Ari Sacher

‘Drones and Rashes’ Parashat Metzora – Pesach 5784

Last week’s Portion of Tazria pertains primarily to the laws of tzara’at, a skin disease commonly – but incorrectly – associated with leprosy. A person afflicted with tzara’at is rendered ritually impure and sis sent “outside the camp”. This week’s Portion of Metzora can be considered a “sister-portion” to the Portion of Tazria. It pertains primarily to the process undergone by a person who has been cured of tzara’at, a process that enables him to return to society. The process includes the offering of four sacrifices – two birds[1] and two sheep – shaving off all his hair and anointing his body with oil.

The portion begins with the following words [Vayikra 14:2]: “This shall be the law of the person afflicted with tzara’at, on the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the Priest (Kohen)[2].” Why does the verse demand that the person “be brought” to the Kohen, indicating that he should be brought even against his will? Similar wording appears at the beginning of the Portion of Tazria regarding a person who discovers a lesion that might be indicative of tzara’at [Vayikra 13:2]: “If a man has a [lesion] on the skin of his flesh, and it forms a lesion of tzara’at on the skin of his flesh, he shall be brought to Aaron the Kohen, or to one of his sons, the Kohanim.” In this verse, it is clear why a person would have to “be brought” to the Kohen. A person is considered to be afflicted by tzara’at if, and only if, he is diagnosed by a Kohen. If he takes his lesion to a world-class dermatologist who is not a Kohen, and he is told that he definitely has tzara’at, the person is not rendered ritually impure, nor is he expelled from the camp. It is in his best interests that he remain as far away as possible from a Kohen and therefore, he must “be brought”, kicking and screaming, to the Kohen. On the other hand, a person who has already been positively diagnosed with tzara’at has a vested interest in seeing a Kohen so that he can once again sleep in his own bed. The Ibn Ezra[3] suggests that a person might prefer to avoid offering potentially expensive sacrifices than becoming spiritually pure. We force him to undergo the purification ritual, even against his will[4].

I would like to propose another reason that the person whose tzara’at has been cured is “brought to” the Kohen. A story is told of an person who goes Pesach shopping. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he delays his visit to the supermarket until the night before Pesach. Needless to say, it is bedlam, and he cannot not even find a parking space. He goes through the entire parking lot five times, he trails people carrying packages to their cars, but still – nothing. He looks up towards heaven and says, “G-d, if You help me find a parking space, I will come to synagogue three times a day, I will stay awake during the Rabbi’s sermon, and I will give eighteen-thousand dollars to the charity of Your choice”. Suddenly, right in front of his car, another car begins to back out. He looks up towards heaven and says, “G-d, thanks, but it looks like I don’t need Your help anymore.” It has been said that there are no atheists in foxholes. In times of extreme stress or fear, people naturally turn to G-d. But all too often, when the stress levels fall, so does our belief. Tzara’at is an ugly disease. The sufferer is excommunicated. People gawk at him and shout [Vayikra 13:46] “Impure! Impure!” He is angry – with himself and with G-d. When he is cured of the disease, a huge burden is lifted. “Finally, that disease is gone!” He “is brought” kicking and screaming to the Kohen so that he will instead say, “Thank G-d, that disease is gone!”

Last Saturday night took me back more than thirty years to January 15, 1991. When the American ultimatum to Sadaam Hussein to leave Kuwait expired, we Israelis knew that a bullseye had been painted over our country. It was just a matter of time until Sadaam opened fire with his SCUD-B missiles and their one-ton warheads. The waiting is the hardest part… We were almost relieved when, less than two days later, the missiles began to fall. This time it took two weeks. Israelis, fuelled by the media, slowly slipped into hysteria: When and how will the Iranians strike back? Late Saturday night, the Iranians launched “tens” which soon became “hundreds” of suicide drones at Israel. It was only a matter of time until the faster cruise missiles and even faster ballistic missiles were launched, ensuring that all the threats would arrive at their targets at the same time. As opposed to 1991, this time I was oddly calm. The State of Israel had been preparing for this kind of scenario for more than thirty years. It had built up a multi-layer missile defence shield, with Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow-2 and Arrow-3. To defend against the suicide drones, Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, joined by aircraft from a coalition of nations, took to the sky, armed with air-to-air missiles. Ninety-nine percent of the threats did not hit their targets. Most of them were intercepted before they even entered Israeli airspace. Four of the missiles hit the Nevatim Israeli Air Base in the south, lightly damaging some buildings and blowing a huge pothole adjacent to a runway. One person on the ground in Rahat was injured by interception debris.

Since the Iranian raid, nearly a dozen people have sent me a letter written by an Israeli named “M. Abitbol”, who claims to hold a doctorate in Physics, and has spent some time in the defence industry. He posits that what happened on Saturday night is nothing less than an overt miracle. “The rescue… is simply impossible to have occurred naturally… It is greater than the victory of the 6-Day War.” He concludes by thanking G-d and by quoting from the Prophet Micah [7:15]: “As in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt, I will show him wonders.” Everyone who sent me this letter has asked if I agree with it. My answer is “Sort of”. Follow the science: The reported performance of Israeli missile defence systems since the beginning of the war has been well over ninety percent. Now about a hundred and ten ballistic missiles were fired on Saturday night and about half of them were engaged. Four got through. That’s a little better than ninety percent. Impressive, but not unexpected. As for the suicide drones, they are slow and have large radar cross-sections and thermal signatures, such that intercepting them was a turkey shoot. What I found most impressive was the cooperation[5] between coalition forces – it was clear that critical data was being shared and that flight controllers from multiple countries were collaborating on target allocation and deconfliction. But beyond a certain misrepresentation of the facts, what bothered me most about the letter was the verse that he quoted, comparing the events of last Saturday night to the exodus from Egypt. In Egypt, G-d was clearly bending the rules of physics, turning rivers to blood, pulling frogs out of a hat, and splitting a sea in two. But what about when G-d works within those same rules – is that really any less miraculous? I think that Abitbol’s comparison to the Six-Day War was far more appropriate. In the Six-Day War, Israel defeated every meaningful army in the Middle East in less than one week without breaking a single law of physics, the same way none were broken last Saturday Night. And yet, my faith in G-d was nonetheless reinforced. We experienced what I now call “Psalm Whiplash”: We went to sleep with Psalm 20 – “May G-d answer you on a day of distress” – and we woke up eighty psalms later – “A song for a thanksgiving offering. Shout to G-d, all the earth!”

Our mission is to recognize G-d’s handiwork even when it is camouflaged and to shout our thanks for his deliverance – from missiles, from suicide drones, and from that lingering rash.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5784

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Sheindel Devorah bat Rina, Rina bat Hassida, and Esther Sharon bat Chana Raizel

[1] One of the birds is offered on the altar and the other is set free.

[2] A problem that we will not address in this essay is how the person afflicted with tzara’at could be brought to the Kohen if he is not allowed to enter the camp. The explanations I have seen are all variations on a theme in which the person afflicted with tzara’at comes to the outer perimeter of the camp, where he is met by the Kohen.

[3] Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, usually referred to as “The Ibn Ezra”, lived in Cordoba, Spain, at the turn of the 12th century.

[4] The Ibn Ezra does not explain why we force him to be purified. When one comes into contact with a dead body, he can remain impure for the rest of his life, if he so desires. Why is the case of tzara’at different? I suggest that noting that one of the sheep is sacrificed as a Guilt Offering (Asham), the purification process contains a punitive and redemptive dimension such that a person has no choice but to undergo the ritual.

[5] Abitbol also calls this out.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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