TZARA’AS AND DA’AS
“He that chastises nations, is He not showing something, is He not rebuking? It is He, Hashem, who is teaching knowledge to man” (Tehillim 94:10). These words of Dovid Hamelech are applied by Chazal to the misfortune of the one who has contracted this fearsome malady of tzara’as, and is forced to endure the extreme hardships that come along with his sad condition. He has contracted leprosy, but actually he is being taught knowledge by the best teacher. המלמד אדם דעת – Hashem is bestowing upon this man not leprosy, but da’as. And there is no greater gift in the world than da’as Hashem.
Yet we must understand that this episode of the metzorah in the Torah is actually a model for all forms of misfortunes that come upon Man. The purpose of tzara’as and of all other misfortunes is to remind the stricken man, as well as all others, of the necessity to live lives imbued with Awareness of Hashem. “When a man sees misfortune come upon him, let him search out his deeds” (Brachos 5a), because that is his function in this world, to study his way in this world, and to become more aware of his Creator. And therefore, we study the parsha of the metzorah in order to prepare ourselves for a life of Awareness of Hashem.
SAYING GOODBYE TO SOCIETY
After his tragic experience of being committed by the Kohen to the state of leprosy, this unfortunate man could not dwell anymore in the ערי חומה, the walled cities which were the established residences of the Am Yisroel, the populated strongholds of our people. מחוץ למחנה מושבו – “He had to remain outside of his city”. And even though his family had been established in a house in that city for maybe even generations, with all of his relatives living nearby, he now had to bid farewell to them and go away to reside in solitude.
And it was a very sad experience, it was heartbreaking. He was saying his farewells to his family and he was in mourning. His garments are torn in order to show his sadness, his regret and remorse for what he had done to bring this experience upon himself.
And the metzorah remained alone, outside of the city, separated from his family, an outcast from society. He wore his torn garments as a sign of degradation, and wherever he went וטמא טמא יקרא, he had to call out “tamei, tamei,” warning those who would consider approaching him to keep far away (Tazria 13:45). And ועל שפם יעטה, he had to cover his mouth with his garment (ibid.). Wherever he went he had his garment pulled up and wrapped around his mouth, as a sign of a man who is cut off from society, a man not yet ready to interact with Mankind.
The time spent outside of the city was a period of long dark days of despair for the metzorah – and the nights were even worse. Sometimes he didn’t even have a place to seek shelter when it was snowing or raining. He was banished from his home and his city and was shunned by everybody. People looked from a distance but didn’t want to come near to him because he might make them tamei. You couldn’t be under the same roof as him. So let’s say this man found some sort of shelter out in the countryside. It was run-down and dilapidated, but at least it was something. But if others were there under the shelter, waiting for the rain to stop, he couldn’t join them. They would urge him to keep his distance, and if he would approach the shelter they would have to leave him there alone. It was a degrading situation.
And he didn’t know if he would ever be healed. Because tzaraas, especially in those days, was almost a fatal malady. It wasn’t like we imagine; we think about it for a day or two when the parsha comes around and then by motza’ei Shabbos we have already moved on. This man was living with terror, with the fear of not being able to enter his city, not being able to rejoin society, ever again. And therefore this metzorah was very much distressed and anguished because he didn’t see any way out of a most perilous situation.
THE DEAD COME TO LIFE
And then something happens. The unexpected occurs. The whiteness on his skin begins to recede; it becomes smaller and dimmer. And so he asks the Kohen to come out and look at him. And the Kohen goes out מחוץ למחנה, to where the metzorah is secluded, and there he inspects the infected skin and he declares: “Yes, my friend, I’m happy to tell you that הנה נרפא נגע הצרעת, Behold you are ready now to come back to society. הנה – Behold! Suddenly like a bolt of lightning the good news is given to him that his tzaraas has healed and that he is now permitted to undergo the tahara process and he will become tahor once again. A metzorah is chashuv k’meis, it’s as if he had died. And now, it’s techiyas ha’meisim, he will be restored to normal life again!
Now, it’s so important to understand that this whole story, this whole episode of the metzorah suffering in seclusion, is not to be understood as a punishment. People are accustomed to thinking that this is the way of the Torah: “You’re not listening?! Slap!” Now, of course, there was suffering for this metzorah, certainly it was a very difficult time. But that’s a very superficial way to look at what took place here. And in order to understand what was really happening here, we will spend some time together studying this subject.
WHAT IS THE GOOD IN THE WORLD?
And we’ll start with our function in this world. מזמור שיר ליום השבת טוב להודות לשם – “It is good to sing to Hashem,” sings Dovid Hamelech in his Tehillim. “Do you know what is the good?” says Dovid Hamelech. Not merely good, but the best good in the world. What’s the best good in the world? Ask somebody that question – go ahead and ask – and you’ll get all different types of answers. “It’s good to be a lamdan,” one will say. Or “It’s good to be a midakdeik b’mitzvos.” Or maybe to be a ba’al chesed. Everything is good! And of course you have to do all the things. But Dovid Hamelech said, “Do you know what is the best tov, the best good in the world? Tov l’hodos la’Hashem! The greatest good, the biggest of all things in the world is li’hodos la’Hashem, to give thanks to Hashem.
