Self-Introspection

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

In · מס‘ ערכין טז it lists the seven causes of the affliction of the metaphysical (according to many it also has physical ramifications) state of leprosy.

The order is as follows: 1) לשון הרע, disparaging another; 2) murder; 3) false vow; 4) illicit sexual behavior; 5) arrogance; 6) theft; 7) miserliness.

The first five, the מהרש“א explains correspond to the different types of skin leprosy, the sixth to garment leprosy, and the seventh to leprosy marks on a building.

The מהרש“א states that of the seven causes, the one that manifests the ultimate decadence of a person is לשון הרע , verbally disparaging others. Wouldn’t we suggest it is murder? Immoral behavior?

But it would initially seem that the גמרא ערכין ח: teaches another view.

דוד המלך , King David in Psalm 36:7 states, “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your judgement is akin to vast deep waters.”

On a “simple” level, it means that despite the need for judgement, Hashem always mitigates with mercy what should be the natural reaction to decadent behavior. For Hashem never wants to punish, He but wants to inspire another person to revisit their life attitude and pursue a true journey of edification and accomplishment.

The Talmud interprets the verse in the following manner: The merciful reaction to leprosy is indicated by body leprosy (clothing and objects) where one knows with clarity if the “spots” are truly leprosy within a week or two. In contrast, the leprosy spots on a building at times need three full weeks to ascertain if the house is to be demolished due to its leprosy. Therefore, the verse when it mentions “mercy” refers to the former while judgement refers to the latter.

A couple of questions: Didn’t we state that לשון הרע is the worst? Moreso the Talmud teaches that the house affliction is due to the being a miser. Is that the worst? On the contrary, if one has three weeks time, they are being accorded a chance to repent for a longer period than the other cases!

HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz זצ“ל teaches a profound dynamic of human tendency. The state of the unknown is more difficult for a person to bear than to be mired in a real difficult situation. Therefore, the three weeks of uncertainty are more painful than actually being informed that one is a leper. For once one is informed of their “misbehavior” that caused the leprosy, one can embark on a journey of rectification, תשובה.

If we examine the seven causes, we find a common theme; a lack of dignity and nobility. One who has not developed a true, accurate perception of being a creation of G-d, containing a נשמה, soul which is a “part” of Hashem Himself, will be precluded from respecting themselves and in turn another. This will invariably lead to one stealing, compensating a sense of loneliness with arrogance, immoral behavior and to disparage others.

Where does it all begin? By defining oneself by externals, one’s home, money, possessions to a degree where it’s impossible to share with others what is their life definition! The epitome of this state of being is to constantly disparage others; thereby wrongly gaining a false sense of pride due to one expressing, “they are terrible, I’m good!”

In this manner it’s not a contradiction; the fundamental cause is אהבת ממון , defining oneself by fame, glory, possessions etc.; the ultimate decadence is losing all of one’s dignity by relentlessly degrading others.

The מצורע , leper, is sent into isolation, where one is forced to reflect on the true dynamic of life: “I am alone, what have I done to deserve this?” One can’t engage in their distasteful behavior, for no one is around! On the contrary one is now forced to introspect and acknowledge the true gifts of life; yes, every person is important to Hashem; He wants me to contemplate and reflect in order to gain true appreciation.

The Torah instructs that a מצורה, spiritual leper as a part of his transaction from solitude due to his ‘misbehavior’ is to take אזוב, hyssop as part of his atonement. In Egypt hyssop was used to place the blood of the Passover lambs on the doorposts and lintel. The אבן עזרא teaches that there is a common theme to both. Hyssop, which can grow spontaneously on a wall (מלכים א’ ה:יג) is initially regarded as a ‘pain’, but Shlomo Hamelech discerned its medical properties; thereby teaching us that everything is valuable. When we embraced Hashem on the 15th of Nissan, we rejected the Egyptian philosophy of competition and declared every person is a ‘gem’! So too, a leper embarks on a new phase of life. Having validated himself.

It’s interesting that this portion is always read in the springtime, the advent of the renewal of nature. If we would every day thank Hashem for the beautiful flowers, trees and weather, we would segue to thank Him for being His creation, thereby defining oneself by one’s inner being!

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