Parashas Tazria-Metzora

This week’s double parashah deals with nigei tzaraas: leprous-like skin lesions that would come upon a person for evil speech and certain other offenses (the Gemara in Arachin 16a lists six others – murder, false swearing, immoral relations, haughtiness, theft, and stinginess). The Midrash expounds (Vayikra Rabbah 15:4):
It is written (Mishlei 19:29): “Judgments are prepared for scoffers, and beatings for the backs of fools.” A parable: A matron entered a king’s palace, and when she saw whips and clubs hanging there she was struck with fear. The king said: “Don’t be afraid. These are for the servants. But I mean for you to eat, drink, and rejoice.” Similarly, when Jews heard the laws of nigei tzaraas they were struck with fear, but Moshe told them: “Don’t be afraid. … I mean for you to eat, drink, and rejoice.”As it is written (Tehillim 32:10): “Many are the agonies of the wicked, but with one who trusts in Hashem, kindness surrounds him.”
In explaining this Midrash, the Maggid takes as his starting point the following verse (Koheles 7:20): “For there is no righteous man on earth who does [only] good and never sins.” In line with this teaching, the Gemara says (Chagigah 5a): “It is written (Devarim 31:17): ‘Then My anger shall be kindled against them on that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them.’ R. Bardela bar Tavyumi said in the name of Rav: ‘To whomever “hiding of the face” does not apply is not one of [the Jewish People].” For each Jew is precious to Hashem like a cherished son, and, as Shlomo teaches in Mishlei 13:24, one who loves his son takes care to discipline him. And no one can say that he has cleansed his heart completely and is in no need of discipline. But the manner in which Hashem hides His face from a person varies from case to case. Sometimes Hashem strikes a person to the point where he becomes poor, racked with pain, and bedridden. On other occasions, He just withholds from the person some minor pleasure or gain, or brings upon him a minor loss.
Thus the Gemara teaches (Arachin 16b): “How far does affliction reach? It is taught: Even to someone putting his hand into his pocket to take out three coins and taking out two.” The Maggid remarks that seemingly it should not matter what kind of affliction Hashem brings on a person; whatever causes the specific person distress will do the job. He then goes on to explain as follows. Since, as Shlomo says, no one is completely free of sin, no one is completely free of afflictions, which Hashem brings on a person to straighten him and raise him spiritually level by level until he approaches spiritual perfection. But Hashem tailors the afflictions to the person. Less severe afflictions are needed with a person who is seeking to serve Hashem properly than with one who is not. In disciplining with a righteous person with a high degree of awareness, it is not necessary for Hashem to dramatically reduce his measure of blessing, beat him with a hammer, or strike him with disease or pain. A minor irritation, as in the example of the coins, is sufficient to arouse him.
This is the idea behind the Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah. Shlomo says: “Judgments are prepared for scoffers, and beatings for the backs of fools.” Coarse people need a beating to arouse them. But for the typical Jew, a beating is not necessary. Whips and clubs are not meant for him.
The Maggid brings out the point further with a parable. A simple butcher took it upon himself to raise an orphan boy. The boy was very bright and was conversant in several areas of knowledge. When the boy wanted to carry out mathematical calculations, the butcher gave him a bunch of bones to use for this purpose. Eventually the boy reached the age of marriage, and a rich man took him as husband for his daughter. In the manner of a man of the upper class, the boy’s new father-in-law provided him a nice wardrobe and supplied him with everything he lacked. Once the boy and his father-in-law were out on a stroll together, and they passed a garbage dump. The boy saw some bones there and ran over to the dump to collect them. The father-in-law asked him: “Why are you rooting around in a filthy garbage dump to collect bones?” The boy explained: “I need these bones for doing calculations.” The father-in-law replied: “You needed bones for calculations when you were growing up in a poor man’s house, but now you are a member of a rich man’s family, and you can do your calculations with gold and silver coins. I’ll be happy to give you as many as you need.”
The king’s statement to the matron in the parable presented in the Midrash is along the same lines. Just as the boy had no need anymore to use coarse bones for his calculations, the matron had no need to worry about coarse punishment with whips and clubs. These, the king said, are for servants. But with you, if from time to time I get angry at you, it is enough for me to withhold one course from your meal. Similarly, with a righteous Jew, Hashem has no need to administer coarse punishment; it is enough to subject him to a minor irritation or a small loss.  
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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