להגיד בבוקר חסדיך – “[The greatest good] is to relate in the morning Your kindness.” Every morning when you get up, that’s how you start your day. “Thank You Hashem for getting me up this morning. I love You for that, Hashem.” You know that not everyone gets up in the morning! It’s a pleasure to see the morning again. You can’t just mumble a few words while you’re pulling up your pants and buttoning your shirt. No; you have to sing to Hashem. And that’s just the beginning of the day’s work. ואמונתך בלילות, and to continue down to the night time. Some people think it means that you thank Hashem in the morning, and again you thank Him at night. No, no. It means all day long, from the morning down to the night.That’s our function in this world. To thank Hashem from the time you wake up in the morning until you put your head on the pillow and drift off to sleep in the night time. And don’t think that it’s a small thing that you’re hearing right now. This is the yesod ha’yesodos, the foundation of everything.
HAPPY ABOUT WHAT?
And it’s a foundation that this metzorah had never truly understood. Now, I’m sure that he said Modeh Ani. And I’m sure he made brachos all day long. Why not? He was a frum Jew. But did he spend his days and nights praising Hashem? “All day long?!” he says. “Why should I?” he always thought – if he thought at all. Why should he be happy with normal life? He should be happy with a home?! He should be happy that he can interact with people?! That he can go to shul and go to work?! That he can associate with his fellow city-dwellers and be under the same roof as his neighbors? That he’s alive?! That he’s healthy? Is that a happiness?!
Not only was this man not busy with the true good of life, the perfection of tov l’hodos, but he didn’t even recognize what there was to thank for. Certainly if you would back him into a corner, if you would demand to know if he’s grateful that he’s healthy, that’s he’s alive, that he’s living among people with family and friends, then certainly he would tell you he’s thankful. He would even repeat his mantra of איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו – “Yes, I’m satisfied with what I have.” Of course; he’d be too embarrassed to say otherwise. But is he truly grateful to Hashem? Is he full of appreciation for all of the sweetness of life? No, not at all. Not at all! Maybe if you would buy him a new home or take him to a travel agency to fly somewhere far away for a vacation, then maybe he would start getting excited. But to be happy with the sweetness of life itself? With a roof over your head? With a family and a job? A nechtigeh tug! What’s there to be grateful for about?
Now I understand that everyone is a חכם בעיניו. And they’ll say, Rabbi Miller is just exaggerating. He’s making something out of nothing. Everyone gets married and has family. Everyone is walking the streets b’shalom. Everyone has a roof over their head and a bed to sleep in – what’s so great about it?
LIFE IS FUN!
But you have to know that I’m not exaggerating at all. And those of you who think that I am, have not even begun to understand their purpose here in this world. Because you are expected to study and appreciate every detail of life, moving from one subject to another, spending time appreciating every detail of life. How lucky you are to be alive! It’s a ta’anug to be alive! Life is full of pleasure, full of intense joy. And it is only the one who spends his days walking the streets and thinking about the details of this ta’anug who will be a success.
Only that we’re so accustomed to life, we’re so habituated to it, that our minds become stultified, so we don’t feel how pleasant it is to be alive. And like all of us, this metzorah didn’t appreciate this happiness that he had. He didn’t spend his days, from morning till night, in the function of tov l’hodos la’Hashem. Instead he made his way through life like a man without a head, like a horse. A horse also eats food. A lot of food you have to feed a horse. And a horse gets married. Horses mate, and they have offspring, they have families. And they breathe, and walk, and wake up in the morning. But they don’t thank Hashem from morning till night. And so what you are is a horse. A horse that does some mitzvos, but you’re a horse after all. And Hashem desires much more from you. “Did I bring you into this world to be like the horses in the stable? I have enough horses already!”
THE HAPPINESS OF HAVING A JOB
And so, Hashem sometimes, will have to remove that happiness from a man, even if only for a short period of time, in order to help him realize what a happiness normal life really is. Because do you know when you appreciate life? You know when you appreciate it? Only when you lose that happiness. Here’s a man with a decent job. Decent, I say. It’s hard work; a boss who can sometimes be difficult, but it’s a job nonetheless. But this man is not grateful. Grateful?! What’s there to be thankful for? Until that day when his boss calls him in to give him the bad news. And now he’s scouring the newspapers, looking for work again. And he’s thinking back to the good old days when he got on a crowded train every morning and made his way to his office. And his wife fondly remembers the good old days when her husband wasn’t puttering around the house all day long, sticking his nose into the kitchen where it doesn’t belong.
Life, with all of its details, is beautiful and wonderful. It’s an ecstasy to be alive! The only trouble is, the Chovos Halevavos says, is that even though טוב השם לכל, even though Hashem is good to everybody, but רובם כעיורים, most people are blind – blinded by the habit of life.
THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS
And therefore, what the suffering of the metzorah really was, was an education, a learning experience that would prepare him for his career in life. Because to go through such a harrowing experience, and to finally be saved and return to normal life, awakens in a person a feeling of gratitude for normal living. This metzorah is an educated man now! He has graduated from the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ and has gained a most important important attitude thereby – a gratitude for a normal living, and a love to Hakodosh Boruch Hu for all the simple pleasures of life. And that’s a tremendous benefit! And it was well-worth the experience. All the trouble he endured – and it was trouble no doubt – was a small price to pay for the great achievement of becoming tangibly aware of the kindness of Hashem.
Now he realizes how fun it is to be healthy. Health is wealth, and how happy a person should be who doesn’t know anything wrong about his body. There are so many functions, and so many details, that it would be impossible to relate what’s doing in our bodies even we had a thousand years to sit here together. Boruch Hashem! It’s such a happiness. And that’s the purpose of life, to learn to recognize the kindliness of Hashem. There is nothing more important than becoming more and more aware of the gifts that Hashem is bestowing upon you all the time, and developing a genuine feeling of gratitude to Him.
