:: Rav Eyal Raymond's Weekly Commentary ::
“When a person will have on the skin of his flesh a spot of intense whiteness or an off-white spot, or a snow-white spot.” (13:2)
We learned in the tractate (Niddah 5:3), “A one-day old baby … becomes impure through wounds of affliction.” The sages learned this law from the present verse, “When a person will have on the skin of his flesh.” This is referring to any person, even a baby who is one day old.
Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch asked a question about this. In the tractate of Arachin (16A), the sages teach us that wounds of affliction come because of “evil speech, murder, haughtiness, robbery and being stingy.” It sounds from here that the wounds of affliction come as a punishment from Heaven for certain sins that are between man and his fellow. Why, then, do young children, who certainly did not sin towards others in their short lives, become stricken through them?
However, says Rav Hirsch, just as leprosy which affects a person’s body or clothing serves as a warning regarding his sins, similarly, this is the rule regarding leprosy that affects his children, G-d forbid. When a child is struck with any kind of affliction, the parents must see it as a divine warning that is being directed towards them in order for them to inspect their ways and path in life and fix whatever requires repair.
Rav Hirsch adds that the affliction of leprosy on the body of a young child arouses the parents more that an affliction on their own body. For this reason, this matter serves as a divine, effective and intense warning for every father and mother. As a result, there is a great chance that from then on, they will be good educators for their children and “from then on it will be sweet.”
“This will be the law of the leper.” (14:1)
“‘This will be the law of the leper’ – the one who lets out bad fame about another. This is in order to teach you that whoever speaks evil speech transgresses the five books of the Torah. Therefore, Moses warned the Jewish people that ‘This will be the law [in Hebrew, “Torah”] of the leper.’” (Vayikra Rabbah 16:6)
The manner of verbal expression and the way a person expresses himself serve as a looking glass of what is going on inside of him. A person who is not careful with the cleanliness of his language must have something questionable going on deep inside of him… However, a person who is internally refined, even if he is forced to express himself in an arrogant or harsh manner or if they would plead with him to repeat a disgraceful phrase that he heard from another person, he would refuse, since he is incapable of this! His internal refinement stands up for him as a kind of barrier that prevents his vocal chords from letting such expressions be heard…
This outstanding fact is supported in the words of the sages and it is possible to be applied in the opposite manner. It works in two directions: When a person wants to refine his soul and when he longs to beautify himself internally, the first rule is to accustom himself with clean and honorable styles of speech that have untainted expressions. Over time, this matter will effect him internally with an aspect of “A person acts according to his deeds.” Then, his inner demeanor will become like his external demeanor.
“The talk of a baby in the market is of his father or of his mother” (Sukkah 55B). Rashi explains there, “This is a simple comparison. What a child says in the market is what he heard from his father or his mother.
The basis of a child’s style of speech is shaped in his parent’s home. His expressions present the superb engraving that is based on what his ears absorbed at home.
If the parent’s speech style testifies to the refinement of their souls, they do not have much work remaining in educating their children to also have clean speech. However, when it is not so and the parents themselves are not careful with respectable speech and they are fine with any kind of speech – street slang, disgraceful name-calling, false comparisons, etc., then their children will very soon be “sharp tongued” and may use their speech indiscriminately.
Therefore, our rabbis warned us incessantly and it is written, “And a person must be very careful to guard his mouth and his tongue so that he should not speak in a disgraceful manner in front of his son … lest his son will learn from him” (Reishit Chochma).
Education of clean speech additionally gives us some nice “side benefits.” A child learns to weigh every word well before he lets it out of his mouth and, as a result, it will be easier for him to also refrain from other forms of forbidden speech, such as evil speech and lying, among others. He learns to have control over his evil inclination and not to be drawn after slips of the tongue, oaths and curses. He will also be careful to have respect for another person. Indeed, clean speech is a key that has the power to guard us from all kinds of troubles since, “One who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards himself from troubles.” Through this, he will also achieve refinement of his soul and qualities. (Bein Kislei HaMishpacha)
Why did the Torah command us about watching our tongue more than guarding the rest of our limbs? Don’t all of the limbs have positive and negative commandments connected to them and through them it is possible to fulfill the commandments of Hashem, or, G-d forbid, transgress them?
Rather, says the Chafetz Chaim, this is similar to the following parable about a king who gave two hundred and forty eight looms for weaving to one of his servants along with cotton and flax that are necessary for the weaving work. This servant knows that if he works properly, there is room here to become wealthy and also receive recognition for his excellence, since through his work, the king can glorify himself before other kings in regards to the beauty of the work and its nature. On the other hand, if he will spoil the work, he will be responsible for everything.
Among all the others, there was one loom that worked using steam at a faster pace. When the man would work with this loom, he could earn fortunes, much more than what he could earn with the other looms. On the other hand, if he would not watch over this amazing weaving machine with extra special supervision, the damage caused to it could cost all of the income that will come out of the work of all of the other weaving machines.
