Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Table Talk -- Tazria Metzora 5767

תזריע מצורע תשס"ז

When the Cohen declares the metzora­ – a person afflicted with tzara’as – to be healed, before the metzora can return to the Jewish camp and mainstream society he must undergo a process of atonement. The Torah teaches us that during this ritual he must use two birds, a branch of cedar wood, a branch from a hyssop bush and a red string. Why must he take these particular elements?

The Midrash explains that because tzara’as afflicts an individual due to spiritual failings, each element in the atonement process carries an important message to him. Our rabbis identity lashon hara – slander and evil talk – as a primary cause of tzara’as. Thus, he must bring birds, animals known for their propensity to chirp and chatter, to remind him of what initiated his ailment. Furthermore, the cedar – a tall and strong tree – remind him of the haughtiness and self-importance that allowed him to speak ill of another and put himself in his precarious predicament. Finally, the hyssop bush, a low-growing shrub, reminds the sinner that only because he lowered himself did God heal him from his ailment.

What’s the red string for? That’s a good question to discuss around the table, but I’ll give you a hint: think Yom Kippur.