“And He Shall be Brought to the Priest”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In each of this week’s double parashiot, Tazria and Metzora, we encounter similar verses asserting that a person stricken with the tzara’at disease must be brought the priest. In parashat Tazria scripture states, Leviticus 13:2, “V’hoova el Aharon ha’Kohen,” He [the stricken person] shall be brought to Aaron the priest, and in parashat Metzora we are told, Leviticus 14:2, “V’hoova el ha’Kohen,” He shall be brought to the priest.

The commentators try to explain the significance of this repeated theme. Rav Chaim of Volozhin (1749-1821, founder of the famous Yeshiva of Volozhin) explains that because the verse states that the metzora (the person stricken with the disease tzara’at) will be brought to the Kohen, the implication is that the stricken person will come against his will.

Our rabbis understand that the tzara’at disease results from speaking evil of others. In fact, the word metzora is seen as an acronym for the expression of “motzee shem rah,” one who slanders others. Since the most frequent targets of slander are often the community’s public servants, such as the Kohanim (who are the equivalent of today’s lay and rabbinic leaders), it is inevitable that a person who speaks against these leaders will feel extremely uncomfortable about having to go to the priest for resolution. Hence, the unwillingness of the metzora to come to the Kohen.

The Dubno Maggid (R’ Yaakov Krantz, 1741-1804, the most famous of the Eastern European maggidim–itinerant preachers) suggests that the perpetrator of Lashon Hara is brought to the Kohen because one who slanders others rarely realizes how serious the transgression is, and cannot fathom that his presumably “innocuous” words cause harm to others that may even result in possible bloodshed. How ironic it is then, that the perpetrator’s fate is now decided by a simple “word” of the Kohen who declares him “tahor,” clean or “tamay,” unclean.

Although the verse in Leviticus 14:2 indicates that the metzora is brought to the Kohen, the very next verse (14:3) states: “V’yatza ha’Kohen el meechutz la’machaneh,” that the priest goes forth outside the camp. From this, the Shem MiShmuel (R’ Shmuel of Sochachov, 1856-1920, author of many famous Chassidic discourses on the Pentateuch and other subjects) derives that one who seeks purification must take the first step. However, once that first critical step is taken, indicating the perpetrator’s regret and desire to be purified, the Kohen must then move toward the metzora to help him, even if this means that the Kohen himself must leave the comfort of his own environment and exit the camp. A Kohen must be prepared to go forward in all circumstances to do everything for the sake of purifying a fellow Jew, even at the expense of his own inconvenience.

The Midrash, Vayikra Rabbah 15:8, suggests another explanation why it is the Kohen who is specifically charged with the duty of diagnosing the tzara’at disease. The Midrash states that when Moses learned that it would be the priest’s task to diagnose the tzara’at disease, he was deeply pained, and complained to G-d, “Is this the respect that is accorded my brother, Aaron, to inspect these horrible afflictions?” The Al-mighty responded: “Does he [Aaron] not have the benefit of the twenty-four gifts of the priesthood?”

The Chofetz Chaim (R’ Yisrael Meir HaKohen of Radin, 1838-1933) derives from this Midrashic exchange the requirement that Jewish leaders must always be ready to demean themselves when necessary in order to address the spiritual needs of their flock. Since Aaron was supported by the community and was provided twenty-four priestly gifts, he is responsible to do whatever is needed to purify the community.

Once again we see a repeating theme of the weighty responsibilities that are placed on Jewish leaders.

It is undeniable that throughout human history we find that both spiritual and political leaders can hardly ever do anything entirely right in their constituents’ eyes. Rare is the leader who is without severe critics. Constituents always complain, and leaders are most often “Damned if they do, and damned if they don’t”!

An unfortunate contemporary example of this may be seen with regard to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who has been in office for only a few weeks and is already constantly derided throughout the world as an obstacle to peace, without ever being given an opportunity to substantiate his true intentions. No attention is paid to Netanyahu’s protestations to the contrary that he is indeed in favor of peace and expects to move forward to establish peace. As Gary Rosenblatt recently pointed out in the Jewish Week, Prime Minister Netanyahu is hardly given a chance to be heard. The world media continues to ignore the fact that Netanyahu has an established track record of concluding peace agreements with the Palestinians when he served as Prime Minister a decade ago. It was, after all, he who ceded the Biblical territory of Hebron. Has any Palestinian leader made such sacrifices for peace?

As we celebrate Israel Independence Day next week, let us pray that our own people, the people of Israel, will give our leaders, both in America and in Israel, an opportunity to prove themselves before they are criticized.

Let us hope that G-d will guide our leaders on a path of wisdom and accomplishment, and that we shall soon see the entire People of Israel “cured and purified” through the help and intervention of our leaders–today’s “virtual priests.”

May you be blessed.

The 61st year of Israel’s independence will be celebrated on Tuesday evening, April 28th and all day Wednesday, April 29th, the 5th of Iyar.