SINGING IN THE RAIN
How good it is to be able to live normally among people, to be able to go to work and to shul! How good it is to walk the streets of the city b’shalom, and to be able to return to his own home at night! As the metzora walks in the street, he sings to Hashem. What a happiness! It’s fun to be able to walk into shul and interact with people without them running away from you. He belongs with everybody else, he’s accepted back into society again and that’s a happiness. He has a job and can go to work, and now he’s grateful for that. He sits down at the Shabbos table with the family – what a happiness!
And it’s so good to have a home, he now feels. It doesn’t matter if you own it or you’re renting, it’s a pleasure to have a roof over your head. It’s fun to come home to a warm house when it’s cold outside. And the metzorah knows this better than anyone else. Because he spent days and maybe weeks sleeping outside the city on the cold ground. And now he has his home back, and his bed, his pillow. It’s a pleasure. Life, in its most simple form, is a taanug!
And when the metzorah gained this attitude of appreciation of life he became a wealthy man. Now he is full of joy. All of his life, he recalls his dark days of despair, when he was outside of the walls, alone and ill, shunned by all. And now he’s back again accepted by society, together with his family. He has company, he has friends, he’s back at his work. Everything is normal again! Normal is so much fun! And therefore, all of his life he sings in happiness when he recalls those dark days. This man has gained a tremendous benefit from this harrowing experience and from his escape back to normal life.
And this great escape, the escape of the metzorah from his dreaded illness, is symbolized by the two birds that he has trapped for use in his taharah process. After the slaughter of one of the birds, the second bird is set loose. You know that when an animal is caught in a trap, and then it breaks free, it’s a big simcha for the animal. But it’s not as spectacular as when a bird breaks free from its trap. Because the bird flies up in the air, out of the reach of people; now it’s really free. The escaped bird is the sign of perfect freedom.
Now this metzorah was in a trap from which he thought he would never escape. He was doomed to a life of misery, alone, and set off from all of society, and there was almost no hope for him. And now, he has become a “free” man. And that is symbolized by the bird that flies away. Because when the metzorah returns back to society, back to mundane life, he feels like נפשינו כציפור נמלטה מפח יוקשים הפח נשבר ואנחנו נמלטנו – “Our soul is like a bird escaped from the snare of the hunters, and we escaped” (Tehillim 124:7).
As the metzorah sees the bird fly away, that’s his happiness. Boruch Hashem I am free. I was constrained by my status as a metzorah, cut off from all the simple pleasures of life, and now I am so happy, so grateful, to be set free back to normal life again.
LET’S BE LIKE A TANNA
Now this test that we all face in our lives, of having to recognize the chasdei Hashem in our lives or chas v’shalom be reminded of the chesed through its removal becomes evident in the process of taharas ha’metzorah. And so in order to put some of our understanding into this story we should study the process that the metzorah undergoes before being permitted to rejoin society again. Now, of course, it’s all included in what we call chukim, statutes of Hakodosh Boruch Hu for which no reason is offered in the Torah. Yet we are justified if we follow the example of the great men of all generations in seeking to understand even a little, according to our small minds. Never will we understand thoroughly, yet we see that even Tana’im and Amora’im asked questions: מפני מה אמרה תורה – Why did the Torah say to do this or to do that? And they give reasons. And therefore we walk in their footsteps with our small minds and we’ll try also to understand something of what took place here.
The Torah tells us that as part of the purification process, the Kohen commands the metzorah to take a piece of cedar wood and a bundle of hyssop: וצוה הכהן ולקח למטהר… עץ ארז ועזוב. Now why did the metzorah use the branch of a cedar tree and of a little hyssop plant? So we have to look into the Tanach and see where do we find some kind of a meaning for these two things, especially when they come together, the eitz erez and the eizov? And if we look, we’ll find.
WHAT DID SHLOMO HAMELECH SPEAK ABOUT?
It states in Sefer Milachim that Shlomo Hamelech spoke to the people about all the things in the world. He taught the people about everything that Hashem created וידבר על העצים מן הארז אשר בלבנון ועד האזוב היוצא בקיר – “And he spoke about the trees; from the cedar trees in the Levanon, to the hyssop that grows on the wall” (5:13). Ahh! Here we found something! Shlomo spoke about the cedar trees that grow in the Levanon, tall and dignified trees, beautiful, high trees, and he spoke about the eizov, the small hyssop plant, a little moss that grows out of the cracks in the wall.
Now why did Shlomo choose to speak about these two things? The answer is that he didn’t speak about these two things alone. מן הארז אשר בלבנון עד האזוב. He started with the cedar trees and he spoke about all the trees. He spoke about apple trees, and fig trees, and date trees and olive trees. All the trees he spoke about. And not b’kitzur. No, he spoke b’arichus.
He spoke about their fruits, and about the leaves. He spoke about the wonderful arrangement of the branches. Stand underneath the tree, he said, and look up. Not one branch is directly beneath the branch above it. Every branch is underneath an open space – in order to get more sunshine. How did that happen? Who told the tree to do that?
A MIRACLE IN YOUR BACKYARD
And the tree drops seeds, or it drops peiros into the ground. And from that seed comes out another tree. That’s such a neis that nobody in the world is able to explain it. They can’t explain it. And it shows such a complicated chochma, there’s so much wisdom there – that every little seed has in it at least a million bits of information inscribed on its DNA molecule telling it how to produce a tree from the tiny seed. It’s nisei nissim! How did it happen?!
