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Then he shall sprinkle seven times upon the person being purified from the tzaraas; he shall purify him, and he shall set the live bird free upon the field (Vayikra 14:7).
In this week’s parsha we learn about the metzorah. After the metzorah has been healed from his tzaraas the Torah describes a lengthy purification process that he must undergo. The Kohen takes two living birds and slaughters one over an earthenware utensil filled with spring water. The Kohen then dips the living bird together with a piece of cedar wood, crimson wool and hyssop in the mixture of the blood and water. He then sprinkles the mixture upon the metzorah seven times and sends away the living bird upon the open field.
We may note that we find in the Torah one other situation where a person sends away a living bird, the mitzvah of shiluach hakain. If one happens to come across a mother bird hovering over its young or eggs there is a mitzvah to send away the mother bird and take for himself the young or eggs. Is there any connection between these two instances that one sends away a living bird?
Chazal tell us the tzaraas comes upon a person as a punishment for slander. Slander is grave sin and is considered nothing less then evil. Indeed, the Hebrew term used to describe slander is lashon harah which is literally translated as “evil speech.” Furthermore, the Midrash writes that one who speaks slander has committed a crime that is akin to murder. It is as if he has killed three people, himself the listener and the subject of the slander. The posuk says “Death and life are in the hand of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). It is noteworthy that these same two concepts are found in connection to the mitzvah of shiluach hakain, however, in the opposite form. The Torah says that in reward of the fulfillment of the mitzvah of shiluach hakain “it will be good for you and you will prolong your days.” (Devarim22:7).
The commentators explain that the reason we are required to send away the mother bird is out of compassion. The Torah does not want the mother bird to witness her young snatched away before her eyes. This will cause her enormous suffering. In our parsha it would appear that we deliberately cause the bird to suffer as we send it away. The Torah requires us to slaughter one bird and dip the second bird in its blood. Certainly, it is a traumatic experience for a bird to witness the slaughter of its fellow and then be dipped in its blood.
We may suggest that when the metzorah witnesses the enormous suffering that the bird undergoes, he will be reminded of the other kan tzippor bird that is sent away so that it should not suffer. He will then remember that if one performs this act the Torah uncharacteristically promises “good” and “long days.” The metzorah reasons that if for the prevention of the birds suffering the Torah promises “good” and “long days” then causing the bird to suffer must bring punishment of the opposite nature, how much more so when one has sinned by speaking slander which by definition is evil and the opposite of the long days. The metzorah will certainly be humbled by such an experience and will repent, thus achieving the purpose of the purification process.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2004