For the Sake of Purifying

A noted talmid chacham — whom we will refer to as Reb Shmuel — was walking through the city’s streets immersed in thought when sounds of a rowdy gathering accosted his ears. Deeply distressed by what he was hearing, he followed the noise to a nearby building and discovered a group of Jewish youths engrossed in gambling. His refined soul, elevated by years of Torah study, couldn’t tolerate the sight of Jews engaged in an act forbidden by Chazal. Filled with righteous anger, he raised his voice and strongly rebuked them for their conduct.

Words emanating from the heart enter the heart, and the gamblers immediately halted the game. Filled with regret, they promised never again to gamble. In a show of contrition, they jointly decided not to benefit from the money they had earned that day through this forbidden practice. Instead, they took the money and gave it as a gift to Reb Shmuel.

Weeks later, Reb Shmuel found himself in a desperate financial situation. Realizing that he literally couldn’t buy food to feed his family, he racked his brains about how he could quickly earn some money. He recalled the incident with the gamblers and concluded that he had a perfect opportunity to get some money in an honorable way.

He made his way back to the same house and soon discovered that his suspicions were correct. Instead of mending their ways as promised, the youths were back to their gambling. Looking forward to earning some money, Reb Shmuel rejoiced in his heart as he burst into the room and began to angrily shout at the youths. “How can you not be ashamed to engage in something our Sages forbid?” he railed.

To his shock, their reaction was the polar opposite of the last time around. Instead of accepting his words respectfully, they responded with a torrent of angry insults. “Who appointed you a judge over us? First repair your own faults before talking to us about ours!” they yelled back.

Realizing that the confrontation was about to turn violent, Reb Shmuel beat a hasty retreat, emptyhanded.

Reb Shmuel later visited his spiritual mentor and related to him what had transpired. “Why were my words of rebuke so graciously accepted the first time around, and so angrily rejected on my second visit?” he asked.

His mentor explained the obvious. “The first time you were motivated solely by yiras Shamayim, and so your words were accepted. This time, your mouth shouted words about the honor of Hashem but your heart cried ‘Give me money!’”

The Ben Ish Chai used this story to explain a passuk in this week’s parashah. “The Kohen who purifies shall place the person being purified … before Hashem” (14:11).

Why was it necessary to state that it is the Kohen who “purifies”? It is clear from the parashah that the Kohen’s role was to purify the metzora.

The meat of the korban asham and korban chatas, as well as the accompanying minchah offerings, were eaten by the Kohanim. Therefore, the Torah seeks to remind the Kohen that in order to “place the person being purified before Hashem” — i.e., bring him back to the path of avodas Hashem — it must be a “Kohen who purifies” — whose only intention is to purify — and not to have any ulterior motives such as his own enjoyment.

The concept applies in every situation. Whether it is a parent seeking to influence a child, a teacher seeking to be mechanech a student, or a mentor trying to be mechazek a talmid, it is imperative that any ulterior motives must be eradicated. In many instances, this can be a daunting task.

As much as parents love their children, it is often difficult to ignore concern for their own reputation when they seek to educate their children. Whether it is deciding the type of school where to send a child, or the reaction to a failing grade, one must stop and remind oneself that ultimately, whatever one decides and does must be based on what is best for one’s children, and should not be about one’s own prestige.

Often it is necessary to consult with someone who can give impartial advice and help guide parents in the right direction.