Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #28: M’tzora (Person afflicted with tzara’at) Vayikra (Leviticus)
Haftarah: M’lakhim bet (2 Kings) 7:3-20
B’rit Chadashah: Matthew 9:20-26
This week’s parashah describes several situations whereby people or their homes are infected with tzara’at. We are going to focus on two of these; selfishness, and the power of speech.
Last week we discussed the fact that tzara’at is a physical manifestation of a spiritual problem. The Talmud (Arachin 16) tells us that tzara’at comes specifically as the result of loshon hara (the evil tongue). This is one of several problems that result in tzara’at. One example of this is when Moshe’s sister Miriam spoke against Moshe; she contracted tzara’at (Numbers 12). What is the connection between speaking badly about another-gossiping about another, and the skin disease of tzara’at?
Speech is meant to be a tool of creation whereby we can encourage, admonish, constructively criticize, and edify others and the world. By teaching, encouraging, and giving others confidence, we are telling them they are important and valuable. On the other hand, speech can be used to destroy. As King Solomon said, “Life and death are in the hands of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Isn’t that an interesting remark, that the hands of the tongue carry speech that is good or bad, far and wide? The Talmud (Arachin 15b) explains that negative speech is even worse than a sword, since it kills many people, even at a great distance. Beyond the individual destruction, we all know the harm gossip can cause; it can tear apart relationships, families, and even entire communities.
Let’s go a step further. Just as the Torah prohibits speaking loshon hara, we are prohibited from listening to it. For some reason, people love a juicy story; thinking they have “inside” information about a person or situation. Have you noticed this phenomenon? Do you ever wonder why people slow down to a crawl in traffic to see as much of an accident as they can? I submit it is because they want to get home and tell somebody else about it. By listening to someone else gossiping, whether true or not, we are fueling an alien fire, promoting sinful behavior in another. Gossip is NEVER harmless.
From this we can better understand Leviticus 13:45-6 which says that when someone has been diagnosed with tzara’at, they must go outside the city gates of the city shouting “Unclean! Unclean!” If we promote decisiveness among others, we will also suffer separation from a believing community.
Many people think that loshon hara is limited to lying about someone. However, lying falls under a different prohibition (Exodus 20:13, 23:7). Loshon hara includes saying anything against another even if it is true. People often rationalize what they are about to say in ways that automatically give us clues that what they are about to say is really loshon hara. Let’s cover a few of these to give you an idea of what to watch out for:
1.Did you hear about so and so?
2. But it’s true
3. If I weren’t your friend I wouldn’t tell you but…
4. I’d say it even to his/her face.
5. This may be loshon hara but…
6. I wouldn’t care if he/she came right here
Why do people do this to each other? Basically, the motive comes down to low self-esteem and a lack of trust in G-d. When someone feels inferior to others, there are two ways to address it; either get over it and make the effort to better themselves or put others down. After all, if we can put others down, we perceive ourselves as important. People with this problem love to have others gather round to hear what they have to say. Why do you think The National Inquirer is so popular? This concept can be applied to anti-Semitism. A nation like Israel that answers to a Higher Authority is a constant reminder of G-d’s expectations for humanity and our potential for morality and obedience to G-d’s Torah. If others beat down Israel every chance they get, the obligation to strive for the highest standard falls by the wayside. If we consider listening to gossip or are tempted to engage in it in any other way we should take a hard look at Psalm 46:10; 51:12-15, and especially Psalm 37. Let’s look at 37:6-7; “commit your way to Adonai; trust in Him and He will act. He will make your vindication shine forth like light, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before Adonai; wait patiently till He comes. Don’t be upset by those who way succeeds because of their wicked plans. Stop being angry, put aside rage, and don’t be upset- it leads to evil.”
So, how do we deal with avoiding loshon hara? We must first recognize our own faults and make a commitment to improving them. When I accept that I alone am responsible for my personal character flaws, then I will become less critical of others. As we enter this season of Pesach (Passover), let us remember this is a time of rescue and redemption from slavery. We can become free of the slavery that practicing or participating in loshon hara places on our souls if we turn from such behavior and ask G-d to strengthen us daily.
Let us move on to Leviticus 14:34 and discuss the concept of correcting selfishness. “When you arrive in the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, I will place a tzara’at affliction upon a house in the land of your possession.”
Possession- This is the last form of tzara’at mentioned in our parashah. This form was not known until the people entered Israel. According to the Sages, the people who lived in the land prior to the Israelites hid their valuables in the walls of their homes to prevent the Jews from getting them when they came to conquer the land. I cannot verify this, but it is certainly possible. Subsequently, when the walls of these houses were struck with tzara’at, making the removal of the parts of the walls and sometimes the destruction of the entire house necessary, the valuables were discovered by the new owners. This would initially seem confusing. We are told that tzara’at in the walls of a home was punishment for selfishness. Why would the selfish be rewarded? The Torah tells us that before the Cohen comes to inspect the suspected discoloration to determine whether there is tzara’at, all the contents of the house are to be removed (Lev. 14:35). That way they do not become impure if the house is declared to have tzara’at. There is a Midrash that adds another reason for removing all the vessels that I believe makes a great point. Emptying the entire house of its contents is a corrective action for the selfishness which causes contamination of tzara’at in the first place. Selfish people often pretend they have less than they do, to avoid sharing or giving charity. Having to remove all ones possessions in public is embarrassing and helps to encourage one to atone for his/her selfishness.
