It’s not leprosy!

It’s not leprosy!

When the world has got hold of a lie, it is astonishing how hard it is to kill it. You beat it over the head, till it seems to have given up the ghost, and behold! the next day it is as healthy as ever.  -Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

The Torah describes a condition called Tzaraat, which has continuously and erroneously been translated as leprosy. The only connection between these two terms is that they refer to some skin condition, but except for that they are dissimilar and incomparable.

One of the most important Roman historians, Tacitus, is guilty of a great crime against the Jewish people. Besides his anti-Semitic rhetoric, perhaps the most long-lasting damage has been his interpretation of the Hebrew word Tzaraat as leprosy. Tacitus, almost 2,000 years ago, wrote the following fanciful account in his history of the Jews:

“Most writers, however, agree in stating that once a disease, which horribly disfigured the body, broke out over Egypt; that king Bocchoris, seeking a remedy, consulted the oracle of Hammon, and was bidden to cleanse his realm, and to convey into some foreign land this race detested by the gods.”

“The people, who had been collected after diligent search, finding themselves left in a desert, sat for the most part in a stupor of grief, till one of the exiles, Moses by name, warned them not to look for any relief from God or man, forsaken as they were of both, but to trust to themselves, taking for their heaven-sent leader that man who should first help them to be quit of their present misery. They agreed, and in utter ignorance began to advance at random.”

Tacitus continues to spout further venomous nonsense, which centuries later was picked up by modern historians.  However, perhaps Tacitus’ greatest offense is that his characterization of Tzaraat as leprosy has even made it into modern translations of the Torah.

Rabbi Hirsch on Leviticus Chapter 13 attacks “Tacitus’ fairy tale” and provides a detailed and lengthy explanation of exactly how Tzaraat has nothing to do with the disease known as leprosy. Tzaraat is not contagious nor were those afflicted quarantined.  Tzaraat is a physical manifestation upon the skin of a spiritual malady. The result of a person contracting Tzaraat is that he is considered ritually impure, not sick.

In the words of Rabbi Hirsch, Tzaraat is the result of “such sins as arrogance, falsehood, avarice and slander which escape the authority of human tribunals.” As a result, God Himself intervenes and dispenses justice by affecting the sinners’ body, possessions and home.

May we distance ourselves from negative personality traits and acts and thereby be spared from God’s modern substitutes for Tzaraat, which contrary to popular translations have nothing to do with leprosy!

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Ed and Dalia Stelzer for their hospitality and more.

Conservation of Intelligence

Conservation of Intelligence

A large section of the intelligentsia seems wholly devoid of intelligence. -G. K. Chesterton

conservationenergyIn physics, there is a principle of conservation of energy, whereby the total energy in a closed system can never increase. It can be transformed, it can be transferred, but there must always be a balance. All the energy that went into the system is accounted for.

The Sfat Emet in 567 (1836) states that there is a similar principle at work in how we use our time and our faculties. He claims that every person, amongst other things, is gifted with a certain measure of intelligence, as well as with a life-force to accomplish what they set out to do. If a person uses all of their intelligence and life-force in the pursuit of material and mundane matters, they will not have any to spare for Torah and commandments, for the eternal and the spiritual.

He associates this lack with the biblical ailment known as “tzaraat” (often, but inaccurately translated as “leprosy”). When a person was occupied with a superficial existence, the signs would start to show on their skin. In our own day, by realizing that we are overly engaged with fleeting and less important items, we have the opportunity to reprioritize our time and strengths and dedicate ourselves to what is truly healthy and important.

May we use our God-given intelligence and life-force only for good.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our son Akiva who is starting his active military service this week.

Animal Tension

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/tazria-animal-tension/

Baal Haturim Leviticus: Tazria

Animal Tension

Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them. -Samuel Butler

doves

There is an internal debate within the Torah as to the treatment of animals. There is an explicit command against cruelty to animals, known in Hebrew as “tzaar baalei chaim” – that we must refrain from causing anguish to animals. However, it is also a given in the Torah that we can eat kosher animals, sacrifice them and use their skins.