And Shlomo Hamelech spoke about all of this. He started מן הארץ אשר בלבנון, with the tall imposing tree, and he went down and down עד האזוב היוצא מן הקיר, until finally he reached the moss. And he began to give a shiur klali about the moss.
What does moss come from? How did the moss get there, on the side of a wall? The answer is that when the moss begins to germinate it gives out spores into the air, tiny spores. You don’t see it but the spores fly in the air, the wind carries the spore and it lodges into a crack in the wall – a crack so small that you couldn’t even put your fingernail into it. And the spores get in there and take root. And out grows the אזוב היוצא מן הקיר.
And so Shlomo taught the Am Yisroel all about the niflaos ha’Borei – miracles of miracles how that can happen? What is a spore after all? It’s so small that you can’t see it with your eyes. Only with a magnifying glass can you recognize it. And finally this little spore produces an eizov plant sticking out of the wall. In that single spore there is so much chochma – חכמה עמוקה שאין לה קץ, the creation of Hashem is filled with such wisdom that it has no bottom.
The more you search into it the more you’ll discover that you don’t even begin to know. And it’s all plan and purpose. It’s all with chochma, with tachbulos, with tricks, with scheming, cooperation and arrangement, one step after another. And the purpose of it all is to wake you from your slumber.
KRIYAS YAM SUF: THE SEQUEL
And Shlomo pointed this out to his people; he showed the people the wisdom of Hashem. Everywhere you look around, he said, you’ll see the yad Hashem. And it’s the same as if you saw a neis. When you stand under the tree and you look up at the branches and the leaves with some thought, with some contemplation, then it’s no less than any other miracle that the Torah talks about. The neis of the trees you can see openly with your eyes wherever you look. You don’t have to feel deprived that you didn’t see the yad Hashem by kriyas yam suf. Every place that you look, Hakodosh Boruch Hu is there! You see Hashem!
And you must understand why Hakodosh Boruch Hu is doing all these wonderful things for us. He certainly wants us to be clothed and be warm, and certainly He wants us to eat and enjoy our food, but what does He want more than anything else? He wants us to recognize Him. That’s what it’s all for. We live out lives with the function of becoming aware of Hashem.
You have to know that you’re hearing a very important lesson here. It’s not merely that we can recognize Hakodosh Boruch Hu from the plants, and the trees, and the fruits, and food, and the sun, and the wool. Hakodosh Boruch Hu made all these things for the purpose that we should recognize Him. Like it says אלוקים עשה שיראו מלפניו – Hashem made everything in order that we should learn to have fear of him. And fear means to recognize Him. You know that the root of the word יראה, fear, is ראה, to see. Hakodosh Boruch brought us into this world for yiras Hashem, so that we can grow perfect in Awareness of Hashem. Everything in the world was made for that purpose.
FRUIT ISN’T MADE FOR EATING
Fruit is made for the purpose that we should stop and look at it and get excited about Hashem. Eating it, agav urcha, makes you appreciate it even more. But even if you don’t eat it, you’re just passing by, looking at the fruit is supposed to be an experience. That’s what the color is there for, so that you can become great in this world, great in Awareness of Hashem, so that you won’t have to be reminded in other, more painful ways.
And so we see now that Hashem made this world with all of its numerous details, all the wonderful things – the plants, the trees and everything else – so that you should look at them and recognize the miracle that’s in them; the wonders that are in them. And from that we come to recognize Hakodosh Boruch Hu even more. And more, and more! Of course we all subscribe to the emunah. All of us are מאמינים בני מאמינים. And yet there’s no comparison to the power and strength of emunah, of the hakarah of Hakodosh Boruch Hu that a person gets, when he sees it with his own eyes all around him. And that’s what gives man the impetus to praise Hashem, to actually taste the pleasures and chesed Hashem in this world, and to spend his life in praises of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
WHICH PLANT IS SINGING?
It says it openly in Ashrei. Only that when people say it, unfortunately, they don’t think what they’re saying. יודך השם כל מעשיך – “All Your works praise You”. All the things that You made in this world have the function of praising You. כבוד מלכותך יאמרו – “all of Your works speak of the glory of Your kingdom”. Now what does it mean that “All of Your works, Hashem, are praising You”? The cedar trees aren’t calling out to Hashem. The hyssop on the wall is not praising Hashem. What it means is that the purpose of the briyah, the purpose of everything we see in this world, is to cause us to sing out in praise and gratitude to Hashem. When one removes the blindness of habit from his mind, he will automatically see the chochmas Hashem and chesed Hashem that is evident in כל מעשיך and “they will praise You”.
And so now we can return to the metzorah on the day of his purification, on yom taharoso. He is commanded to bring forth the eitz erez and the eizov as a symbol. Hashem is saying to him: “You had a choice. You had two ways of recognizing Me. One way is the way of Shlomo Hamelech, the way of מן הארז אשר בלבנון עד האזוב היוצא מן הקיר. Had you spent your life studying these things – and everything in between – you wouldn’t have needed the tzaraas. You could have spent your days enjoying My creations and appreciating the chesed Hashem in the briyah. But instead you were too lazy, too busy for Me”. And now, as the metzorah purifies himself, he is reminded of the eitz erez and the eizov of Shlomo Hamelech, the symbol of using all of creation to become aware of Hashem.
