Unless otherwise noted, "This week's Parsha" comprises articles taken from contributors to the Chabad.org website. We show the original author's name here, so that proper attribution is given. For the sake of brevity, footnotes cited in the original author's writings are omitted from this website. If you need to see the citations, please refer to the original articles on the Chabad.org website.
In the description of the High Priest's service on Yom Kippur, the Torah notes that "he shall atone for himself and his family and for all the congregation of Israel."
The sense of community responsibility is, fortunately, highly developed among our people. Whether our public concerns are Israel and its infinite problems, or domestic philanthropies of the hospital and Old Folks Home type, or religious institutions like synagogues and schools -- the survival instinct, the desire to perpetuate our people and ideals is a strong motivating force. The urgency of such activities is beyond question.
We may ask ourselves some personal questions, though. Can these activities be the totality of our Jewish living? Do our communal efforts fulfill our obligations as Jews? Can we expect people far far away to put Judaism into action, so we may safely forget to look to the ways of our own households? What are our own homes like?
All the activities, projects, chairmanships, committees, offices, minutes of meetings, motions and tabled motions, national and regional and local honors, districts, chapters, conventions and conclaves -- all these are no substitute for being a good Jewish father and mother. Nor do these activities absolve us in any way of personally keeping the commandments of the Torah.
We have responsibilities to ourselves, our families, our people, and all these obligations may enjoy peaceful and fruitful coexistence. This we see from the High Priest who looked (note the order) to "himself, his family, and the entire congregation."
Passover Haftorahs in a Nutshell
Editor's note: Normally, I choose one of the Chabad website's commentaries for the weekly parsha. Because this shabbat is the first day of Pesach, there isn't a regularly weekly parsha to write about. Therefore, I have no way to show proper authorship for this article, which appears on the Chabad site.
First Day of Passover
Joshua 3:5-7; 5:2:15; 6:1; 6:27
The haftorah for today mentions the Paschal sacrifice, echoing the Torah portion which describes the preparations and the sacrifice done in Egypt under Moses' leadership.
The Gossiper and the Priest
Two men asked him for a loan. He gave them both a generous sum on condition that he’d be repaid in a year’s time. A year later, the debtors returned. One looked broke.
“Unfortunately, I do not have the money to repay you,” he began. “Honestly, it was so liberating to have some cash. I started spending. Soon the spending became addictive. Ultimately, I could not sustain my lifestyle, and so here I am—one year later and broke again.”
“I do not forgive the loan,” replied the philanthropist.
The second debtor returned the entire sum he’d borrowed. “I started a small business,” he explained. “It was difficult, but things are finally starting to progress. Here’s your money -- thanks for giving me the opportunity to get myself on my feet.”
“Please, keep the money. Let me be your business partner.”
Tzaraat (commonly translated as “leprosy”) was a supra-natural bodily affliction. Our sages say that it was contracted from speaking lashon hara, gossip. The metzora (as the one who contracted tzaraat is called) would remain isolated outside the encampment until he was restored to health. The Torah talks at length about the metzora’s healing process. A priest would travel to the metzora and dip cedar wood, scarlet thread and a hyssop plant into a mixture of bird’s blood and spring water, and sprinkle it on the metzora seven times. Seven days later, the metzora would shave his hair and immerse in a mikvah (ritual pool) to culminate his healing.
This is how the Torah describes the meeting between the metzora and the priest:
This shall be the law of the metzora on the day of his cleansing: he shall be brought to the priest. The priest shall go out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and see if the plague of tzaraat has been healed ... (Leviticus 14:2)
The Torah’s instructions seem to be conflicting. Initially we read that “he [the metzora] shall be brought to the priest,” and then, in the next verse, “the priest shall go out of the camp.” Does the metzora go to meet the priest, or does the priest come to him?
We can see an organic reconciliation between the conflicting instructions when we view the metzora through the lens of Kabbalah. Mystically, the metzora is the persona of an individual who doesn’t see the unifying thread of divinity running through his life. That’s why he’s insensitive to the social discord he creates through his gossip. When we gossip, we create an energetic rift -- between my impulsive tongue and your sacred privacy, and ultimately, a schism between spiritual and practical existence. Maimonides goes as far as to say that one who speaks lashon hara will come to speak words of heresy against G‑d.
The priest’s life, on the other hand, is all about devotion to G‑d. His life is all about his Divine service.
What the metzora needs is some face time with the priest.
With warmth and empathy, the priest leaves the Temple to meet the metzora on his terms, disenfranchised as he is from the Jewish nuclear heartbeat. This gesture alone brings an awareness of G‑d’s unity to the metzora. He’s touched, inspired; he’s on his way to spiritual wellness.
But were he to remain a passive recipient of the priest’s influence, the inspiration would be fleeting since it wouldn’t be his own. It would impact him so long as the priest was in his company, but without any proactive initiative, the metzora would have no tools to process his new awareness.
This shall be the law of the metzora on the day of his cleansing; he shall be brought to the priest.
When the metzora walks towards the priest, he begins to take ownership of his cleansing opportunity and make it his own. His healing requires a fusion of the priest’s influence with his own work, to integrate this awareness shift into his life.
I find the swing from inspiration and proactivity to be a lifelong dance. For a stretch of time I devoted most of my day to the study of Torah and Chassidic teachings, and I was surrounded by mentors who spoke the message of G‑d’s unity through their teachings and their conduct.
And then it was over. No more spoon-fed inspiration. Now came the true challenge of self-initiated growth -- the challenge to integrate the gifts I’d gleaned. If I could generate that awareness now, then I’d make it my own. The priest had come to visit me on my terms; now could I take my own steps towards him.
I’m thinking of a story I’d heard about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory. In a conversation with a certain rabbi from outside New York, the Rebbe inquired about a member of his community. Then the Rebbe told him the following: “I’d like you to encourage this congregant to grow a beard this year—but please do not let him know that this request is coming from me!”
The rabbi spoke to his friend about taking this step forward in Jewish observance, but he wasn’t successful in persuading him. Finally, in desperation, he divulged his secret. “The Lubavitcher Rebbe personally asked that you grow a beard.”
“In that case, I’ll do it!”
During his next audience with the Rebbe, the rabbi informed the Rebbe that his congregant had made the commitment.
“And did you tell him that this request was coming from me?” the Rebbe asked.
“Yes, I finally did tell him ... ,” the rabbi was forced to concede. “But, Rebbe, what difference does it make -- at least he’s doing it!”
“True,” the Rebbe responded, “but I wanted it to be his beard, not my beard.”