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Parasha No. 28
Metzora: “Leprosy”

Vayikra (Leviticus) 14, 1 - 15, 33


Slander and the hidden treasure

Plan

- The negative side
- The plagues in the houses of the land of Israel
- Study of a Rashi commentary
- Characteristics of Rashi's method of interpretation
- How to study Rashi

 


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This commentary cannot be understood without studying first parasha Thazria.

We could ask ourselves why this parasha continues with the strange subject of a disease that attacks the body, clothes and homes.

The Sages tell us that leprosy is connected to the ill-use of words, lashon hara.
We know that Miriam, Moshe's sister, became the first victim of this disease after she criticized Moshe's conduct.

This shows that the Torah is not talking about simple slander that has tragic consequences. What is involved is a scourge which stems from the speech of people of the highest level. We see this in the fact that the phenomenon of leprosy does not exist any more, for we no longer have the same quality of people. The Sages link the disease to the sin of Hava, Eve, for her sin was also one of words.

The negative side
This parasha deals with the negative side of all that was described previously regarding the eminence and power of women.

The plagues in the houses of the land of Israel
Rashi draws our attention to the fact that the Torah puts particular emphasis on the plagues that infest the houses of the land of Israel.

Study of a Rashi commentary
Let us follow his analysis in stages:

1. On Vayikra 14, 34
ki tavoou el-eretz Canaan
And when ye are come into the land of Canaan

asher ani noten lakhem la ahuza
which I give to you for a possession

venatati nega
and I put the plague of leprosy

beveti eretz ahuzatekhem
in a house of the land of your possession

uva asher lo habayit
then he that owneth the house shall come

vehigid la cohen lemor
and tell the priest, saying:

kenega nira li babayit
there seemeth to me to be as it were a plague in the house."

2. Rashi writes:
"venatati nega, I put the plague of leprosy:

besora hi lahem, it is good news for them

shehanegaim baim alehem, that the plague is put on them

for the Amorians had hidden treasures of gold in the walls of their homes during the forty years when Israel was in the desert

ve al-yede hanega notetz habayit umotzean, and because of the plague, the house will be demolished and the treasures found."

Rashi continues:
ke nega nire li babayit, there seemeth to be as it were a plague in the house:

she afilu hu hakham ve yodea she hu nega vadai, even if he is a hakham (a learned man) and knows this type of plague,

lo yifsok davar barur, he will not make a definite statement

lomar nega nire li, ella kenega nire li, and say 'there seemeth to me to be a plague'but there seemeth to be as it were a plague."

3. It seems strange to consider it good news that, after having overcome so many obstacles and after having reached the land of Israel, the children of Israel are told that their houses are ridden with a plague and they must be demolished. What immigrant would stay on after being given such a prospect, and moreover, being told that it is good news.

4. Rashi explains is thus:
Stressing the word venatati (I will give), Rashi notes that the other plagues are announced with the expression yiye (there will be), as in Vayikra 13, 2 and 13, 47, while this one is not. The Torah is thus telling us that this plague is not a plague, but a present, a gift, and this is why it is accompanied with the expression venatati (I will give).

5. Rashi then explains why this gift augurs well for the future: he bases his
interpretation on the teaching of Ribbi Yehuda in Torat Cohanim (ch. 5):
"it is good news (bessora) that a plague will be put on them" as is written in Midrash Vayikra Rabba, ch. 17, 6: "when the Amorians heard that the children of Israel were arriving, they hid their treasures in their walls and in their fields. Hakadosh Barukh Hu said: 'I promised the fathers that I would make their sons enter a land full of goodness" as it is written (Devarim 6, 11) 'and houses full of good things.'What does Hakadosh Barukh Hu do? He who discovers the plagues in his house destroys them and finds a treasure, a sima, as Onkelos translates Bereshit 43, 23."

Characteristics of Rashi's method of interpretation:
6. Rashi always begins by focusing on linguistic features in the Torah, for is through them that one discovers the meaning of the Torah, what is called the peshat (literal meaning). It is therefore necessary to be able to read the Torah in Hebrew.

7. Rashi seeks to discover the meaning of each specific linguistic feature, by analyzing the peshat or the middrashim if they express best the peshat.

8. Rashi does not cite references for his sources, for his commentaries are intended for readers who have learnt these texts from childhood; in traditional Jewish education children learn the classical texts from a very young age.

10. He usually does not elaborate on the points made in his sources.

11. A rule for the study of Rashi
One must study his commentary
" by referring to his sources
" to see what he has added or omitted, for these additions or omissions transmit additional meanings or stress a particular point.
For example, what he omits from the commentary of Vayikra Rabba relates to God's promise (avtaha) and it is this which is clearly absent when the children of Israel languish in the desert or discover these "plagues" which seem to them like another catastrophe in their path. They constantly need to have trust and faith in the Creator and in his divine plan, but it is in silence and in darkness.
Revelation comes to he who searches and studies, just as we are doing with Rashi's commentary. He who moves the first domino will move the second which will move the third, till one reaches the end; it is the same domino effect in the study of the Torah. It is the journey through night which leads us to daybreak, just as the day in Judaism begins at night (va yehi erev va yehi boker, yom ehad). This is why the greatest Sages studied and prayed at night.

12. Rashi uses the same concise method as that of the Torah, the Talmud and all of Jewish tradition. This conciseness makes it necessary for students to study Rashi with a teacher, who will guide them through all these stages.

13. Then students can go on to study the eminent commentators of Rashi, such as the Reem, who analyzed Rashi in detail in order to understand his teaching.

14. Rashi is both a teacher who helps students understand the Torah and a teacher who gives moral lessons. He is a "master." He teaches us how to follow the path of goodness and that of Hakadosh Barukh Hu, he teaches us the positive side of life's trials and how important it is to have trust and faith.

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Exercise

Let us now apply this method to Rashi's next commentary on the request which a person who finds a plague in his house must make to the Cohen:

- one finds Rashi's source in Mishna Negaim 12,45.
- Rashi uses the entire text of the Mishna but makes several modifications
- he changed lo yigzor into lo yifsok which appears to allude to the work of halakhic decidors who must always have as their goal the holiness which is represented in the role of the cohen.
- he also changed talmid hakham into hakham and he added davar barur. Rashi based his commentary of verse 13, 2, which commands a leper to be brought to Aharon, on Torat Cohanim and stressed the fact that the priest had to confirm and pronounce the presence of purity or impurity, hinting that the priest, however, is not an expert in diagnosing the disease (as noted in Tractate Shevuot 6b). This is why the expert has the right to give his view but he must leave the confirmation and pronouncement to the priest who represents keddusha, holiness.
What is your view of these social laws?
- Rashi also omitted the repetitions of the word "house" possibly in order to stress the wider aspect of what is involved here.

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Advanced studies
Study slowly and systematically Rashi's method of interpretation on Modia.
Most people find it easier to do this in a group session or with a study partner (hevruta).

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- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15
STUDY HEBREW

Part 16
JERUSALEM

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
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Poem: to be moon

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Part 21
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Dedication

Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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