“If a tsaraat affliction will be in a person, he shall be brought to the Kohen. The Kohen shall look and behold…it is a tsaraat of the skin … the Kohen shall declare him contaminated.
In the times when the Temple stood and Hashem’s presence amongst His people was more apparent the people were privy to an unusual communication from G-d. When one transgressed certain commandments, particularly lashon hara — negative speech about others –, the perpetrator was afflicted with a physical manifestation of a spiritual malady. A discoloration of the skin called tsaraat struck the individual. The person then approached the Kohen who had to make a final determination. Should the Kohen decide that the skin disease was in fact spiritually originated then he would declare the person a metzora and the confinement and atonement process would begin. It was not the physical condition and its signs that made the final determination it was the declaration of the Kohen that made the victim impure.
What would happen if the afflicted himself were a Kohen? The Kohen then had to go to another Kohen to make the decision and the declaration of status. The reason is because the Talmud says: “A person sees all flaws — except for his own” [Negaim 2].
A person sees another’s faults — even ones that are minute or questionable — very clearly, yet has a hard time admitting to oneself of any wrongdoing. The only solution is an outside opinion — someone who cares enough to tell you the truth for your own benefit. The Gemara reveals to us that Rebbi Yohanan ben Nuri testified that the great Rebbi Akiba suffered lashes many times because Rebbi Yohanan himself had reproved Rebbi Akiba in front of Rabban Gamliel. Rebbi Akiba’s reaction is a lesson to all. Rebbi Akiba increased his love of Rebbi Yohanan ben Nuri more and more each time Rebbi Yohanan reproved him. In Mishle it says: “Reprove not a scorner lest he hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you.”[Mishle 9:8] A fool dislikes one who shows him his faults but a wise person appreciates the ultimate good the criticism will yield — an eternal life in the World to Come. The great holy scholar, the Gaon from Vilna, hired the renowned Maggid MiDubno, to reprove him on a regular basis. He actually PAID to be criticized.
Rebbi Yisrael Salanter tells of a G-d-fearing cantor who was engaged to perform the services on the High Holy Days. As he stood singing from his heart the beautiful melodies he began to feel little sparks of conceit. “How beautiful my voice is today. How moving my songs are”, he thought to himself as he prayed. “They all must be moved by my supplications and they are all probably staring at the pulpit in admiration and awe,” he imagined. In opposition to these thoughts prompted by his evil inclination his good inclination screamed at his subconscious, “You are acting conceited. How can you do such a thing on the in the Days of Awe!” The cries of the good inclination were drowned in the sound of the waves of haughtiness and honor. There is only one solution advised Rabbi Salanter. This cantor should have removed the Taleet from his head and looked around the congregation. He would not see looks of admiration rather he would have seen faces of impatience and scoffing. That would have brought him down to size.
The Torah commands that every person grow and improve in observance of misvot and in character development. Vital to one’s success in this lifelong task is an ability to accept criticism and see past the shields of false pride erected by one’s evil inclination. Even the Kohen had to go to another Kohen to get a clear picture of his personal status.
TABLE TALK — QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION AT THE SHABBAT TABLE
Why does the metzora bring two birds as part of his offerings at the time of purification? Also, why is it that one is slaughtered and one is set free?
In Tehillim David Hamelekh said: “Can your silence be justified at a time when righteousness you should speak–when with equity you should judge the sons of man?
Rebbi Yitzhak explained: “What is man’s trade in the world? He should act as a mute. Should you think that you should also not speak words of Torah – – the verse commands “Righteousness you should speak” [Hulin 89a]
The Sages have taught that at the time a person brings an offering to the Temple and sees the Kohen slaughter it and offer it on the alter the person should contemplate that the animal or bird is being offered in his or her place and contemplate thoughts of repentance [teshubah]. The affliction of biblical tsara-at came upon a person because of the sin of lashon hara. When the bird was slaughtered the person would think about the bad use to which he or she put his or her mouth and resolve to be silent. Since there are positive, constructive ways to speak, the Torah commanded that the metzora also bring a second bird, whose chirping would remind him or her that there is a good speech which could console, encourage, praise and advise others, as well as, speak words of Torah. This bird was set free to encourage the proper use of the gift of speech. Speech can bring death and speech can give life — choose life. [Based on Aperion, Rav Shelomo Ganzfried zt’l]
DID YOU KNOW THAT
One who launders a garment on Shabbat violates a Torah prohibition.
Therefore, if there is a stain on a garment it is forbidden to clean it with water even though one does not thereby clean the entire garment. Cleaning with talc or other substance other than water is also forbidden. Should someone wish to clean off a garment one may rub LIGHTLY with one’s hand or with a dry cloth –but one should be careful not to rub the dirt vigorously. One is also forbidden to wring out liquid from a garment. [Source Yalkut Yosef, Volume4, Shabbat 2, Siman 302:1]