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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Metzora. The Living Dead and the Asymptomatic Metzora.

The Tuma of a Metzora shares many dinim with the Tuma of a dead body.  Most famously, Tzara'as and Meis are the only Tum'os which cause Tuma to everything else that is under the same roof, Tumas Ohel.   Why is this so?  Is it because of his necrotic limbs?  Is it because he is separated from the community as if he had passed away?  When it comes to the arcane philosophy of Tuma, speculation is particularly unreliable.  But we may speculate if we keep in mind that it is, ultimately, only conjecture.  But here's a fascinating thing.  The Gemara (Eirchin 15) says that the sin that leads to Tzara'as is extreme egosism and antipathy.  It is possible that this has some connection with his macabre halachic status.  I saw a remarkable thing on this topic by Rabbi Joshua Hoffman, and I quote the relevant paragraph:


Readers familiar with the playwright Eugene O'Neill's semi-autobiographical masterwork, Long Day's Journey Into Night, may recall the final scene of the play, in which Jamie, the older son in the family, who is an alcoholic and a failed writer and actor, reveals the innermost depths of his heart to his younger brother, Edmund. Jamie tells Edmund, in the midst of a drunken stupor, that, although he loves him and is devoted to him, part of his inner-self wants him to fail. In part, Jamie says, he wants his brother to fall into dissolution, as he had, so that he would not make him look worse in light of his success as a writer. Jamie, in explaining this to his brother, tells him that it is the dead part of himself that seeks to do this. This is exactly what a person who is addicted to leshon hora does,and to the extent that he is obsessed with his evil talk, he is, in effect, dead, and bringing death to those around him, as well. In this way, he is effectively killing the 'adam' aspect of his own personality as well as those of others. When this happens among Jews, the entire nation suffers, because it loses the unique contributions that only these people can make. For this reason, the metzora must be isolated from society until he is able to once again become a productive member of it by actualizing his own potential, and allowing others to actualize theirs.


The dialogue in the play:
Jamie:....I’ve been rotten bad influence.  And worst of it is, I did it on purpose.
Edmund: Shut up!  I don’t want to hear–
Jamie: Nix, Kid!  You listen!  Did it on purpose to make a bum of you.  Or part of me did .  A big part.  That part that’s been dead so long.  That hates life.  My putting you wise so you’d learn from my mistakes.  Believed that myself at times, but it’s a fake.  Made my mistakes look good.  Make getting drunk romantic.  Made whores fascinating vampires instead of poor, stupid, diseased slobs they really are.  Made fun of work as sucker’s game.  Never wanted you succeed and make me look even worse by comparison.  Wanted you to fail.  Always jealous of you.                                        

A page later–
Jamie: .... Oscar Wildes’ “Reading Gaol” has the dope twisted.  The man was dead and so he had to kill the think he loved.  That’s what it ought to be.  The dead part of me hopes you won’t get well. ....  He wants company, he doesn’t want to be the only corpse around the house!  

Rabbi Hoffman's complete dvar Torah is reproduced at the end of the post.)

Reb Yeruchem also says something that relates to this question.  In 13:2 it says אדם, כי-יהיה בעור-בשרו שאת או-ספחת או בהרת, והיה בעור-בשרו, לנגע צרעת--והובא אל-אהרן הכהן, in 13:9 it says נגע צרעת, כי תהיה באדם; והובא, אל-הכהן, and in 14:2 it says זאת תהיה תורת המצרע, ביום טהרתו:  והובא, אל-הכהן, on the day of his cleansing he shall be brought to the Kohen.  The Sforno in Bamidbar 6:13 points out that this expression of being brought somewhere is found in four places: Metzorah, Sottah, Eved Ivri that will be nirtza, and Nazir in Bamidbar there.  But Chazal say that “yavi osso” by Nazir really means “yavi es atzmo.”  So the Sforno, as interpreted by R’ Yeruchem, explains that the difference is whether a person floats downstream or struggles upstream.  The metzorah, sottah, and eved all take the path of least resistance, and give in to their yetzer hara, or the bad influence of society or their friends.  They are what an acquaintance of mine calls “floaters,” and they are taken places.  The nazir, on the other hand, is what he calls a “doer,” he takes his life in his own hands and with courage and discipline determines his own path. (Others call them leaners and pushers.  Same idea.)  This person is taking himself where he needs to go.  I saw this brought in a sefer called “Maayan Hashavua,” on last week’s parshah, and he shtells tzu the Gemara in Chullin that only a kosher fish can survive in fast flowing waters.  A kosher fish will fight the current and survive, while a non-kosher species will be pushed and pulled to death.

