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The kohen shall look at the affliction on the skin of his flesh; if hair of the affliction on the skin has turned white and the affliction appearance is deeper than the skin of his flesh it is a tazaraas affliction; the Kohen shall look at it and make him impure (Vayikra 13:3).
In this week’s parsha we learn about the individual who has been afflicted with tzaraas. A telltale sign of tzaraas is the two white hairs that appear in afflicted skin. After the metzorah has been healed from his affliction the Torah requires a complex purification process. The last step of his purification occurs when the metzorah is brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting together with his three animal sacrifices, meal offering and a log measure of oil. The kohen slaughters the asham, the first of the offerings and applies its blood to his ear, thumb and large toe. The kohen then applies some oil on top of the blood and offers the remaining sacrifices and meal offering.
It is noteworthy that this metzorah was declared impure when two hairs turned white. The Hebrew word for hair is “sai’ar.” The purification processes culminates when the metzorah is brought to “stand at the gate of the entrance of meeting” as the kohen offers his scarifies and applies the blood and oil on his ear, thumb and large toe (Vayikra 14:11). Rashi notes that in the Beis Hamikdash the opening to the tent of meeting was replaced with the “gate of Nikinor.” The Hebrew word for gate is sha’ar.
Both Hebrew words for “hair” and “gate” share the same letters, shin, ayin and reish. The only difference is the pronunciation. The fact that the two share the same letters indicates that they are related. Indeed the commentators explain that a hair is a gateway to the inside of the body.
Chazal commonly use a hair as a metaphor for something very small and insignificant. Using this concept together with the idea that a hair is related to a gate we may suggest that a hair is symbolic of the smallest gateway that can exist. On the other hand, the gateway to the Beis Hamikdash is the entrance to the most pure and holy place in the world. It is symbolic of the greatest gateway that exits.
We may note that the metzorah has gone from the smallest opening of two white hairs to the greatest opening when he came to the gate of the Beis Hamikdash to complete the process of his purification.
Chazal tell us that in the next world, Hashem will slaughter the evil indication in the presence of the righteous and the wicked. Both will weep. To the righteous the evil inclination will appear like a large mountain. They will wonder how they were able to overcome it. To the wicked it will appear like a hair. They will cry why they were unable to overcome it (Sukah 52). The commentators explain that there is no contradiction. When the evil inclination appears for the first time it is small and insignificant like a hair. It is easy to overcome. The righteous reject it and it falls away. The evil inclination tries again and reappears like a hair and the righteous reject it once again. This process repeats itself many times. Eventually all the little hairs accumulate to the size of a large mountain.
On the other hand the wicked allow the evil inclination to enter the very first time. They reason, how bad could it be. It is small and harmless like a hair. However, once it enters it slowly persuades man to sin until it has made him into a full fledged sinner. It only needed to enter once, therefore it appears like a small hair.
The metzorah’s problem began by letting the small insignificant evil inclination to enter for the first time. The evil inclination is compared to hair because a hair represents a tiny gateway into a person. That was all it needed. Soon, this individual discovered that he had been led astray by the evil inclination and was punished with tzaraas. Perhaps this is why the sign of tzaraas is hairs. The source of sin started with something insignificant as a hair only to later develop into something much worse. His only hope is a complex process of purification that culminates with coming to the greatest entrance in the world. It turns out that the little insignificant hair is not such a small gateway after all, it needs to be matched with the gateway of the Beis Hamikdash.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2004