So where do we draw the line? The Torah in multiple places provides protection and great sensitivity to animals: you can’t muzzle an animal while it’s working, you can’t overburden the load on an animal, you cannot have two different species pulling a load together, and additional protections. But it seems clear that animals can be used for constructive purposes. They can be harnessed as beasts of burden. They can be killed for digestive, sartorial or ritual purposes.

The Baal Haturim on Leviticus 12:6 gives at the same time what is perhaps the finest dilineation of the sensitivity and the uses the Torah assigns to animals.

Amongst the various animal sacrifices that can be brought in the Temple, there are also birds. There are two types of birds that are mentioned: The “Torim” and the “Bnei Yona” (often translated as doves and young pigeons though there is some disagreement as to the exact nomenclature). Most often these bird sacrifices are brought in pairs, and the phrase that is used is “Torim o Bnei Yona”, with the “Torim” always before the “Bnei Yona”. However, in one instance, where only one bird is sacrificed, the order is reversed.

The Baal Haturim explains that the Torah has an extreme sensitivity to the well-being of the animals. The “Torim” are apparently a lifelong monogomous species and if one of them were to be sacrificed the partner would remain mate-less for life. So in the case of a single bird sacrifice it is preferable to bring from the faithless “Bnei Yona” that will not impact on any avian soul-mates.

May we treat animals with their due respect and understand their acceptable uses.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our sons Akiva and Elchanan who’ve been taking care of the precious Jerusalem Biblical Zoo and its special residents.

 

 

A Secret of Jewish Marriage

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/tazria-a-secret-of-jewish-marriage/

Netziv Leviticus: Tazria

A Secret of Jewish Marriage

“Subdue your appetites, my dears, and you’ve conquered human nature.” -Charles Dickens

There is a commandment that is not spoken about frequently or openly due to its sensitive nature and as a result is also not well known amongst many people. It is the law of Family Purity (taharat ha’mishpacha).

In essence, what it legislates, is that a married couple cannot have any physical contact the days during which the woman experiences her monthly period of menstruation. The couple can only touch again after a suitable period of waiting and after the woman has gone to the ritual bath (mikveh).

This monthly cycle of separation and reunion can have a transformative effect on the couple’s relationship and marriage. The Netziv on Leviticus 12:2 explains that this is purposeful. By having a brief period of enforced separation from intimacy each spouse may become more attracted to the other. Besides increasing the physical attraction, it also frames the relationship as not just a physical one but also a spiritual one. It encourages the couple to talk to each other. It inspires the couple to find and do activities together beyond just the physical. Instead of focusing just on our bodies, we also focus on our souls.

Anyone wanting to know more about this important aspect of married Jewish life is invited to contact your local Rabbi or Rebbetzin.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Mikveh ladies who selflessly assist in this vital commandment.

 

 

Psychosomatic

Kli Yakar Leviticus: Tazria

Psychosomatic

Psychosomatic: adjective: Psychological cause of physical symptoms or disorder.

Science has demonstrated that one’s mental state can have a direct and negative effect on one’s physical wellbeing. The Kli Yakar states that a person’s health may be a reflection of their spiritual condition.

The biblical disease known as ‘tzaraat’ and commonly mistranslated as leprosy (the only common denominator is both are skin conditions) is rabbinically attributed to the act of gossiping. The Kli Yakar adds two more character faults: haughtiness and avarice.

He explains that a function of disease is to bring to the surface various spiritual and character maladies. The Kli Yakar might have called it “Spirituosomatic”. He connects the three defects to the three types of ‘tzaraat’:

‘se’et’ = elevated. Whoever is arrogant, whoever aims to raise himself above his fellow; this inner demon is brought to light.

‘sapachat’ = secondary. The Kli Yakar quotes Maimonides (‘The Eight Chapters’) that of all ones acquisitions (wisdom, bravery, and positive traits) money is secondary and does not penetrate one’s persona as other acquisitions. Whoever is money-hungry – eventually his body will show it.

‘baheret’ = whiten. When one gossips, he eventually shames his fellow, ‘whitening’ his face. The gossiper too will suffer the same fate.

Hence the disease is called ‘metzora’ from the Hebrew ‘motze’ and ‘ra’, meaning to bring out the bad.

May we clean up our acts before it shows on our bodies.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To our son, Elchanan, on his Bar-Mitzvah. He’s just starting his act now. May he keep it a good one.