Truth is, the Sforno’s he’ara is mostly homiletic, not interpretive.  The expression ‘v’huvah’ by the three really don’t need explanation. By a sottah, although she needs to prove her innocence, she won’t want to go because the whole thing is a terrible disgrace.  By eved ivri the din of v’huvah makes sense, because he is formalizing his cession of mastery over himself to the other person, so it is necessary that his master bring him.  We find a similar din by eved knaani, where his tvila l’sheim geirus/avdus has to be through the act of his master who puts him into the water.  And by metzorah, chances are the person will not go willingly to be declared a metzora, especially since it is only the kohen’s declaration of diagnosis that creates the tumah status.  So the he’arah is not strong in last week’s parshah, where it is talking about going to the kohen to be declared a metzora.  BUT in this week’s parshah, which is talking about his becoming tahor, and it still says v’huvah el hakohen, you could say that ‘v’huvah’ teaches that he needs to be shown that he should learn to be master of his fate, and not be so easily swayed by his flawed character traits.  He should learn to be a mentsch, not a shmatteh.  So you can use THIS ‘v’huvah’ to show that all three are meant to teach the same lesson.

In any case, this is another example of a metzora sharing the characteristic of a person who is dead.  He is a floater.

And finally, there is the famous Medrash in Vayikra 16:2, that says:
 ד"א "זֹאת תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת הַמְּצֹרָע" הה"ד (תהלים לד, יג): "מִי הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים" מעשה ברוכל אחד שהיה מחזיר בעיירות שהיו סמוכות לציפורי והיה מכריז ואומר מאן בעי למזבן סם חיים אודקין עליה ר' ינאי הוה יתיב ופשט בתורקליניה שמעיה דמכריז מאן בעי סם חיים א"ל תא סק להכא זבון לי א"ל לאו אנת צריך ליה ולא דכוותך אטרח עליה סליק לגביה הוציא לו ספר תהלים הראה לו פסוק "מִי הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים" מה כתיב בתריה (יד): "נצור לשונך מרע סור מרע ועשה טוב" א"ר ינאי אף שלמה מכריז ואומר(משלי כא, כג): "שֹׁמֵר פיו ולשונו שומר מצרות נפשו" א"ר ינאי כל ימי הייתי קורא הפסוק הזה ולא הייתי יודע היכן הוא פשוט עד שבא רוכל זה והודיעו "מִי הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים" לפיכך משה מזהיר את ישראל ואומר להם "זאת תהיה תורת הַמְּצֹרָע" תורת המוציא שם רע

What is the elixir of life?  Avoiding Lashon Haran. And it's not enough to merely avoid lashon hara.  The passuk continues- (14-15) נצור לשונך מרע;    ושפתיך, מדבר מרמה. טו  סור מרע, ועשה-טוב;    בקש שלום ורודפהו  It's not good enough to avoid lashon hara by isolating yourself from society.  Involve yourself, seek peace, pursue a just society.   If avoiding lashon hara is life, if involvement in the community and the pursuit of peace and justice is life, then, of course, מכלל הן אתה שומע לאו, the person who constantly spreads lashon hara, the miser, the misanthrope, is, in a sense, dead. 