When a servant receives such instructions from the king, he must certainly observe them properly and he must especially watch over the machine that works using steam as a result of its unique importance.
This is similar with the limbs of a person. Hashem gave a person two hundred and forty eight limbs that correspond to the two hundred and forty eight positive commandments. It is as if every limb of a person is telling him, “Please, do a commandment with me.” However, a person’s power of speech is portrayed by the machine that works using steam, since in just a few moments he is capable of studying many matters of Torah and fulfilling the positive commandment of Torah study with every word.
On the other hand, when a person speaks forbidden venues of speech, he is capable of creating hundreds of [divine] prosecutors at every moment. Because of this, Hashem warned us about guarding our tongue more than all of the other limbs. (Chovat Hashmira)
Rabbi Kalifa HaCohen asked the following question. One verse says, “My G-d, my G-d, why have You abandoned me, far from my salvations are the words of my crying out” (Psalms 22:2). This means to say that we cry out but are not answered. However, our Father in Heaven wonders, “Why did I come and there is no person, I called but there is no one to answer? Is My hand too short for redemption? Do I not have the power to save?” (Isaiah 50:2). This means to say that He is ready to hear and listen to our cries, but He does not hear our voice [at all] and does not find us calling out to Him. How can this be?
He answers this with a parable. There was an incident involving a wealthy father who sent his son to a large city to study. He said to him, “My son, I am seeking out your good and all of my interests are only devoted towards your gains. If you are lacking something, turn to me and I will fulfill all that you are missing!”
The lad reached the large city and needed to pay rent for an expensive place to stay and for his food. He wanted to acquire nice clothing and have an expensive lifestyle. He wrote a letter to his father and waited for the money. To his disappointment, no answer arrived. He composed one letter after another, he pleaded and beseeched, but nothing!
They chased him out of his expensive living quarters and he was hungry without even bread. His lenders surrounded him and caused him pain. He would push them away every day and waited for the money to arrive, but it was in vain. He cried out bitterly and said, “Father, Father, where is your promise?”
The father sat in his house and was surprised. Can it be possible? His son traveled such a long time ago and had still not sent him a letter, did not tell him how he arrived or how he is getting along. He is not asking for money and has completely cut off the contact. He is becoming estranged and has denied his father. Let it be that way and let him fend for himself!
The poor son was wandering around in the streets wearing torn clothing, expelled from his living quarters and hungry for some bread. He wrote an additional letter and with whatever remained from his money, he bought a stamp and wrote the address on the envelope. However, unfortunately, like all of the previous letters, he wrote the wrong address on this letter as well. The postal service sent the letter to that same mistaken address…
It is similar here, says Rabbi Kalifa. One who guards his mouth and tongue from words of blasphemy and vulgarity and uses them for matters of Torah and prayer, his requests go straight up to Heaven. They are heard before the throne of glory and they bring about an abundance of goodness and blessing. However, if his mouth speaks in a vulgar manner and his lips are impure, then impure powers have control over his words and they bring his words to the place of impurity and his requests do not reach their destination.
This is what it means when it says, “You mouth is sent out to do evil and your tongue clings to deceit. You sit and speak about your brother and about the son of your mother you place blemishes. You did these things and I was silent” (Psalms 50:19). This means to say that, since you have corrupted and made you lips impure, it is as if the expressions of your mouth have not reached Me. As a result, “I was silent” and did not fulfill your request… (Shimu Mussar)
“This will be the law of the leper.” (14:1)
“This is what is means what it says (Ecclesiastes 5), ‘Don’t allow your mouth to cause your flesh to sin.’ Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi explained this verse as referring to those who set aside charity but they do not give it. Rabbi Chanina bar Papa said that it is about those who speak evil speech. Rabbi Binyamin ben Levi explained this verse as referring to those who pretend to have Torah knowledge. Rabbi Meni explained the verse in regards to those who make vows.” (Vayikra Rabba 16:5)
This seems hard to understand. Why is it fitting for those who sin with speech, specifically, to be punished with this kind of punishment, namely, wounds?
In his book “Be’erot Yitzchak,” Rabbi Y. P. Goldvasser explained this. Man’s uniqueness of being able to speak is very great, as we find in the tractate of Sanhedrin that the entire essence of man’s creation was only because of speech. It is also brought it holy books that the word “speak” [in Hebrew, “medaber”] is similar to that of “man” [in Hebrew, “adam”]. From here we can also see that speech symbolizes man and his uniqueness.
When a person sins with his tongue, he shows through this that he is disgracing the characteristic of speech that was only given to him and through which he is unique. From his deeds it becomes apparent that, instead of seeing his soul as the principle and his speech as an expression of his essence, he sees that his body is the principle of reality and the creation.
The repair that Hashem created for such a person is wounds that distort a person’s body and make it disgusting to the owner. This is the main purpose of boils, leprosy and other wounds.
