Urgent message:

It’s hard to believe that more than six months have passed since the murderous attack on October 7th, and that the most challenging situation in Israel continues, with little prospect of resolution. I urge all to continue to pray for the bereaved families, the hostages, the missing and the many casualties. If possible, please recite Psalm 121 (Hebrew/English ArtScroll Siddur, p. 534-535) and Psalm 130 (p. 540-541) at least once a day. Please also try to perform additional mitzvot, send funds to help the needy and grieving families, and attend the rallies that are being organized in support of Israel.

May the Al-mighty protect the State of Israel, its citizens and bless it with peace!

“And You Think that Tzara’at is Weird?”
(updated and revised from Metzorah 5765-2005)

This week’s parasha, parashat Metzorah, continues the theme of last week’s parasha, Tazria, regarding the “treatment” for the person who contracts the spiritual dermatological disease צָרָעַת–Tzara’at, for speaking לְשׁוֹן הָרָע—l’shon hara–evil.

In a previous analysis, parashat Tazria 5763-2003, I attempted to present the case that the spiritual disease Tzara’at was not as “way out” as many rationalists and scientific thinkers assume. To prove my point, I cited the world-famous scientist, the late Dr. Lewis Thomas, former President of the prestigious Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. This renowned scientist wrote in his book The Medusa and the Snail (1979, Viking Press) that the most effective method for treating warts is hypnosis. In his essay, entitled On Warts (pp. 76-81), Thomas maintains that, through the power of suggestion (hypnosis), warts can be made to disappear, apparently by cutting off their blood supply which leads to their demise. Obviously, if one can get rid of a skin disease through the power of thought, it is not preposterous to conclude that a person could also contract a skin disease by inappropriate thoughts or speech.

Most rational people and, of course, most scientists, find the concept of a spiritual disease such as Tzara’at difficult to accept. And yet, we live in a world where almost every day we are surprised by revolutionary scientific data that often goes against conventional scientific thinking.

Because of the challenging assumptions of this week’s parasha, I thought it might be intriguing to share with our readers some of the unconventional scientific “facts” that I’ve come across over the years, that have helped me to be more open to accepting the Torah’s unusual contention that Tzara’at may indeed be contracted by speaking evil.

Many years ago, one of my students introduced me to the strange concept of “Pyramid Power.” The proponents of Pyramid Power maintain that the size, shape and proportions of pyramids (especially the ancient Egyptian pyramids of Giza), apparently have extraordinary powers that can impact positively on people’s ability to focus, keep food fresh, cause plants to thrive and even sharpen pencils and razor blades. Skeptic that I am, I quickly dismissed this claim until I was shown an article that appeared in the August 29, 1976 issue of the NY Times Magazine, written by the famed correspondent/commentator and NBC News broadcaster, Edwin Newman.

Although he remains rather skeptical about the efficacy of Pyramid Power, Newman reported the tale of the unusual discovery of Antoine Bovis, a Frenchman, who was walking through the famed Cheops pyramid of Giza overlooking the Nile. Finding the inside of the Cheops terribly humid, he also noticed that discarded in the garbage cans throughout the chambers were a number of dead cats and other stray animals who, after wandering into the pyramid, had lost their way and had died. He immediately noticed that there was no smell of decay. Apparently, despite the humidity, the animals had rapidly dehydrated and mummified. After many experiments, it was concluded that it was not the inside atmosphere of the pyramid, but rather the shape and proportions of the pyramid that create an atmosphere that stops decay and causes quick dehydration.

To explain this phenomenon, there are those who hypothesize that the pyramids have the ability to focus energy, pushing cellular material together, which keeps things from decomposing. So, for instance, a pencil may be sharpened by inserting it into a hole in a makeshift pyramid. The theory is that the cells at the tip of the pencil are pushed together by the pyramid’s energy forces and become sharp again. In some countries, like Czechoslovakia, where double-edged razors were very expensive, men would insert their dull razor blades into a small cardboard pyramid at night, and the blades would emerge sharpened the next morning.

Other uses of Pyramid Power range from preserving food (similar to refrigeration), to taking the bitterness out of stale coffee. The coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team surrounded his players with pyramids in order to improve their play during hockey games. Despite the team’s inspired play, they lost in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Of course, all of this sounds preposterous and, had not a distinguished reporter and the New York Times reported it, I would have simply dismissed it as gibberish as well.

A long-time friend, Rabbi Daniel Lapin (former head of Toward Tradition), told me many years ago that he had come across a series of extensive scientific experiments conducted by a prestigious Russian institute that set out to find a scientific basis for water divining. Apparently, water divining works so effectively, that the Department of Geology of the United States still retains on its payroll a number of water diviners, men and woman, who go around with “Y” shaped sticks in order to discover underground sources of water.

While the Russians were not able to determine a reasonable scientific explanation, they did produce an extensive list of substances that work for water divining and those that do not. Rabbi Lapin noted, to his astonishment, that the list exactly parallels the Talmud’s definition of substances that can become ritually impure and those that cannot become ritually impure. Now remember, Jewish law requires that those things that become ritually impure must be brought to a source of “living” water–like a Mikveh, in order to be purified.

Who would have imagined 200 years ago that people would one day be able to “speak” over radio waves, let alone speak to, and even see, one another over small cellular phones? Today we regularly transmit live audio and video broadcasts from New York that are immediately received by residents in Sydney, Australia. Who would have believed that music would be transmitted around the world through electrical pulses? But this happens now every day.

The Mishnah in Avot 5:7, relates, that ten miracles were performed for our ancestors in the Great Temple in Jerusalem. Among the miracles listed are that no woman ever miscarried because of the smell of the burning sacrificial meat, and that the meat never spoiled or became putrid. In fact, a fly was never seen in the Temple areas where the meat was butchered.

Could it be that the structural dimensions of the Temple had powers similar to those of the pyramids, rendering it capable of focusing energy and keeping cellular material together? Or was it perhaps the Divine Presence that didn’t allow the cellular material to deteriorate, so that there was no spoilage, no flies, and no bad odors?

I humbly report these very strange scientific claims. While I cannot verify them, I believe that they certainly serve as powerful “ammunition,” encouraging us not to summarily dismiss the seemingly strange claims of Tzara’at found in parashiot Tazria and Metzorah.

Hypnosis? Warts? Water divining? Pyramid Power? Tzara’at? Sounds incredible. But, maybe it’s just another of the many miraculous facets of the Al-mighty’s Divine creation.

May you be blessed.

Please note: This Shabbat, the Shabbat immediately preceding Passover, is known as Shabbat haGadol, the Great Shabbat. On this Shabbat, we read a special Haftarah from the words of the prophet Malachi 3:4-24, in which we find the verse: “Behold, I send to you Elijah the Prophet, before the great and awesome day of G-d.”

For more information regarding Shabbat haGadol, see parashat Tzav 5781-2021.

The first two days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year on Monday night, April 22nd and all-day Tuesday and Wednesday, April 23 and 24, 2024.