Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had a hotline to HKB”H, a bidirectional means of communication, where we could see, in real time, if our prayers are accepted or not, whether we are making the right choices or not, etc.?
In the Midbar and subsequently in Eretz Yisrael, Am Yisrael had such a hotline. On a national level, the Beit HaMikdash reflected in real time HKB”H’s satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with Am Yisrael. On a personal level, each individual also had a direct hotline, and it is detailed in this week’s parsha.
When you get to parshat Tazria (and Metzorah) that deal with the various forms of blemishes and leprosy that afflict the body, the clothes and the walls of the house – the “ick” factor of yellow spots, green stains and the like, make us want to race through and be done with it as quickly as possible. However, when we understand it for what it truly is, a hotline to HKB”H, we realize that this was a true miracle.
The blemishes (nega’im) were a “litmus test” to determine HKB”H’s satisfaction, or lack thereof, with us. If we did something wrong, it was reflected in real time, vividly and visibly. It was also graduated. It started with a subtle hint, first on the walls of the house and gradually got closer to home, your clothes and finally on your body. HKB”H was communicating directly with each individual in real time, urging them to get back on the straight and narrow.
This week, I would like to discuss an amazing Midrash (Vayikra Rabba, Tazria, 15, 4). The Midrash gives a parable (paraphrased in contemporary terms) of a king who has taken a new wife. He brings her for the first time into the royal palace, her new home, and gives her the grand tour. The new queen sees on the walls of the palace an elaborate display of weapons for riot control, each arranged neatly in its own glass display cabinet – tasers, clubs, tear gas launchers, etc. The new queen is understandably alarmed and begins to wonder what kind of man she has just married. The king placates her “Don’t worry dear. These are not meant for you, but for keeping the servants and maidservants in check. As for you, it is your job to eat, drink and be happy here in the palace!” Similarly, when Am Yisrael heard about all these terrifying nega’im, Moshe placated them, “Do not worry, these are meant for the nations of the world, not you. It is your job to eat, drink and be happy!”
This is a very curious Midrash. Firstly it is hinting that Am Yisrael never suffered from the nega’im, not intended for them, but for the goyim. This is factually incorrect. The proof of this is that the Torah goes on to explain when someone is afflicted, who must he/she approach? Not a doctor, but a Kohen. The Torah also goes on to describe the process of purifying the home, the vessels, the clothes, quarantine, etc. If this was only for the goyim, then why was the Kohen involved? Why did the person have to be quarantined outside the camp of Israel?
Even more curious is the latter part of the Midrash – to prevent becoming afflicted with the nega’im, what should one do? Eat, drink and be happy! Have a continual party – that is the remedy!
So what is this Midrash trying to teach us? Obviously it is not advocating a lifestyle of year-round orgy, the way of the goyim – “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die!” The Midrash is teaching us a profound lesson in how to live our lives the Jewish way.
Moshe was telling Am Yisrael, “Do not fear!” The Jewish way to live is not in fear – of what is going to happen to you if you do something wrong. Yes, there is a concept of yir’at Shamayim, which intimidates and prevents us from sinning, but that is not the ultimate aim. The end goal is to achieve ahavat Shamayim. We must ultimately serve HKB”H out of love.
We must live our lives in this material world – eat and drink (the Midrash davka chose the mashal of food and wine) – in happiness. As Shlomo HaMelech says in Kohelet (9, 7) “Go and eat your bread in happiness, drink your wine with a good heart, because this is what HKB”H wants.”
Happiness and a good heart is the key to it all. When a person can live their life in happiness, taking even the most mundane things in our material world, such as eating and drinking and infusing them with spirituality (the mitzvah of birkat hamazon and the brachot ha’nehenin) – that is serving HKB”H out of love. Recognition and appreciation, this is the key.
The fact that a person is happy with their lot (Pirkei Avot 4, 1), whatever it may be, is the remedy to the nega’im. The yetzer hara preys on dissatisfaction. When someone feels that they are lacking something, or deserves more than what they have, that is when the yetzer hara gains a foothold and enslaves them. The Midrash placates us – these terrifying things are not for you, they are for the “servants and maidservants,” the slaves – to their yetzer hara. Someone who can live their life in true happiness will never be afflicted with nega’im.
Today we don’t have the miracle of the overtly-visible nega’im. The nega’im still exist though, as does the hotline. It just takes a little more sensitivity to recognize them in our lives and the world around us. And the remedy remains the same.
Parshat Hashavua Trivia Question: The nega’im are different shades of white. To what four tangible white objects are they compared?
Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Rabbeinu Bachyei (Vayikra 11, 4). There are four impure animals listed, symbolizing the four galuyot. The גמל is Bavel (“בת בבל השדודה אשרי שישלם לך את גמולך“, תהילים קלז). The שפן is Madai (the שפן has one treif sign and one kosher sign and king Daryavesh was the son of Achashveirosh-treif and Esther-kosher). The ארנבת is Yavan (the wife of king Ptolemy was named ארנבת). The חזיר is Edom (they are destined להחזיר, to return the dominion to Am Yisrael in the time of the Geulah).