The oozing, blood and dirt from the wounds and the flies that fly around them make the body disgusting to its owner. When he is in such a situation, suddenly, a thought enters his heart that, essentially, the most important part of man is his soul. This is how he comforts himself and returns to how he was previously, causing him not to be willing to damage the holiness of his mouth again.
“And it will be brought to Aaron.” (14:3)
When a person speaks evil speech, this matter mainly comes from the fact that he does not value the power of speech. He says in his heart, “I only spoke with my mouth and I didn’t do anything…” However, if this man would know that a person’s word has great meaning and that evil speech about another arouses prosecution in Heaven about the one who spoke and the one who was spoken about, then he would certainly be much more careful with this.
About the verse, “Behold He is the Shaper of the mountains and the Creator of the wind and He tells man what his conversation was” (Amos 4:13), the sages explained, “Even a frivolous conversation between man and his wife will be told to that person at the time of his death [when his soul comes to Heaven]” (Chagigah 5B).
One must contemplate this. What does this matter have to do with the beginning of the verse, “He is the Shaper of the mountains and the Creator of the wind?”
A person can tell himself, “What meaning and value can a word have that has nothing to it, can not be seen and can not be felt?”
The prophet tells this person, “Look and see! ‘He is the Shaper of the mountains.’ Hashem created the high and giant mountains, which are the largest materialistic objects in the world. ‘The Creator of the wind’ – He also created the wind that is not made of anything at all and, even so, the wind comes without anything materialistic and is invisible. It is able to uproot the giant mountains from their roots. ‘He tells man’ – this fact alone already tells a person about ‘what his conversation was’ – what the nature of speech is. Even though we do not see it and it has nothing to it, it has the ability to destroy great and complete worlds…
In the Talmud (Taanit 3A) it says that the Jewish nation is compared to the wind. Just as the world can not exist without the winds even though they are invisible and have no materialism in them, similarly, the world can not exist without the Jewish nation. Just as the wind has the power to uproot mountains, similarly, the power of the Jewish people’s speech can build up or destroy worlds.
There is a story about a person who would rent the rights from the king to fish in the royal property at a high price. He would put a fleet of fishing ships to work and he would support himself generously with this. Once, a person went to the king and gave the king more money for the rent and he consequently received the rights.
When the [original] renter heard about this, he went came before the king. “I rent the fishing area every year. How can I be bereft of my sustenance by a person who came from so close by without even being given the possibility to compete with him and overpower him?”
The king understood that he erred, however, the rights had already been given over and the king’s words could not be retracted. The king said to him, “Choose other rights and you will receive them.”
The man said, “Why should I take away the rights of someone else? What is hateful to me I will not do to my fellow. However, I will request of you to bestow rights upon me that no man has yet merited having.”
The king was taken aback, “Is there anything that has not been rented out?”
The man said, “There surely is. Give me the rights to the wind. Since you are the king and all of the land is yours, then the wind is also under your possession and you can give it to whomever you want.”
The king laughed and said, “What will you do with the wind? How can you contain it? To whom will you sell it? If you do succeed in catching it, how can you store it?”
The man answered, “I know what to do with it and you, my master the king, should take my money for it and write a contract of rights. Since these are new rights that do not have a known price, it would be necessary to put it up for bidding. I am suggesting that the price for the rights should be ten thousand zehuvim and if the price does not go up within ten days, then the rights will be mine.”
The king was surprised at the high price and he put it up for bidding. People were also surprised and they decided unanimously that this man must be crazy. Who would rent the wind and pay such a great price for it? Ten days went by and the rights fell to him as it was agreed upon.
During the first week, the man turned to all of the blacksmiths in the country and asked them, “How do you cause the fire to burn in your fiery furnace?”
They answered him, “It happens with the help of a fan that blows air on it.”
He said to them, “The wind is mine by the command of the king. Give me a payment for the wind of such and such every week.”
During the second week, he went to all of the boat owners and he asked them, “How do your ships sail at sea?”
They said to him, “It happens with the help of the sails that are blown by the wind.”
He said to them, “The wind is mine by the command of the king.” He placed a set tax upon them for every time they go sailing.
During the third week, he sent messengers to all of the houses that had windows in order to ask them why their windows were open. They answered, “It is so that the wind can air out our homes.”
The messengers said, “The wind belongs to our master,” and they placed a tax upon them.
During the fourth week, the man declared to the entire kingdom that it is forbidden to breathe in or breathe out air unless they pay him a tax. The residents came before the king about this and the king answered and said, “What can I do? He has the rights and the word of the king can not be retracted…”
We find that the air is vital to people, domestic animals, wild animals and birds. It is necessary for boats, [different types of] work and for people’s living quarters. Therefore, the verse compared the Jewish people to the wind that is vital to everything and in its merit all of the creations of the world live and are sustained! (Benayahu)