DIFFERENT SHADES OF RED
And that brings us to the שני תולעת, the red wool thread that is dipped into the blood of the slaughtered bird. וטבל אותם… בדם הציפור השחוטה – “And he dipped the scarlet-red wool into the [red] blood of the slaughtered bird” (ibid. 14:5). The Torah here is stressing the color red, the scarlet-red wool dipped into the red blood. What is this? What are we supposed to understand over here? And the answer is this: There are two kinds of redness. One redness is if you use dye, and another redness is if you use blood.
And so Hakodosh Boruch Hu is saying that you have a choice. Red dye is a chochma. There’s a way of producing a beautiful red dye from the briyah, and you can make a piece of wool colored beautifully red. Hashem wants you to appreciate the color He gave you in this world. You know that color is a neis? Seeing color is a neis and it’s a pleasure.
We, boruch Hashem, have colored vision. We can see in color. And color is a simcha – it adds a zest to our lives. I look in your face right now and I see a little red in your cheeks, I see the color of your shirt, the color of your eyes. It’s a pleasure to see things in color. And Hashem made the world full of color so that we should be happy with Him. Because color is happiness and simcha.
WE WANT COLOR TV
It’s a great joy to see in color. If everything was just black and white, it would also be a big simcha – it’s better than not seeing at all, chalilah. But color adds a happiness to your life. You know there was a big strike, a riot, last year in one of prisons upstate. The prisoners revolted; they broke windows, and they smashed gates and broke tables. Why did the prisoners get so upset? Because they only had ordinary TV, black and white TV. And they said it was an עינוי, an affliction. They were suffering; they wanted color TV.
And finally a special commission came, a state board inquiry. A committee of wise men sat down together בכובד ראש, and they concluded that the felons are right! How can you deprive human beings of color TV?! So now, not only are we paying for these felons’ board and lodging, but we’re paying for them to have color TV.
HASHEM’S KOSHER TV
But Hakodosh Boruch Hu gives us “color TV” all the time. And it’s kosher TV. Wherever you look it’s all color. And it’s a great happiness to look around and see the variety of sights and colors. Imagine for a moment, as you look around, as you walk through this world, that everything was black and white. No color. It’s still good, it’s still a pleasure to see. Much better than not seeing at all. And we wouldn’t break tables and windows because of that. But life wouldn’t be the same. Open your eyes and look around you. Color adds so much variety and zest to every second of your life. No question about it! Only that you never thought about it. You never once thought about it and therefore you’re blind to this great pleasure of life. And that’s the sole purpose of all the color in the world; to make you happy in Hashem. שמחו בהשם צדיקים!
THE APPLE COMES OUT OF ITS HIDING PLACE
You should have walked in the street past a fruit stand,without being able to pass by. You’d stop; “What’s doing here?! Red apples?! How did they become red?! Red is a dye! Where does the red dye come from? Why is it that when it’s unripe it’s green and then when it ripens it turns a beautiful red color? You must say that the apple understands that green apples are to be hiding in the tree among the leaves – they’re not ready yet to be eaten. But when they ripen, when they’re sweet and ready to eat, they turn red. A red apple is conspicuous, easy to spot. That’s why the traffic lights are red, because red is conspicuous. It says, “Stop! Stop and look at me.” The apple in the fruit stand is calling out to you, “Stop and look at me. Stop and admire the handiwork of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.”
And that’s why you dip the scarlet-red wool into a different type of red, into blood. It’s a different type of redness. It’s a pity to use such redness, but what could you do already? Hashem says, “If you don’t use the first method, then you’re going to have to use this one, the blood.” Because one who willfully makes his way through life ignoring all of the color and zest of life will eventually have to suffer in order to be woken up from his slumber.
YOU CHOOSE YOUR OWN FATE
So Hakodosh Boruch Hu tells the metzorah, and He tells us – those who study the Parshas Metzorah – that we have to open our eyes and see the color of Hashem. He says, “If you’ll choose the the dye of scarlet, if you’ll enjoy the beautiful color of life that Hashem is surrounding you with, then you won’t have to bother with taharas metzorah, because you’ll be free from any sickness all your life. Because you’re fulfilling your purpose on your own. You’re thanking Hashem with your own free will, and you don’t need any prodding from Hashem. But if not, Hashem will remind you in other ways, by taking it away, and then you’ll be prepared for a life of appreciation of everything you always took for granted.
And that’s what we’re talking about tonight. There’s a choice that Hakodosh Boruch Hu gives. He says to the metzorah: Choose! And He says to all of us: Choose! What do you want chalilah? Sickness, and dipping the eitz erez and eizov into the blood? Or do you prefer the eitz erez and eizov of Shlomo Hamelech? To study the beauties and pleasures and chochmas Hashem in the world.
If you’ll see on all sides the kindness of Hashem – if wherever you walk, wherever you go, you see Hashem – then you don’t need anything else to remind you. It’s a choice however; it’s up to you. But one or the other you must have. Because otherwise you can’t live in this world, you can’t be part of us, if you’re forgetting what Hakodosh Boruch Hu is doing for you.
WHAT DO YOU WANNA WORK AS?
And that’s what it states in Iyov: Adam l’amal yulad – “A man is created for toil, for work” (5:7). Amal means for toil. You’re here in this world to work! What kind of work? You have a choice. It’s your choice. It’s one of two options, either or.
