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Posted on April 18, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

This shall be the law of the metzora…he shall be brought to the kohen. The kohen shall go forth to the outskirts of the camp…[1]

Who is going to whom? Is the metzora travelling to meet the kohen, or does the kohen come to him? The commentators offer several solutions to what seems to be a conflict in our pesukim.

I think we can find a new approach by examining a famous midrash[2] on our pasuk. It tells of a peddler who flaunted his wares in public. “Who wants a life-giving potion?” Fascinated by the offer, R. Yannai drew close. The peddler whipped out a Tehillim, and read aloud the pasuk, “Who is the person who desires life, loving long days to see good things. Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn from wrong and do good.”[3] R. Yannai, duly impressed, remarked, “I never understood this verse till this peddler came along.” The midrash continues: This is the meaning of the words, “This shall be the law of the metzora.” I.e. motzi ra/purging evil.

What did R. Yannai learn from the peddler than he had not realized before, simply by reading the pasuk. And what does it have to do with metzora?

We are familiar with the idea that tzadikim are rewarded primarily in olam habo, and consequently don’t always have too much olam hazeh. Evildoers, by contrast, receive all their reward in this world. Yet, there is a pathway by which the tzadik receives significant olam hazeh besides what he has earned in the next. When a person speaks lashon hora about another, he receives that person’s gehinom in addition to his own; the subject of the lashon hora takes over the speaker’s earmarked reward for his mitzvos. It follows that if a rasha speaks in a derogatory fashion about a tzadik, the tzadik becomes the new owner of the rasha’s olam hazeh, since that is the only reward that the rasha is interested in.

The tzadik, however, has little interest in reaping the rewards of olam hazeh, at least not for their own sake. But he welcomes them for the benefit of his household, or when they can increase the honor of Heaven. With that in place, we can understand the fuller message of the peddler. “Who is the person who desires life,” – whose primary interest is the life in olam habo – but also loves “long days to see good things.” In other words, he does not find a true life in olam hazeh, preferring olam habo. Nonetheless, he appreciates olam hazeh to a limited extent, to see good things for his family. That tzadik should guard his “tongue from evil and…lips from speaking deceit.” When he is maligned by another, he should be careful not to respond in kind, which would cancel the transfer of merit from one to the other, since both would then be guilty of the same infraction. Rather, he should hold his tongue, and thereby gain the earthly reward that his opponent would otherwise be entitled to.

R. Yannai had always puzzled over the pasuk in Tehillim. Why did it speak of a person who loved life, rather than lengthened days and years of life? Listening to the peddler, he discerned his intention. Who is the person who desires the gift of a life that is not his, but belongs to another? The answer is the tzadik, who is ready to assume the reward in this world of the person who speaks evilly of him!

This is all hinted at in our pasuk. We can paraphrase it thusly: This is the story of the metzora, the evildoer who speaks lashon hora, on the day that he is purified with an eye on his eventual olam habo. The reward that was destined for him in this world will be taken from him and brought to the kohen – the tzadik. Thus, the tzadik who would ordinarily only enjoy olam habo will go forth from his place, and advance to higher and higher levels, carrying with him portions of both worlds.

  1. Vayikra 14:2-3
  2. Vayikra Rabbah 16:2
  3. Tehillim 34:13-15