Tazria - Metzora
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THE TWO BIRDS AND REHABILTATION FROM THE SIN OF LESHON HA-RA
BY RABBI DR. AARON LEVINE
We are all familiar with the teaching of our sages that man is inflicted with the hideous disease of tsaraat because of the sin of leshon ha-ra. Serving as a constant and poignant reminder to the metsora of this is that his very name, metsora, is an acrostic for mozi shem ra, which means the defamer (Tanhuma, Metsora). When the metsora is cured of his leprosy, he is put through a ritual, which entails two identical birds. Completion of the procedure allows the metsora to re-enter general society. Because this procedure is chock full of symbolism, it is a vehicle for discovering insights into the rehabilitative process against future violation of leshon ha-ra. Lets begin with a brief description of the procedure.
One bird is slaughtered over an earthenware vessel that is filled with water. When the ritual of the slaughtering of the first bird is done, the kohen ties a piece of cedar wood and a hyssop twig with a string of wool dyed in crimson.A live bird is joined to these three items.The kohen then proceeds to dip these items simultaneously into the blood water of the earthenware bowl. The kohen sprinkles this bundle seven times on the back of the hand of the metsora.
Birds are used in the rehabilitative process because the distinctive feature of a bird is its chirping. The birds hence symbolize the sin of leshon ha-ra (Erkhin 16b).
In the imagery of Hazal, the cedar represents the mightiest form and the hyssop the lowliest form of plant life. The message to the metsora, according to R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, is that arrogance is the cause of his destructive speech and the road to his rehabilitation requires him to cultivate the character trait of humility.
Consider that cedar in Scripture is sometimes used to convey something worthy of admiration, as in the phrase the cedars of Lebanan (arezei ha-levanan), which represents rabbinical scholars. Consider that if the metsora is already healed of his hideous disease, he has rid himself of the pernicious aspects of his trait of arrogance that brought on his tsaraat.Hence, the role the cedar plays in the metsoras rehabilitation process may very well be more than just a reminder of the root cause of leshon ha-ra. To be sure, humility fosters tolerance and favorable judgment of ones fellow. But, to eradicate leshon ha-ra requires more than self-abnegation; it requires the healed metzora to transform the cedar within him from a self-image to a reflection of the pride he feels being associated with his fellow.
Lets take note that the live bird is set free. True, the bird represents chatter. But, just as there is destructive speech, there is elevating speech. We must remind ourselvesdeath and life is in the hands of the tongue. (Proverbs 18:21). Leshon ha-ra will never be totally defeated until we see the good in a fellow man and admire him for that goodness.
Lets take note that the sin of mozi shem ra pertains not only for interpersonal relations, but also for our speech relating to Erez Yisrael. Recall the Torah records the sin of the meragglim with the expression of dibba or evil report (Numbers 14:36,37). To be sure, dibba comes in various forms, some much more severe than others. Permit me to suggest that expressing a defeatist attitude toward the future of Erez Yisrael may constitute a form of dibba. Let me explain. When Og went out to war against the Jewish people, Hashem told Mosheh: Do not fear him, for into your hand have I given him and his entire people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon King of Amorite who dwells in Heshbon (Deuteronomy 3:1). The connection Hashem made between Sihon and Og, teaches Meam Loez , are words of iron clad assurance to the Jewish people that they will vanquish Og. These words of encouragement say: Had Sihon remained in his impregnable fortress in Heshbon, we would never have defeated him. But, Hashem put in his mind to venture outside his fortress so we could defeat him. Sihons defeat is therefore an open and undeniable miracle. Because the miracle of the conquest of Sihon would be rendered meaningless if Og would subsequently defeat us, we can be sure that we will defeat Og as well. What is operating here is the principle that Hashem does not make miracles happen for nothing.
The words of Meam Loez ring with poignancy today. Can there be any doubt that the establishment of the state of Israel and its survival amidst overwhelming forces bent on its destruction is a miracle? The great succession of miracles Hashem has already wrought to create the Jewish state and allow it to survive fortifies our faith that we will survive the current crisis and go on to achieve spiritual growth and prosperity. Voicing a defeatist attitude in respect to the future of Erez Yisrael is hence no less a dibba.
Perhaps there has never been a time in the history of our beloved state that we need more to express solidarity with our brethren in Israel and exude faith and optimism for the future. Just as the quality of life soars when we go beyond refraining from speaking evil against our fellow and, instead, interact with him in a manner that reflects our recognition of his admirable qualities, so too must we proceed to the level of elevating speech about Erez Yisrael. Perhaps, we can find the elevating words we are looking for in the text of Hallel.
The language of the Hallel prayer is sacred. In, at least intimated form, it must therefore refer to all the miracles that God has wrought for us as a people throughout the ages. Because we recite Hallel on Yom Ha-Atsmaut, there must be a phrase that refers to the miracle of the creation of the Jewish State. Permit me to suggest that the reference is in the following phrases:
He raises the needy from the dust--Hashem catapulted us from the ashes of the Nazi crematoriums to the exalted status of statehood.
From the trash heaps He lifts the destitute--Hashem elevated us from an object of abomination and dehumanization in the hands of the Nazi hoards to the dignity of prosperity in a viable country, fostered by the industry and skill of its people and the hesed of Jews all over the world. Because the creation of the state of Israel shook the world, the image of the Jew as a pathetic vagabond changed instantly to that of a man of power and dignity. And this change in image was so wherever the Jew lived.
To seat them with noblesWith Divine assistance we set up a form of government and type of society that immediately merited ranking among the enlightened nations of the world. The tiny democracy of the Jewish State has always stood as a technological marvel and a citadel of democracy in sharp contrast to the backward, repressive and totalitarian Arab regimes of the region.
With the nobles of His peopleHashem set us up as a State with the ability as a people to grow and perfect ourselves to be worthy to sit with the nobles of His people; i.e., with the Torah princes--with the Torah elite that embody the Torah knowledge, ideals and practical living that the Torah demands of us.
He transforms the barren wife into a glad mother of children--and as in the glorious past history of our beloved State may we again merit seeing the growth and development of our nation of Israel amidst joy.
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001