We should look at our material possessions in the light of how we may use them for the service of G-d. For example, we may use the knowledge we gain from our books to teach others. We may use our cookware to bake things for others. We may share the fruit of our gardens with others. Some of our money may be used to supply the needs of fellow believers who have a need, or to give a thanksgiving offering to G-d for our bounty. In our own synagogue there are those who contribute food for oneg, time to maintain the building, sharing prayer needs of others, and a myriad of other manifestations of time and talents. When we share our individual blessings with others, the collective body of believers benefits and we honor G-d. It is this mindset that separates us from the rest of the world that says, “it’s all about me, I’m entitled, and I want it now.” If you still aren’t convinced, let’s take a look at the haftarah that follows.
Haftarah: M’lakhim Bet 7:3-20
King Ben-Hadad of Aram had taken the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria). The famine that followed was catastrophic, with many turning to cannibalism (2 Kings 6:28-29). King Jehoram of Israel wanted to kill Elisha, considering that his prayers could have prevented everything that happened. Elisha reassured the king, “So has G-d said, ‘At this time tomorrow, six quarts of fine flour will sell for only a shekel, and half a bushel of barley for a shekel at the gate of Shomron.’” One of the king’s officers scoffed at the prophecy: “Behold, if G-d makes windows in the sky, will this thing come about?” Elisha responded, “Behold, you will see with your own eyes, but you shall not eat from there.” What faith Elisha had in G-d.
Four men suffering from the famine were living in quarantine outside the city. They were suffering from tzara’at. They decided to approach the enemy camp to beg for food. When they arrived, they found the camp deserted. For in 2 Kings 7:6 it reads, “For Adonai had caused the army of Aram to hear the sound of chariots and horses; it sounded like a huge army; and they said to each other, ‘The king of Israel must have hired the kings of the Hitti and the kings of the Egyptians to attack us.” The entire enemy army fled, leaving behind their tents, horses, donkeys, and provisions. They went to the city and reported what they found to the gatekeepers who informed King Jehoram. Although he originally thought this was an ambush, he sent messengers who confirmed what was reported. The people swarmed out of the city and looted the enemy camp, thereby breaking the famine and fulfilling Elisha’s prophecy. The king’s officer who mocked G-d was placed in charge of the city gaits by the king. But he was trampled to death by the crowds after seeing the fulfillment of Elisha’s prophecy.
After researching this haftarah, I thought about the difference between the reaction to Hurricane Katrina in 2005in the United States, and the reaction of the Japanese to the Fukushima disaster of 2018. After Hurricane Katrina, there were people who started looting as soon as they could make their way through the flooded areas to abandoned homes and shops. There was total chaos just as we see in our haftarah. However, in Japan the people did not loot. Rather, they wait patiently in line for food, water, and other assistance. If there is any doubt in our minds about the selfishness and greed that motivates America’s behavior, economy and other actions, just watch how people react in a crisis. Just wait, we have not seen anything yet. If we remain in Torah, there will be no chaos in our lives, spiritually or manifested physically. G-d is in control and we simply need to let Him pilot our lives.
B’rit Chadashah: Matthew 9:20-26
“A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years approached him from behind and touched the tzitzit on his robe. For she said to herself, ‘If I can only touch his robe, I will be healed.’ “Yahshua turned, saw her and said, ‘Courage, daughter! Your trust has healed you.’ And she was instantly healed. When Yahshua arrived at the official’s house and saw the flute-players, and the crowd in an uproar, he said, ‘Everybody out! The girl isn’t dead, she’s only sleeping!’ And they jeered at him. But after the people had been put outside, he entered and took hold of the girl’s hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.”
The first thing we notice is that trust requires action. The woman went to Yahshua to reach for his tzitzit. This is like the lesson we learned last week about Naaman. He had to go to the water (living water in a manner of speaking). The water did not hop up out of its banks and run to Naaman.
This issue takes us back to our parashah. Recall that a bloody discharge of a woman represents the passing of potential life. An unfertilized egg is dead, and thus makes a woman ritually impure, as does her menses (Lev. 15:19-30). In our scenario, this woman with an issue of blood (abnormal bleeding) comes to touch Yahshua’s tzitzit because she knows through her trust in him that simply touching his garment can heal her. It’s interesting that Yahshua felt her touching his tzitzit even though he did not see her touch it. Let’s look at Mark 5:25-35 for confirmation; “Among them was a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years and had suffered a great deal under many physicians. She had spent her life savings; yet instead of improving, she had grown worse. She had heard about Yahshua, so she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his robe; for she said, ‘If I touch even his clothes, I will be healed.’ Instantly the hemorrhaging stopped, and she felt in her body that she had been healed form the disease. At the same time, Yahshua, aware that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ His disciples responded, ‘You see the people pressing in on you; and you still ask, ‘Who touched me? But he kept looking around to see who had done it. The woman, frightened and trembling, because she knew what had happened to her, came and fell down in front of him and told him the whole truth. ‘Daughter,’ he said to her, ‘your trust has healed you. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.’”
He felt the energy exchange that occurred. As the Cohen haGadol (High Priest), Yahshua made atonement for her before Adonai on account of her unclean discharge (See Lev. 15: 30) for an interesting parallel. Yes, G-d’s Torah is just as applicable today as it was when it was written (Matt. 5:18).
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart