Friday, April 04, 2014
Metzora 5635 First Ma'amar (Part 2 of 3)
This week's parsha describes the process of purifying a metzora/leper. The Torah makes a big deal about leprosy. Two full parshas in the Torah, deal with its laws. Why is this? Chazal teach us that leprosy comes from speaking evil about and slandering others.
The Sfas Emes explains that Chazal are teaching us an important underlying concept about the connection between the physical and spiritual. Leprosy is the physical manifestation of spiritual damage caused by speaking lashon hara. Chazal are teaching that there is a close parallel between what happens to us physically and spiritually. Furthermore, we can learn about the spiritual by observing the physical.
The Sfas Emes explains what we learn. The primary physical sources of life are the heart and lungs. The blood goes out from the heart to all parts of the body and returns. The Torah teaches, “... דמו בנפשו ... his blood is associated with his life-force …” (VaYikra 17:14)
Spiritually, Chazal teach us that the strength of our nation primarily involves the mouth particularly when we study Torah out loud as Chazal learn from the pasuk in Mishlei (4:22), “ כי חיים הם למוצאיהם .../For they are life to those who find them …” Chazal understand that this pasuk refers to one who learns Torah and in a play on words read the last word, “למוצאיהם/to those who find them, as “למוציאיהם/to those who bring them out (or, say them out loud.)” Furthermore various Chassidic masters have taught us that things which a person says with all his heart, enter the heart of others more easily – דברים היוצאים מן הלב נכנסין אל הלב.
Combining these two ideas the Sfas Emes teaches that when we learn Torah out loud with all our hearts, those very words of Torah return to ourselves with new and novel understandings just like the blood goes out to all a person’s limbs and returns. Chazal alluded to this very idea in a Midrash on the pasuk in Koheles (1:7), “כל הנחלים הולכים אל הים והים איננו מלא אל מקום שהנחלים הולכים שם הם שבים ללכת/All the streams flow into the sea yet the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they return to flow again.” The Midrash teaches that all the Torah a person learns is in his heart. Just as the streams don’t fill up the sea, the Torah will not fill his heart. He will always desire to learn more. And just as the waters return to flow again, the Torah even as he teaches another from the depths of his heart always returns to him, the teacher. What does this mean? Obviously, the teacher doesn’t lose what he knows by teaching it. The Sfas Emes therefore understands that the Torah that he says out loud (so others can hear) returns to him with new and deeper understandings.
It is exactly the opposite when someone slanders another. This also comes from the heart, specifically the left side of the heart where a person’s evil inclination resides as we find in another pasuk in Koheles (10:2), “... ולב כסיל לשמאלו/… and a fool’s heart tends towards his left.” Just as the Torah that a person speaks returns to him with new and deeper understanding, a person’s “leftist” speech returns to his heart as an air of nonsense – רוח שטות.
It is the tongue and the mouth that connect the physical and the spiritual. This is why Chazal teach us that everything depends on the tongue as we find in a pasuk in Mishlei (18:21), “מות וחיים ביד לשון/Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”