The physical manifestation of Tzara'as no longer occurs.  It is a metaphysical disease that exposes in a person's body the degeneration of his soul, as the Ramban says, and the physical manifestation of Tzara'as can only occur under certain conditions which no longer pertain.  But don't make the mistake of thinking that the parsha of Metzora is no longer relevant.    Just because the physical expression of this ailment no longer occurs does not mean that the underlying spiritual disease no longer occurs.  On the contrary, as spirituality declines, the disease of the neshama occurs more and more often.  We just have no way of knowing who among us suffers from the disease.  But one thing is for sure:  A person that deserves to have Tzara'as, the rumor monger, the one who hates to see others happy and successful, the miser who turns away from the needy, the person who is constantly bickering and smirking and sneering, that person is an asymptomatic metzora, and he causes Tuma to everyone and everything around him.  Even being in the same room with him contaminates you.



Rabbi Hoffman's complete dvar Torah, entitled "Dead Man Walking."

This week's Torah reading deals in large part with the laws of tzara'as, which is usually translated as leprosy. These laws begins with the statement, "If a man will have on the flesh of his skin a s'eis, or a sapachas, or a baheres, and it will become a tzara'as affliction on the skin of his flesh, he shall be brought to Aharon the kohein or to one of his sons the kohanim (Vayikra 13 . 1). It is interesting to note that while in the Hebrew language there are four words for man - ish, gever, enosh and adam, the word used here is 'adam,' which, according to the Zohar, connotes the highest level of man. Why would the Torah use this expression when dealing with a person who has contracted the highest level of impurity? Wouldn't he seem to be on a lower level?As we have noted in the past, the Talmud ( Bava Kama,38a) tells us that the word 'adam' applies only to a Jew. Rabbi Ephraim of Lunshitz,in his Olelos Ephraim, explains that this term is different from the other three Hebrew terms for man in that the other three words take on a different form in the plural that in the singular.  The plural of ish is ishim of gever is gevarim, and of enosh is anashim. However, the plural of adam is adam.By saying that only a Jew is called adam, what Chazal are telling us is that the individual Jew is inextricably bonded with the collective of the Jewish people. This is not true of any other nation.  As my teacher, Rav Aharon Soloveichik, explained, if someone from England moves to America, after a generation or two his family will no longer be identified as English,but as American. A Jew, however, no matter where he comes from and no matter where he goes,is always identified as a Jew. Based on this explanation, we can understand the qualification made by Rabbeinu Tam,that a non- Jew is sometimes referred to, in Scripture, as 'ha-adam,'but not as 'adam.' Ha-adam - the man- refers to a specific person, and, so, can be used in reference to a non-Jew,as well.However,'adam'-man-can only refer to a Jew, because it implies that the individual is inextricably bound to the collective. If we now take another look at the term adam, and connect it to the term for primeval man-adam harishon-we can understand it to be an allusion to the uniqueness of the individual, and the special mission he is given to accomplish in the world.  The mishnah in Sanhedrin (37a) tells us that man was created as a single individual in order to impress this quality of his uniqueness upon him.  Man, says the mishnah, is obligated to say, each day, that the world was created for him, meaning that he has a unique role to play in the world that no one else can fulfill.  When we see this notion in the context of the connection of each individual Jew to the Jewish collective, the message conveyed is that the unique mission that each individual Jew is charged with is inextricably connected with the goals of the Jewish nation as a collective. With this observation in mind, we can return to the use of the term adam in connection with the affliction of tzara'as.

