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Posted on April 15, 2021 (5781) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

This shall be the law of the metzora on the day of his purification. He shall be brought to the kohen. The kohen shall go outside the camp. The kohen shall look, and behold, the tzaraas affliction was healed from the metzora.[2]

Just who is going where? Does the metzora go to the kohen, or the kohen go to the metzora? (Or are both true? The metzora is not allowed to reenter the camp, from which he has been banished. So perhaps the Torah instructs that the kohen go to a point just beyond the border of the camp, that is most convenient for him. The metzora is then brought to him there.[3] This, however, would seem to be a practical matter that the kohanim would work out, not something that the Torah would take space emphasizing. Why, then, does the Torah make an issue of multiple people going and coming?)

The Michtav Sofer[4] explained that by right, the metzora should be brought to the kohen, rather than the kohen making it easy for him by paying the metzora a visit. His affliction was brought on by his lashon hora, which in turn is often animated by the arrogance of an inflated ego. The metzora should have to humble himself by coming to the kohen and asking for help. Bringing him down a few notches can be part of his spiritual recovery.

All true, continues the Michtav Sofer. But there is another way. The kohen might decide to ignore the rules of propriety, and forego the honor due him. Instead, out of the goodness of his heart and eagerness to help, he might decide to seek out the metzora. “The kohen shall look” can also be understood as “He, the metzora, will see the kohen!” I.e., he will see an important person acting with great humility, lowering himself from his station, rather than trying to boost his image. The metzora will take mussar from the actions of this kohen, and learn to rein in his galloping sense of self-importance.

We can develop this thought further. As the gemara[5] observes, speakers of lashon hora often get nothing from their foul talk. They strike like the snake, attacking for no apparent gain. A frequent target of such lashon hora attacks is the kohen figure of the community – the person who stands ready at all times to serve the interests of that which is holy. Furthermore, it is usually the case that the barbs are directed by people who have no real connection to the Torah leader. They attack simply because he is available and vulnerable, and they enjoy cutting him down.

To cure him of this horrible behavior, he is brought (somewhat against his instinct and will) before the person whom he maligned for no reason. This is certainly embarrassing and humbling. The “kohen,” possessed of much better character, receives him warmly and tries to help. Thus, he gets to know this Torah figure close by and up front. He learns of his tzidkus and his fine midos. Knowing him, gradually admiring him, he will no longer be able to senselessly undercut some anonymous authority figure. He will feel ashamed for having worked to undermine a person for whom he has developed a high regard. With this, “Behold, the tzaraas affliction was healed from the metzora.”

One more observation. Chazal tell us that one of the consequences of lashon hora is a swap of merits and demerits. The speaker of lashon hora loses his merits, which are given to his target; the aveiros of the target are transferred to the baal lashon hora. The metzora begins his teshuva in a “rehab center” of meditating on his behavior in isolation. At the end of the process, he seeks out a kohen to help. If the kohen then comes to him in a spirit of forgiveness, his merits can be restored to him. Thus, “The tzaraas affliction was healed from the metzora.”

  1. Based on Chidushei R. Yosef Nechemia (Kornitzer) (1880-1933), Rav of Krakow
  2. Vayikra 14:2-3
  3. See Bechor Shor
  4. Rav Shimon Sofer, grandfather of R Kornitzer’s wife
  5. Arachin 15b