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Parshas Tazria/Metzora - Learning to Handle the Truth      30 Nissan 5783

04/21/2023 08:16:09 AM


The Jewish people are called “B’Nei Yisrael” but are also referred to as the “Beis Yaakov”. When Yaakov’s name was changed by God, it was not meant to be a name that would replace the previous name, as was the case with Avraham and Sorah; rather it provided another dimension of who Yaakov was. Rabbeinu Bachya, in Parshas Vayechi, points out that the name Yaakov is used when describing something physical, while the name Yisrael stood for the spiritual side of the person whom his children would emulate.

I have often written, spoken, and taught about how Hashem created man with a dichotomy of the physical and the spiritual within a physical world. We human beings maintain both a physical and a spiritual side of who we are; not only do these characteristics exist side by side, they are intertwined with each other. We find the spiritual often compliments the physical and vice versa. The neshama represents the spirit and the guf/body represents the physical parts of a person, each very likely to almost mirror the other. When the spiritual dominates, then both the body and soul flourish. On the other hand, if the physical dominates, then at the end of a life, the person is bereft of not only the spiritual but also the physical.  As a Rabbi, I am a strong proponent of working and caring for the neshama and the religious concerns of an individual. At the same time, the Torah admonishes us to be healthy, to watch over our health; and this is where the spiritual and physical - the body and soul - need to be on the same page.

Taking care of one’s health is directly in line with fulfilling a religious obligation. I strive to be in line and schedule regular and annual appointments for my general health and specific areas of medical concern. I am not perfect, but I see the physician and the only thing I need to do is to follow the medical advice I receive. A few years ago (during Covid) I had a pimple on my nose which caused me concern. I turned to Google, researching all the symptoms and possible diagnoses. This got me nervous enough to go see a dermatologist. I always noticed different kinds of spots on my body - some brown, some red, little bumps, and skin tags. Since then, I took care to have annual physicals to inspect all the spots on my body. On my last visit I noticed how quickly the doctor scanned and looked at the different spots on my body. He identified each one, describing and explaining what they were, assuring me, Baruch Hashem, that they were of no concern. I was amazed as he recognized the different sizes, shapes and color of each spot and declared all to be normal. This immediately recalled something eerily similar in the spiritual world known as Tzoraas, which, as we’re all aware, is a spiritual malady that has physical manifestations. Hence, we see the crossing over of the spiritual and physical. My dermatologist, Dr. Ginsberg (who btw I highly recommend) reminded me of what a Kohein may do when a person comes for a check-up when certain spots and colors appear on a body. Unfortunately, we do not take the word of a Kohein to the same degree of importance as we do a doctor. In other words, when it comes to a physical or medical issue, we heed the word of a doctor, but when a spiritual issue arises, we tend to brush off the advice and instruction of the spiritual leader. This is highlighted in this week’s Torah reading.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Tazria and Metzora states in Vayikra 14:3 "ויצא הכהן אל מחוץ למחנה, וראה הכהן והנה נרפא נגע צרעת מן הצרוע"  “The priest [Kohein] shall go outside the camp, where he shall examine the leper to determine that the leprous mark has healed”. This verse can be explained in a virtue-based ethical manner (derech Mussar). Earlier in Vayikra 4:3 the Torah states “ “אם הכהן המשיח יחטא לאשמת העם.... “If the anointed priest [Kohein]commits an inadvertent violation, bringing guilt to his people, the sacrifice for his violation shall be an unblemished young bull as a sin offering to God.” If the leaders of the Jewish people, the individuals upon whom we trust and rely, make a mistake unintentionally and turn from the proper path, it “brings guilt to the people”- leading the people to walk in their footsteps of sin. This is hinted in the words “The priest [Kohein] shall go outside the camp”. The Kohein went out from his spiritual camp to the camp of the ordinary. Then, because of his going out of his camp to the non-Kohein camp “… he shall examine the leper to determine that the leprous mark has healed” feeling the pressure and learning from others what they want to hear. He [the Kohein] will give a “hechsher”- a stamp of approval and declare the man free and clean of Tzoraas/leprosy. Meaning, he will learn the ways of what the people want to hear: that it is not leprosy, that the food is kosher, that this activity is permissible, you can do this, you can do that, and so forth, because the leader responds to what the questioner wants to hear as their answer.

This is not the case with a medical professional. While we hope the doctor will give us good news, assuring us all test results were negative, however, if the prognosis turns out to be positive, in essence we need and want to hear the truth. If, Rachmana Litzlan (Heaven forbid), a person is diagnosed with an illness and needs medical intervention with medicine or treatments, the doctor doesn’t just say “Ah, you’ll be fine. You don’t have to do anything, just continue to live your life as is and enjoy.” To the contrary, we would sue the doctor for malpractice and for jeopardizing the patient’s life.

We all understand and appreciate the need for the doctor to be up front, to tell us something we need to hear. Why should it be different if the spiritual leader, be it the Kohein who checks for Tzoraas or a modern-day Rabbinic figure, be any different?               

Ah Gutten Shabbos,

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Tue, June 25 2024 19 Sivan 5784