The best choice is עמל של תורה, to toil in Torah. That’s the one that Hakodosh Boruch Hu prefers. That’s what the Gemara says (Sanhedrin 99b) is the best choice: הוי אומר לעמל תורה נברא – “You must say that the toil that this possuk refers to is the toil in Torah subjects.” Now I must tell you that the word Torah shouldn’t be limited just to one thing. Torah means Chumash, and Mussar, and Gemara, and Agadata, and everything else. Torah means the ideas we discuss here. All the yiras shamayim – the ideals and ideas that fill your mind with Hakodosh Boruch Hu are Torah. So עמל של תורה means hard work. It’s not easy. It doesn’t mean joining a kollel, and it means more than finishing Shas. Of course, Shas is part of it; but “toil of Torah” means much more than that. It means using everything in the world around you, as an opportunity to see the wisdom and kindness of Hashem. It means ממזרח שמש עד מבואו מהולל שם השם – “From one side of the world till the other, from morning till night, you should be seeing the yad Hashem and singing His praises” (Tehillim 113).
And therefore if a person chooses עמל תורה, to labor in all the ideals that Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants to give him through the Torah, then you’re accomplishing. You’re being עמל, you’re toiling in the important things in life, and you’re growing in Awareness of Hashem.
YOU THOUGHT IT WAS THE EASY WAY OUT
But if a person chooses to avoid that toil; he’s looking for the easy way out and he’s not busy filling his mind with awareness of Hashem, so how is he going to succeed in this world? He’s here to make progress. How’s he’s going to do that? So Hashem brings upon him some difficulties. He has trouble making a living and he’s toiling trying to pay the bills. Or there’s trouble with health and he’s toiling running from one doctor to another, one test to another. Maybe he sees some white blotches, tzaraas developing on his skin. Trouble with his children, his neighbors, his wife. Whatever it is he cries out to Hashem for help. “Help me, Hashem, help me. Please save me; Hashem, help me, help me, help me.”
So Hakodosh Boruch Hu says, “It’s good you think about Me now at least. Now you’re prepared for the future. Now you’ll appreciate how much fun life is when everything is normal. No doctors, no sicknesses, no surgeries or pills. “No news is good news,” they say. And from now on you’ll be happy with everything Hashem has given you. And that’s what the Gemara there (ibid.) says: כולהו גופי דרופתקי נינהו – All bodies are instruments of toil, one way or another you’ll be toiling in things that should bring you to Awareness of Hashem, טובי לזכייה דהוי דרופתקי דאורייתא – “Fortunate are those who merit to be toilers in Torah ideals, and therefore avoid toiling in other difficulties.”
So that’s the choice that Hashem offers us. Hashem expects us to become excited in this world of happiness. Because that’s the purpose of the briyah – that we should become greater and greater and greater every day in this function of tov l’hodos – of singing to Hashem. As you make your way through this world, you’re expected to learn more and more about the wisdom and the profundity of the kindness of all of His creations. Hakodosh Boruch Hu has given us the opportunity to choose to live in great happiness. And to make progress, to shteigen מתוך שמחה. That was the plan.
But if chas v’shalom a person ignores all the good things that he has, he ignores his happiness, he ignores all the pleasures that Hashem is giving him, so Hakodosh Boruch Hu has to remind him: “There are other ways that I will remind you about Me, not such pleasant ways. But it’ll be a benefit even then because you’re finally accomplishing.”
NO ONE’S LISTENING
Now, the truth is that these words I’m saying to you have no effect on people who are living normal simple lives, no effect on healthy people – unless of course they take it to heart and actually work on it. Work! It takes work. אדם לעמל יולד. But nobody wants to work, so everyone suffices with empty platitudes, hollow words of gratitude that mean almost nothing. You prefer to sit back and listen to me speak, and finished. But that’s not enough. It’s not so simple to choose the Yeshiva of Chochmas Hashem. Because when everything is good, you easily lose sight of how good it actually is.
It’s an עמילות; it takes effort. And you won’t be able to make that effort unless you understand how important this function of Awareness of Hashem is in your stay in this world. We’re in this world not to loaf, but to labor in Awareness of Hashem. And if we labor in studying how to come close to Hashem by recognizing all of the good things surrounding us on all sides, all the time,then we won’t have to labor in yissurin.
HOW DO I BECOME A MILLIONAIRE?
And that brings us to the great principle encapsulated in the words of the mishna in Avos (4:1): איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו – “Who is a rich man? The one who is happy with his lot.” Now people think that it means be satisfied, and that’s all. That you accept your lot – of course you wish you had more – but you’re satisfied. And that’s a very big mistake. אדם לעמל יולד – “A man is born for toil.” You have to work on it. It takes toil to be a שמח בחלקו.
You have to labor in the study of what you have and in the appreciation of all its details. Spend time thinking about your garments. Did you ever spend time studying your garments? You’ve never spent five minutes straight thinking about the chesed Hashem in your begadim?! So you didn’t even begin to toil. No, you’re not toiling; you just want to sign on the dotted line: הריני שמח בחלקי – “I am hereby satisfied with my portion.” Are you really happy with all of the chesed Hashem that surrounds you? A nechtigeh tug!
THE WOOL-MAKING MACHINE
You must put your mind on your garments. Every morning you say malbish arumim and finished?! That’s no way to dismiss this great subject. Clothing is a miracle! Why should there be begadim? Here’s a sheep and on his back is growing wool. Why should wool grow out of the back of a sheep? Why should it? It’s natural, you say. The word ‘natural’ is a blindness. It misleads the world into darkness. There’s no natural. You see the purpose of wool in this world is for our clothing. All day long, all over the world, the sheep are eating and turning grass into wool – for us! Did you ever hear of such a machine? A machine that can turn grass into clothing?! All of our woolen garments came from the back of a sheep.
