Tazria-Metzora: Unpleasant Torah Issues

by Rabbi Binyamin Zev Kahane

First published in 1996.

Parshat Tazria-Metzora discusses all kinds of unpleasant subjects. One can even say they are "not nice." Leprosy, plagues, scabs, semen and all different forms of uncleanliness are expounded upon in the greatest of detail. Why must the Torah deal with the most undignified of problems that trouble man? Would it not be preferable for our holy Torah to skip such subjects and discuss more spiritually uplifting matters? You know, concepts such as holiness and purity, grandeur and splendor, and similar religious subjects? Do we really need to read in such graphic detail about semen and scabs on a Shabbos morning? Should not this subject matter be dealt with modestly?

But the more we learn Torah, the more we reveal that just as Torah deals with spiritually uplifting concepts, so too it deals with matters we would not categorize as "spiritual." For example, at the very beginning of the Tur and Shulchan Aruch, in "Orach Haim" (the section dealing with day to day matters), are the laws dealing with going to the bathroom, elaborated upon in meticulous detail. Nothing more and nothing less.

And so, we see a basic principle: the Torah is a Torat hayim, applying to one's life in the fullest of senses.

Indeed, it would be more comfortable for many if the Torah would deal with the "lofty" subjects, and that their spiritual world would only include the "nice", "pure" topics that go down smoothly. It would be preferable to many if the trivial, everyday stuff would be placed outside the spiritual realm. But the purpose of the Torah is precisely the opposite. It is to bring holiness and spirituality to even the most remote and lowly of places, in order to sanctify them. It intentionally relates in great measure to the problematic areas of life, so it will not be mistaken for some nice "folklore" that requires a consensus and a distancing from controversy. It deals with the evil. And when the time comes where one must perform some painful surgery - even at the cost of a certain amount of blood-letting - then even this must be done without undue hesitation.

One can not ignore tzaraat ("leprosy"). It is an expression of man's problems, and the sages tell us that the very word tzaraat is from motzi shem ra ("slander"). And so, the world needs to be corrected. Sometimes, it takes serious surgery, and one can not ignore it by getting bogged down in all kinds of "lofty" and "nice" concepts that are cut off from reality. That is a Christian outlook. The Torah, by contrast, separates between good and evil, and deals with the problems. It doesn't run away from reality; it deals with it head on.

One of the problems with observant Jews is that there is all too often a subconscious distinction between "nice mitzvot" and "not nice mitzvot" (this categorization being dependent on the "spirit" of the time). Everyone, for example, loves the mitzvah of Shabbat; it has come to embody a concept pertaining to "social" and family values. (Once this was not so, and it was looked upon in a negative light, as we see that Haman tried to incite Achashverosh against the Jews using the fact that the Jews rest on Shabbat.) Everyone also loves the mitzvah of honoring one's parents. Who can oppose such a nice mitzvah? (And this too isn't an absolute, as we know of societies who cast off their elder citizens to die.)

On the other hand, people tend to distance themselves from the mitzvot of leprosy, as they do from the halachot of war, vengeance and the expulsion of Goyim from the land, despite the fact that these subjects are such a central and basic theme in authentic Jewish thought. For these laws, too, belong to the category of "not nice" mitzvot in the Torah, since they

True, most observant Jews would not dare to admit they make such a categorization. But in their subconscious, they do it all the time, due to the non-stop brainwashing, which, like gamma rays, penetrates their mindsets. This is why many find themselves alienated from the parsha Tazria-Metzora, and this is why they use all kinds of excuses to deny the parshas dealing with war and vengeance.

Like a pillar, the parshas of Tazria-Metzora appear between the parshiot that express the height of holiness and the "beauty" of Judaism - parshat Shemini in which the Tabernacle was consecrated and parshat Achrei Mot, which describes the service of the Cohen HaGadol on Yom Kippur. This teaches us a vital lesson: "Torat HaShem timeema, meshivat nafesh." - "The Torah of HaShem is perfect (whole), restoring the soul." (Psalms 19:8) When does it restore the soul? When it is whole and complete, and not divided into different parts that we are more fond of or less fond of.

In the final analysis, the greatness of Torah may even stem from the fact that it relates to the "less nice" sides of life, offering clear solutions to problems. Our Torah is not pareve, but rather determined and unhesitating, carrying on its banner the need to cling to good and burn out evil. Without compromises.

Not Everyone is Included in the Four Species

From The Writings of Rav Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane in honor of Sukkot Organs of power at home joining the side of our enemy requires us t...