A Pseudo-Blemish

U’ba asher lo habayis v’higid laKohen leimor k’nega nir’ah li babayis (Vayikra 14:35)

Parashas Metzora contains the laws governing tzaraas that afflicts a person’s house. If a person discovers an irregularity on the walls of his home that he suspects may be tzaraas, he is required to approach a Kohen and inform him about the suspicious sighting. Rashi writes that even if the homeowner is a Torah scholar who is well-versed in the relevant laws and he knows with complete confidence that the affliction is indeed a case of tzaraas, he still should not say, “There is a blemish in my house,” but rather, “There appears to be a blemish in my house.” If he knows with certainty that the irregularity is tzaraas, why is he required to speak in this ambiguous manner?

Harav Chaim Zvi Senter notes that Rashi writes (14:34) that when a house is afflicted with tzaraas, it often yields great benefits to the owner. Because the previous Canaanite inhabitants hid their treasures in the walls of their homes, the process of removing the afflicted stones can reveal these valuable items. Thus, what at first appeared to be a punishing affliction becomes the catalyst that brings tremendous wealth. For this reason, when speaking to the Kohen, the owner is instructed not to identify the blemish as a definite affliction, but only as something that superficially looks like one.

Similarly, in our own lives, we often find that situations that initially appear challenging and painful turn out to be extremely beneficial. As we go through life and find ourselves in such circumstances, we must never lose faith and should remind ourselves that there may be unfathomable treasures waiting to be uncovered.

Along these lines, when a Kohen is inspecting a suspected affliction on a person’s skin, the Torah commands (13:3), “The Kohen shall look at the affliction … the Kohen shall look at it and declare him impure.” Why is the verb “he shall look” repeated? Rav Senter suggests that the Torah is hinting that it is insufficient for the Kohen to examine the affliction only once, and prior to pronouncing the person tamei, it is incumbent upon the Kohen to take another look.

Rav Senter notes that this approach represents the antithesis of the metzora’s underlying problem. The metzora only spoke lashon hara because he jumped to conclusions and judged others immediately. If he had taken a second look before criticizing his subject based on initial impressions, he likely would have seen things differently and refrained from disparaging his victim. By examining the affliction a second time before ruling on it, the Kohen is alluding to the metzora that had he taken this approach with others, he wouldn’t find himself in this situation, and adopting this technique is the key to his cure.

Q: Is a Kohen who is ineligible to serve in the Beis Hamikdash due to a physical blemish also disqualified from ruling on the status of tzaraas?

A: The Rambam rules that if the Kohen’s defect is related to his eyesight, he may not rule on tzaraas, as a Kohen who is blind in even one eye, or whose vision has begun to deteriorate, is disqualified from ruling on tzaraas. However, although other physical imperfections prevent a Kohen from serving in the Beis Hamikdash, they do not affect his innate status as a Kohen, and he is therefore eligible to continue ruling on cases of tzaraas.

Q: The Torah mentions that part of the process of purifying the metzora involves cedar wood, crimson thread, and hyssop (14:4). Rashi explains that because one of the causes of tzaraas is a haughty spirit, the Torah is hinting that the cure for a person who has made himself arrogant like the mighty cedar is to lower himself and become humble like the small hyssop bush.

As the hyssop bush is taller than the animal from which the wool thread is dyed crimson (Niddah 26a), wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to list them in order from tallest to shortest, which is indeed the order in which they are listed in reference to their use in preparing the ashes of the red heifer (Bamidbar 19:6)?

A: Citing the Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os, Chapters 1-2), Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, explains that with respect to each character trait, a person should ideally strive to avoid either extreme and should conduct himself according to the middle path. However, if a person finds that in regard to a certain attribute he is drawn toward one extreme, it isn’t sufficient to merely veer back to the middle, as his natural inclination will slowly draw him back toward the extreme.

In such a case, a person must first go all the way to the opposite extreme for a period of time in order to completely eradicate his innate predilection toward the other extreme. Only at that point can he safely return to the middle ground, to which he will then be able to adhere on a lasting basis.

In light of this, Rav Chaim suggests that it is insufficient for the arrogant person to lower himself to the level of the hyssop bush, as he would be unable to sustain this approach. Rather, he must first lower himself all the way to the other extreme, as symbolized by the wool thread, after which he can safely return to the middle path represented by the hyssop.

He adds that although the Rambam writes that humility is a trait in which one should in fact aim for the extreme and not the middle path, the Lechem Mishneh explains that this doesn’t literally mean that one should go all the way to the extreme, just that he should be closer to the extreme of humility than to the extreme of arrogance.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.