And where did your shirt come from? From cotton plants. Cotton plants?! You mean to say that your shirt grew out of the earth? Absolutely! It’s a great miracle to have fabric growing out of the earth.
WHAT WOULD I DO WITHOUT BUTTONHOLES?
And we have to study the great benefits of all the details of our begadim. The design of our clothing. What a happiness it is to have buttons and buttonholes. To have linings and to have pockets. There are so many accessories! And the fit! When you put on a garment, it’s not just a blanket thrown around you. It’s a fitted instrument full of various accessories. And if you don’t study these things, if you don’t toil in שמח בחלקו then you’re not enrolled in the Yeshiva of Chochmas Hashem.
And when you sit down to eat and you look at the food, you’re sitting down to a shiur in chasdei Hashem. Every meal is another great lesson. You look at the food and you think about the great miracle of food – Hakodosh Boruch Hu Is producing food! Where does it come from? Every day mountains of food are consumed in the city. Whole mountains are brought into the city. And still every day huge trucks bring more and more food to the city from all over the world. From the farms and the oceans, Hashem is bringing you food. And each type of food, every single bite, should be used to bring you to love of Hashem.
CHOOSING THE BEST YESHIVA
It’s a great happiness to walk in the street and see the niflaos haborei, the variation of sights and color that Hashem calls out to us with. It’s a great happiness to be able to go to the beis haknesses, to go to work, to sit with your family at the table. But you have to stop and think about it to really enjoy it. Because without thought, without laboring in appreciation of the chesed Hashem, you will not be able to appreciate unless you go through a harrowing experience of the yeshiva called Yeshiva Shel Yissurin! And it’s the best Yeshiva – unless of course you’re willing to be עמל, to toil, in the other Yeshiva, the Yeshiva of Chochmas Hashem. It’s one or the other, and Hakodosh Boruch Hu says: Choose!
Here’s a man who feels a constant pain in his head, a throbbing pain that doesn’t recede. And he’s worried very much. He’s going to specialists because the doctor thinks it serious. And for a while everyone was very worried. And finally they give him the good news that it’s nothing and he’s healed now. He should never forget that moment. Because the purpose of his tzaraas was to make him aware of Hashem. All his life he should feel the happiness of being healthy.
So now we know that our function in life is to utilize everything that comes along. Everything. Even though we don’t have tzaraas nowadays, Hashem is not limited to white blotches on the skin. Hashem will send you – or those around you – reminders in life.
DON’T BE A FOOL
And that’s what it says: איש חכם נשפט את איש אויל – “A wise man was arguing with a fool, ורגז ושחק – “He was angry at him, and he also smiled at him, ואין נחת – “But he has no pleasure out of it, no benefit” (Mishlei 29:9). So the Gemara says: Who is this wise man? That’s Hakodosh Boruch Hu. And He’s נשפט את איש אויל, He’s arguing with a fool. Who’s the fool? That’s us. We’re the fools. And Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants us to gain knowledge of Him. So ורגז, sometimes He sends anger, yissurim, upon us. “Maybe from anger, people will wake up and see Me. They’ll cry out to Me in distress and they’ll recognize Me. And sometimes ושחק, sometimes I will smile at people and give them only happiness.” But ואין נחת, there are no results. “The fool remains a fool,” says Hashem. “He suffers through the רגז and he merrily makes his way through the שחק, and he leaves Me out the picture.”
These are the two methods that Hakodosh Boruch Hu always uses with Man in this world. But sometimes people fail on both fronts. Sometimes Hashem is trying with ושחק and nothing happens. Hashem tries רגז, nothing doing. So it’s ואין נחת – Hashem has no nachas from you. And that person is called an אויל. An אויל means a person who is a nothing, he’s a failure. When people don’t utilize their happiness and successes to become more and more of Hashem, and they don’t use their difficulties for that purpose either, then they’re failures.
The life of a man in this world will be filled with רגז and שחק. Surrounding him on all sides is ושחק; this world is a place of happiness for the thinking man. And there will always be the רגז, the troubles, as well. Small, big, whatever it is, it will be there. And it’s not an accident. They both are intended to being you to the same place – gratitude to Hashem.
IT WAS WORTH THE HIT
And that’s what the possuk means כי רגע באפו חיים ברצונו – A small amount of anger from Hashem will lead to a life of satisfaction in Him. When you lose that chesed that you always took for granted, even it’s just for a short while, so now you’re ready for a long life of appreciating that chesed once it’s returned to you.
Here’s a man who never appreciated his legs. He walked around all day, back and forth, back and forth, and never turned to Hashem to say thank you. So now Hashem sends him a message to wake him from his slumber. And he breaks his leg. He’s in a cast for six weeks – for six weeks he’s in a wheelchair. Everything is difficult. Every movement. In and out of bed. Up and down steps. Six weeks!
Now, this month and a half is a very short period of time. It’s רגע באפו, it’s only six weeks of Hashem’s anger, and this man has a whole life ahead of him. And when this man will finally leave the doctor’s office after they take off the cast, he’ll enjoy his legs so much that he’ll dance all the way back home, singing to Hashem for every step. And if he’s a wise man he’ll continue to sing to Hashem for his legs all the days of his life. And that’s the חיים ברצונו – a long life of happiness in the chesed Hashem.
