’s participation in the world–especially the participation of righteous people. That answers, as well, the Sea’s argument: Why did Hashem tell Moshe to split the Sea instead of telling the Sea directly that it should split? Because Hashem desires mankind’s participation.

According to this, R’ Lewin adds, the Midrash is understanding the verse in Tehilim quoted above not as saying, “[Give thanks] to Him Who divided the Sea of Reeds into parts,” but rather as saying, “[Give thanks] to Him Who divided the Sea of Reeds for those who are circumcised.” [That is only the Midrashic interpretation, however. Based on grammatical rules, the P’shat remains as translated at first.] (Ha’drash Ve’ha’iyun)

R’ Nosson Yehuda Leib Mintzberg z”l (1943-2018; rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva in Yerushalayim and Bet Shemesh, Israel) writes: Many commentaries wonder why our verse is not redundant, given that we already read (Bereishit 17:12), “At the age of eight days every male among you shall be circumcised.”

R’ Mintzberg explains: When a Mitzvah appears more than once in the Torah, it is not merely a repetition or an opportunity to add new details. Rather, the context teaches us about an entirely new aspect of the Mitzvah.

For example, R’ Mintzberg writes, the Mitzvah of Tzitzit appears twice in the Torah. In one place, Tzitzit are presented as a tool to remind us of the Mitzvot and of the Exodus, as we read (Bemidbar 15:39-41), “It shall constitute Tzitzit for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them . . . I am Hashem, your Elokim, Who took you out from the land of Egypt . . .” When the Mitzvah is repeated, there is no mention of these ideas. Rather, we read (Devarim 22:11-12), “You shall not wear Sha’atnez / combined fibers, wool and linen together. You shall make for yourselves twisted threads on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself.” There, the Torah is not trying to remind us of the other Mitzvot or of the Exodus. It is teaching us that there is a “Jewish look,” which includes not wearing Sha’atnez and wearing Tzitzit.

Likewise, the two mentions of circumcision in the Torah are teaching two different aspects of the Mitzvah. The first time the Mitzvah appears, it is in the context of forming a Brit / covenant with Hashem–the Brit Milah. In our Parashah, there is no mention of a Brit. Rather, circumcision is presented in the context of the schedule of a “Jewish childbirth”–among other events that take place on day seven, day fourteen, etc. [R’ Mintzberg goes on to explain in detail why different words and phrases and various aspects of the Halachot of circumcision are found in one context or the other.] (Ben Melech Al Ha’Torah)



R’ Gedaliah Silverstone z”l (1871-1944; rabbi in Belfast, Ireland and Washington, D.C.) writes: One might ask, “Why do we rejoice on Pesach? Seemingly, the Exodus is ancient history, and we are once again oppressed and persecuted by the nations of the world. We left a 400-year subjugation in Egypt only to endure subjugation for thousands of years more!” In support of this question, R’ Silverstone notes the Gemara’s teaching (Megillah 14a) that we do not recite Hallel on Purim because, even after the Purim miracle, we were still subjects of King Achashveirosh. Likewise, as current events leave no doubt, we are still subjugated by anti-Semitic nations and forces today! Why, then, do we celebrate Pesach?

R’ Silverstone explains: Our redemption from Egypt gives us hope in our present exile. Our Sages say that Egypt was hermetically sealed, and no slave ever escaped from there successfully. Moreover, our Sages teach that Bnei Yisrael in Egypt had fallen to the forty-ninth and lowest level of Tum’ah / spiritual defilement. Nevertheless, our Father in Heaven took us out from there miraculously, “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” This gives us hope in our bitter exile, when we hear of pogroms in Europe and Eretz Yisrael and of the rise of the Nazis ym”s in Germany and Austria, when we hear of our brethren suffering horrible forms of death that even Rabbi Amnon did not imagine when he composed U’netaneh Tokef! Widows and orphans sit and cry at their Pesach Seders: “This is the same bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt!”

Despite all this suffering, R’ Silverstone concludes, we know that Hashem redeemed us from Egypt with great wonders, and that knowledge gives us hope in the present exile. Therefore, we say wholeheartedly: “This year we are here, but next year we can be in Eretz Yisrael! This year we are slaves, but next year we can be free in Eretz Yisrael, which belongs to the People of Yisrael according to the Torah of Yisrael!” (Haggadah Shel Pesach Korban Pesach p.5-6)