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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.

Read more: Passover Haftorahs in a Nutshell

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.”


Do Circumcision Right, During the Day


It's been a hard day's night.

As a mohel, a ritual circumciser, I can't afford to bite my nails. However, on my flight to New Zealand this past Monday, it took great effort to refrain from a nervous nibble or two. The plane had been delayed and it was going to be touch and go whether I would have time to land, clear customs, meet the parents, examine the newborn and complete the circumcision, brit, before nightfall.

Why the worry and rush? Would running a few minutes late justify postponing my return flight to do the job on the morrow? Would it really make so much difference if we'd have to do the brit after nightfall? Why be so pedantic?

The verse reads, "When a woman gives birth to a male child… on the eighth day you should circumcise." The Talmud understood the verse to be insisting that a brit be done only during the day. This to the extent that there is discussion in Jewish law of how to "re-brit" a child circumcised at night.

Parenthetically, a brit done before the 8th day does not qualify as a kosher brit and needs to be rectified as soon as possible. Any queries -- ask your Local Orthodox Rabbi.

My father learned the art of circumcision from an elderly Russian Hassid, Betzalel, who would tell of hiding all night in an attic watching and waiting for the break of dawn so that he could fulfill his holy task and scurry away, all the while praying that the sounds from outside didn't presage the approach of the KGB.

Most of us are not faced with such astounding demands of self-sacrifice for G‑d and Judaism. Our trials and challenges are more prosaic. However, the temptation to settle for "good enough," the attitude of "she'll be right," even when fulfilling G‑d's commandments it is sometimes too tempting for us to withstand. How often do we allow ourselves to cut the corners of religious life, rationalizing that good intentions are all that counts?

Judaism rejects this attitude. Done at the right time, a brit is a covenant between Jew and G‑d. The same actions done a few minutes too early or too late is nothing but an unnecessary operation.

Let us resolve to not only do the right thing but also to do it at the right time and in the right way.

(Oh, and by the way, I made it to the brit, and with time to spare.)


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