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Skin Deep


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The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40 plus year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.

Chazal observed that the punishment for the deterioration and dereliction of morality is negaim, bodily afflictions such as leprosy. Negaim are mentioned in connection with, among other sins, lashon hara and illicit relationships.

The Midrash on the verse “adam ki yakriv mikem” (Vayikra 1:2) says that when the Jew brings a korban, the Torah uses the word mikem, from you. However when the Jew sins, the word mikem is omitted, as it says “Adam ki yih’yeh v’or b’saro s’eis oh sapachas oh vaheres” (Vayikra 13:2)

This Midrash is consistent with the statement of Rabbi Simlaey, quoted by Rashi, at the beginning of Tazria, that among the objects of creation, man was created last and his punishment was mentioned first. Man has two possible extremes. If he is worthy, he transcends the rest of creation. However, if he is not worthy he is lower than the mosquito that was created before him. Moshe Rabbeinu, the Neviim, Chazal were all human beings, yet they reached amazing heights of kedushah and closeness to Hashem. They epitomized the notion of adam ki yakriv mikem, kedushah emanated from the depths of their souls.

The first part of Sefer Vayikra through Parshas Shemini, and the second part from the middle of Shemini through the end of Sefer Vayikra, describe how a Jew reaches the level of mikem, how he dedicates himself to be a korban to Hashem, by living a life of Torah, mitzvos and gemilas chesed.

The Rambam at the end of hilchos Shemittah V’yovel says that a close relationship to Hashem is not restricted to the bnei Levi. Any Jew can aspire to be close to Hashem, to become a living korban oleh, to reach higher levels than the angels.

On the other hand, man – the seemingly great artist, scientist, engineer, politician – often is a spiritual and moral leper. Leprosy is more of a spiritual disease than a physical one.

Naaman, the general at the time of Elisha, was considered a great person by his peers. Yet ethically and morally, when he approached Elisha, he was a bankrupt leper.

Each Jew has something inherent and intrinsic within him that can lead to greatness and the attainment of spiritual heights: the concept of mikem. When the Jew sinks to the level of a leper, he is clearly not exhibiting mikem.

Mikem tells us that a Jew sins due to external influences. His true internal and spiritual makeup is inconsistent with and incapable of sinning. The Rambam uses the concept of mikem to explain the Halacha of kofin oso ad sh’yomar rotzeh ani. For example, beis din has the authority to administer lashes to an individual who is obligated to grant his wife a divorce but refuses to do so. How can beis din compel him if we know that a divorce obtained via coercion (get me’useh) is not valid? The Rambam explains that the internal personality of the Jew wants to comply with the requirements of beis din. However, external forces, the yetzer Hara, suppress his desire to act properly and prevent him from complying. Beis din gives him lashes thereby causing him to break the yetzer hara‘s hold on him and subsequently allows his internal desire to comply with beis din to express itself by granting his wife the divorce of his now unimpeded and full volition.

About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at ravtorah1@gmail.com.


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The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, […]

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