Although the rabbis view tzara'as as a punishment for any of seven different sins, the primary sin that it is associated with is leshon hora, or evil talk.  One of the nefarious effects of such talk is to impair the self-image of the person who is spoken about.  Actually, the rabbis tell us that leshon hora kills three people-the one who speaks it, the one of whom it is spoken, and the one to whom it is spoken. We can explain this to mean that in all three cases, the activity of leshon hora impedes the person involved from actualizing his true self and accomplishing his mission in life, because his attention is focused on the evil talk and what it communicates about that person, rather than each person focusing on what he really has to contribute. When this happens, not only is the individual involved effected, but society as a whole loses, because the unique roles that these people were charged with accomplishing will now not be fulfilled, and, so, in a sense, these people can be considered as dead in terms of their contribution to the nation. Perhaps this is why the rabbis tell us that a metzorah is considered as being dead.                                      
Readers familiar with the playwright Eugene O'Neill's semi-autobiographical masterwork, Long Day's Journey Into Night, may recall the final scene of the play, in which Jamie, the older son in the family, who is an alcoholic and a failed writer and actor, reveals the innermost depths of his heart to his younger brother, Edmund. Jamie tells Edmund, in the midst of a drunken stupor, that, although he loves him and is devoted to him, part of his inner-self wants him to fail. In part, Jamie says, he wants his brother to fall into dissolution, as he had, so that he would not make him look worse in light of his success as a writer. Jamie, in explaining this to his brother, tells him that it is the dead part of himself that seeks to do this. This is exactly what a person who is addicted to leshon hora does,and to the extent that he is obsessed with his evil talk, he is, in effect, dead, and bringing death to those around him, as well. In this way, he is effectively killing the 'adam' aspect of his own personality as well as those of others. When this happens among Jews, the entire nation suffers, because it loses the unique contributions that only these people can make. For this reason, the metzora must be isolated from society until he is able to once again become a productive member of it by actualizing his own potential, and allowing others to actualize theirs.


On a completely different topic:  I was checking the precise definition of the word "macabre," because I used it in the first paragraph to mean "death like," or "gruesome."  I found the history of that word very surprising- as was the explanation of Mel Gibson's incongruous project- as follows:

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:





macabre (adj.) Look up macabre at Dictionary.com





early 15c., from O.Fr. (danse) Macabré "(dance) of Death" (1376), probably a translation of M.L. (Chorea) Machabæorum, lit. "dance of the Maccabees" (leaders of the Jewish revolt against Syro-Hellenes; see Maccabees). The association with the dance of death seems to be via vivid descriptions of the martyrdom of the Maccabees in the Apocryphal books. The abstracted sense of "gruesome" is first attested 1842 in French, 1889 in English.
The typical form which the allegory takes is that of a series of pictures, sculptured or painted, in which Death appears, either as a dancing skeleton or as a shrunken corpse wrapped in grave-clothes to persons representing every age and condition of life, and leads them all in a dance to the grave. ["Encyclopaedia Britannica," 11th ed., 1911] 

From The Free Dictionary:
ma·cabre·ly adv.
Word History: The word macabre is an excellent example of a word formed with reference to a specific context that has long since disappeared for everyone but scholars. Macabre is first recorded in the phrase Macabrees daunce in a work written around 1430 by John Lydgate. Macabree was thought by Lydgate to be the name of a French author, but in fact he misunderstood the Old French phrase Danse Macabre, "the Dance of Death," a subject of art and literature. In this dance, Death leads people of all classes and walks of life to the same final end. The macabre element may be an alteration of Macabe, "a Maccabee." The Maccabees were Jewish martyrs who were honored by a feast throughout the Western Church, and reverence for them was linked to reverence for the dead. Today macabre has no connection with the Maccabees and little connection with the Dance of Death, but it still has to do with death.

And from The Oxford Dictionary:


Origin:

late 19th century: from French macabre, from Danse Macabre 'dance of death', from Old French, perhaps from Macabé 'a Maccabee', with reference to a miracle play depicting the slaughter of the Maccabees
When I showed this to a good friend, a scholar of the classics and alumnus of Oxford and the University of Chicago, this was his reaction:

I first came across that etymology a few years ago while I was researching the concept of yiras hashem in the Middle Ages. I'm sure it's true. The role played by the  Maccabees in the history of Christian thought and culture (including etymology!), and their significance for Christian theology in particular is far, far greater than in Judaism.  Unlike the Jews, the Catholics include The Books of Maccabees  in their text of the O.T. Bible (Vulgate) and it's heroic figures are (mis)interpreted as the archetypes for all future Christian martyrs, to whom the Church owes its' very existence. ( Hence Mel Gibson's work over the last several years to produce a film about the Maccabees  is misunderstood by Jews as only a cheap, fraudulent means to curry favor with the Jewish community. In fact, a deeply committed Catholic such as Gibson would have long felt a very profound attachment to the Maccabees and, as an actor and producer, would wish to see their deeds glorified on stage).

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