Don’t be humble, you’re not that great. -Golda Meir
This week’s Torah reading deals with the laws of the Metzora, a person who was afflicted with Tzaraat, an unusual skin disease that was ascribed to some spiritual infraction. While the details of what that infraction might be are not mentioned in the Torah, the Sages ascribe a number of various sins as to the reason why a person might contract Tzaraat.
In any case, after the Metzora’s exile from the Israelite camp and the healing of their symptoms, the Torah prescribes a detailed sacrifice and purification process. Part of the process includes using both hyssop and cedar wood.
The Chidushei HaRim on Leviticus 14:4 quotes the grand rabbinic commentator, Rashi, who states that a person will be afflicted with Tzaraat due to haughtiness. Therefore, it is sensible and symbolic that as part of the purification process, hyssop, a lowly humble shrub should be used. It reminds the haughty, arrogant Metzora of the need to learn humility and make humility a more serious part of their persona going forward.
However, the Chidushei HaRim wonders why cedar wood is also included in the formula. The cedar is one of the tallest, strongest, and most majestic biblical trees. It would seem strange that someone who has been diagnosed with a case of undue haughtiness should have the mightiest product of the land as part of their purification process.
He answers that the cedar is required for the opposite case of arrogance – misplaced humility. There are times when a person is called on to step forward. They will have the opportunity to do some good deed, to stand up for what’s right when it might be unpopular, to perform some Mitzvah when it’s inconvenient or might attract unwanted attention. Then a person might incorrectly humble themselves and think “who do I think I am that I should do this thing and go against the current.” They put themselves down as the lowly hyssop shrub. That is also wrong. They need to raise themselves like the great cedar and step forward. They need to strengthen themselves to do what’s right, what’s needed, and what perhaps no one around them is willing to do. In such situations, there is no place for erroneous humility. A person needs to proudly and courageously do God’s will.
May we avoid both ends of the attitudinal spectrum, both arrogance, and inappropriate humility.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher Ve’sameach,
To Pesach preparations.