Mordechai Soskil

Inaugurating the Metzora (No politics; I promise)

Usually when I write a “BlogTorah” I try to tell some anecdote, insight, or catchy phrase that I think might attract a reader’s attention. And then after I tell my story I share some insight into the parsha and try to connect the two. But not today. Today I’ll give you the Torah part right up front. (You’re welcome CNDbMMA”HL.)

The process the Metzora goes through to become fully purified and fully reintegrated into the community and sacrificial worship is ALMOST unique. The placing of blood and oil on a person’s right ear, right thumb, and the large toe on their right foot has one parallel in the Torah. When the Aharon and his sons were inaugurated in the Kohein-ship they also brought 3 sacrifices, blood was also placed on them in those locations, and oil was also put on them as they were anointed. And that is it. Those are the only two places where this service happens.

So what’s up with that?

Sometimes half of a good answer is in how you ask a question. If we frame the question like this, “What is the connection between a ceremony that turns ordinary Jews into Kohanim (that will serve either as representatives of the Jewish people before G-d or as representatives of G-d to the Jewish people, depending on who you ask) and a ceremony that brings a repentant and healed sinner back to full membership in the Divine Community?” then, the answer is sort of right there. In both ceremonies you’re taking people that were on the outside and bringing them inside a more revered and elevated group. Easy peasey, lemon squeezy. But I think there is still more to explore.

I wonder if this process is essentially a metzora healing process that was tweaked and modulated to create kohanim or if the ceremony was essentially a Kohaim making process that was watered down to fix the Metzora. On the one hand we have a principle attributed to the Gra that the first time something appears in the Torah that is its “source.” That would mean this is essentially a Kohain making process. But on the other hand, that only happened once in all of history, whereas the Metzora ceremony could have happened any number of times during the biblical period, though not recorded. That would make you think it’s really more of a Metzora ceremony.

I know, you’re wondering. “Who cares?” Well, I mean, I do. I think my old chavrusah would care considering how many days we spent deciding if shechita was an avoda that a zar could do or a non-avoda that could affect pigul. So yeah, probably tons of people care. And everyone knows that kodshim is more interesting than Israeli politics.

I’ll say a pshat just to get us started. Maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you’ll have a kasha. I’m ok either way.

I want to suggest that really, this ceremony is how the Kohanim were made. (Which would be consistent with the “rule” of the Gra mentioned above.) But it was modulated to bring the Metzora back. Why does the Metzora, and only the Meztora, need such an elaborate ceremony? Because the Metzora and only the Metzora was pushed so far away. The Metzora was sent outside all walled cities. He had to dress like a mourner, keep his hair wild and uncut, and most of all, he had to call out to anyone near him, “Impure! Impure!” He was pushed so far outside and he needs much more attention to be brought back.

Interestingly, the Ohr Hachayim points out that the verse זֹאת תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת הַמְּצֹרָע בְּיוֹם טָהֳרָתוֹ וְהוּבָא אֶל־הַכֹּהֵן which means, “This will be the law for the Metzora on the day that he is to be purified, when he is brought to the Kohein.” Why does the Torah say when he is brought to the Kohein and not when he goes to the Kohein? Why is he passive?

I’m suggesting that the Metzora needs to be encouraged to come back. He needs to be told he is welcome back. He needs to be shown that the past is past and we want him back. And not just that. Not just that he can come back and be like he was before. He can come back and be a leader. He goes through a process that is in its framework just like the process of creating a Kohein. He doesn’t just come back to be ordinary. I’m suggesting that ceremony is there to create a halachik reality, a spiritual status, a mindset in the former Metzora, and a mindset in all who observe this ceremony. This person is NOT a reformed sinner! He is person with a WHOLE NEW MISSION!

The practical lesson, I think, is to recognize two things: 1) if we have used a lot of effort to push someone away then we need to use a lot of effort to bring them back. And we should not be surprised that they are reluctant to rejoin our community. And 2) we should honor the effort people put into growth and personal improvement by seeing them as newly minted people with a new start.

Speaking of a whole new mission, Binyamin came home!!! My son has been in Israel learning for a year. A whole year. He left right after Pesach 2018 and we haven’t seen him since. (Except on What’sApp.) I know that in the olden times it was fairly common to send boys away from home to study for long periods, and maybe even to send them away forever. But it’s not anymore. This was the longest we have ever been apart from any of our children and we are so happy to have him home.

He’s a little taller, I’m sure a little wiser, and a lot more of a self-assured young man. I can’t wait to get newly acquainted with this new version of Binyamin. I don’t have a witty anecdote to share and I can’t connect this to the parsha in any meaningful way. I just wanted to say thank you to Hashem for sending us back our son with his pelvis, his femur, and his ribs all intact. Thank you. Hodu Lashem Ki Tov, Ki L’Olam Chasdo.

May you all be blessed to prepare for Pesach with wisdom and calm and may you have a chag kasher v’sameach.

About the Author
Rabbi Mordechai Soskil has been teaching Torah for more than 20 years. Currently he is the Director of Judaic Studies at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. He is also the author of a highly regarded book on faith and hashkafa titled "Questions Obnoxious Jewish Teenagers Ask." He and his wife Allison have 6 children. And a blessedly expanding herd of grandchildren.
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