Get the Message

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 15:4) tells of a king who brought his new bride to his palace. The new queen trembled in fear when she saw leather whips hanging on the wall.

“Don’t be frightened,” the king said. “Those are for the servants and the maids. You can eat and drink in peace.”

Similarly, the Midrash says, when the Jews heard the parashah of nega’im they trembled. Moshe said to them, “Don’t worry, these are not meant for you. You can eat and drink in peace.”

The question is obvious! The Mishnah explains (Nega’im 3:1) that only Jews suffer the impurities of nega’im. All the laws apply exclusively to the Children of Israel.

The Midrash explains (Vayikra Rabbah 17:4) that the afflictions enumerated in the parashah start on the houses and then appear on clothing; only if one fails to repent do they show on the body of the sinner. So, too, tragedy hits others in the world before the Jews are stricken. When disasters strike, they are meant to serve as a warning for the Jews. We are expected to take heed and reform our ways. Only if we don’t pay proper attention will the Heavenly message be more direct.

There was once a man who exported merchandise from China, where he lived. On a business trip in Europe, he took advantage of his proximity to Radin, Poland, and made his way to visit the Chofetz Chaim.

“How are things in China?” asked the Chofetz Chaim.

“A dam burst and there was a terrible flood,” the businessman replied. “Millions in property and thousands of lives were lost.” As he spoke, the Chofetz Chaim paid close attention to every detail. He commented that the trait of strict justice has stricken the world.

“What does it matter to us?” the man inquired.

“If a man stood on a crate in the city square and started to make a speech in Yiddish, who would be able to understand him?” asked the sage.

“Only the Jews,” the man responded. “Only they understand the language!”

“Right!” said the Chofetz Chaim. ”The events in the world are messages. However, only those who understand the language can appreciate and react to the message.”

Today the world is on fire! Kingdoms and dictatorships are falling and power is changing hands. The Midrash says (Beresheet Rabbah 42:4): “If you see governments fighting one with the other, expect the footsteps of Moshiach.” One is obligated to think: “The tragic events are happening as a message to me. I must take action and repent to prevent tragedy from befalling me.”

We no longer have a Kohen and a Mikdash. We do not have the clear, direct signs that the parashah of nega’im offered. But we do have a Torah that says everything that occurs is for the sake of Israel. Take heed! Take action! Get the message while it is still indirect!

Shabbat shalom.