So here’s a man, let’s say, who one time tried to urinate and discovered that he couldn’t. Just once. Fifty years of relieving himself and such a thing never happened. It’s an emergency. You can’t fool around with such a thing! He never even thought about such a thing. He got up in the morning, and he tried, and nothing happened. That’s not a comfortable feeling; it’s like finding tzaraas on your skin.
So he calls out to his wife, “Emergency, I have an emergency here.” So they take a taxi, or an ambulance, whatever it is, and they rush to the hospital. And the nurses and doctors are rushing back and forth to different patients, and they’re holding all types of instruments, and each time he sees such tools he’s panicked. But he’s suffering terribly and he’s thinking, “Oy, Ribono Shel Olam, מאין יבוא עזרי.”
And then finally, they take a rubber pipe and they smear it with vaseline and they force it in. Ah yah yay! It hurts like the dickens. You can imagine the pleasure of such a thing. They screw in that rubber pipe and it comes up with blood as they force it in. And he’s screaming! And them finally, blessed relief! It was a temporary blockage, boruch Hashem, and he can go home. The yeshua came and he’s restored to normalcy. That’s his own personal taharas metzorah! He’s healed.
You should know that he just received a big gift. And not the gift of being able to urinate. That’s important of course, but the true gift is the opportunity to recognize how good Hashem was to him before when all was normal. A new dimension has been added to his life; from then on he enjoys life. Every time he relieves himself painlessly he’s so happy.
Now if he tells that to someone else who never had that experience, they’ll laugh at him; they’ll tell him he’s silly. “That’s fun?! That’s happiness?! Happiness means traveling someplace, spending money. Going to the bathroom b’shalom is happiness?!”
HALLEL INSTEAD OF ASHER YATZAR
Yes, my friends, if you’re able to function normally that’s relatively happiness. And Hakodosh Boruch Hu sent that sadness in order to accomplish something for him. He was רגז with him for a few hours. Hashem sent that sadness in order to accomplish something for you. A little bit of trouble can lead you to a life of happiness of the mind. And now at least, from now on, when Hashem smiles upon you, when Hashem is bestowing upon you the gift of normal life, he should never forget, and sing in happiness to Hashem, genuine happiness, all the rest of his life. Now his asher yatzar is not just a bracha. He’s so full of elation, so full of real joy, that his bracha is a song, it’s a Hallel. Say גאלת חיי, “Hashem, You redeemed my life. You saved me.”
And therefore we should utilize all of our lives, the times that Hashem is smiling upon us; all of our good health, and our happiness and all of the beautiful and kind creations of Hashem to become more and more aware of Him. But your mind has to participate in this great endeavor of appreciation of the chesed Hashem. If your mind would appreciate, let’s say, what it means to have a liver – the great chemical laboratory of the liver – you’d be a happy man. If you’d study the liver, you’d be a success.
Now in case you’re not interested in studying, there’s always an easy alternative. You never heard in your life of someone who suffered from liver disease. Someone who had an operation on his liver or who takes pills or treatment for his liver. And you don’t even know you have a liver. It’s only emunah on your part. You’re told you have a liver, so you believe in it. But you don’t feel it, it’s not bothering you, so you ignore it. And you never think about it. And not thinking about it is not what Chazal meant when they said איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו.
YOUR LIVER IS SINGING
But when you hear that someone is suffering from his liver, now that’s the wake-up call of the metzorah. And you’d better start singing. You have to start appreciating what it means to have a healthy liver. You have to study the situation of the man who doesn’t have a healthy liver, the same way you study the situation of the metzorah who doesn’t have his home and his family.
And once you begin appreciating what it means to have a liver that’s quiet; or a kidney that’s efficient and does its work without bothering you; a heart that’s pumping day and night perfectly; a home and a job, a family and neighbors; then you can begin singing to Hashem in gratitude and avoid any more reminders that might come closer to home.
Now this world is a complicated place. Hakodosh Boruch Hu has plans within plans, an infinite number of arrangements for people in this world. And we will never be able to fully understand the many reasons for what every individual must undergo in this world. But what we are speaking about here tonight is the basic premise, the crux, of everyone’s time in this world. Because there is nobody here who won’t have the opportunity to recognize Hashem in both schools, the Yeshiva of Yissurim as well as the Yeshiva of Chochmas Hashem. However, whatever Yeshiva you find yourself in at any moment of your life, you must make sure to listen to all the lessons. Because so many people are not growing in Awareness of Hashem at all.
LET’S NOT MAKE THE METZORA’S MISTAKE
If only the metzorah had understood what the tahara process symbolized before he had contracted that dreaded disease, he would have understood that it wasn’t inevitable. He could have taken into his head all the lessons of the eitz erez and eizov, and spent his days in appreciation of the chochmas Hashem and chesed Hashem that surrounds him on all sides.
Every time he looks up at the blue sky or the gray clouds, he’d be reminded of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Every tree and every flower. His own body that functions day and night, as well as the food that he sees. Everything is there would remind him of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. And if he would have filled his mind with the lessons of עץ ארז ועד אזוב so evident in the world, he wouldn’t have been standing there, outside the city, dipping the cedar wood and hyssop into the blood of the slaughtered bird.
And that’s the choice that we all have in our lives. Every single one of us: man, woman, boy or girl must make his way through this world on one of two paths. One is the path of the metzorah, of רגע באפו חיים ברצונו, suffering maladies and losses in order to appreciate the chesed Hashem. But the wise man will dedicate his mind להגיד בבוקר חסדיך ואמונתך בלילות – to singing to Hashem from morning till night, and in that way fulfill his function in this world with happiness and joy all the days of his life.