Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 16 April 2016 / 8 Nisan 5776

Parshat Metzora

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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A Spiritual Disease with a Spiritual Cure

In Parshas Tazria Abarbanel emphasized that the affliction of tzara’at was the physical manifestation of a spiritual imbalance in the individual which resulted from his transgressions. These physical symptoms create a state of tumah, or ritual contamination, which can be “transmitted” to others. It is nothing like a natural infectious disease where the physical symptoms are transmitted to others. Rather, what is transmitted is not a physical disease, but, rather, a state of ritual contamination. We are warned not to come in contact with such an individual, as the Torah warns us, “...you shall not contaminate your soul, your inner essence…” (Leviticus 11:44) Normal infectious diseases harm the body but not our inner essence.

This explains why an individual afflicted with tzara’at does not consult a physician. He deals only with the kohanim, who are the experts in dealing with ritual contamination. Only they are entrusted with the ability to declare an object or a person ritually contaminated or ritually pure.

Parshat Metzora begins with a detailed description of the ritual purification process required to restore the individual to a state of spiritual balance. Since his condition of tzara’at resulted from transgressions, one dimension of the process was to bring sacrificial offerings to atone for them, whether they were accidental or purposeful transgressions. This is necessary since the foundation of our religious faith and understanding is that everything that happens to a member of the Jewish nation is a result of Divine Providence, in order “...to grant to each man according to his ways and the consequences of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 32:19) Thus, each afflicted individual will understand that his behavior was the source of his affliction. After having brought the offerings for the intentional and unintentional transgressions, whether or not he was aware of them, he then brings the elevation-offering, which was totally consumed on the Altar, to demonstrate his renewed connection to G-d.

The Torah then describes in detail how the kohen applies blood from the guilt-offering to the right ear, the right thumb and the right big toe of the afflicted individual. He then places oil on the same areas, and applies oil to the head as well. Abarbanel explains that the main reason for this ritual was to impress upon us that the true cure was Divine; purely the result of repentance and proper performance of the commandments. The individual had no need whatsoever for natural medical interventions and treatments. Actually, in order to emphasize the purely Divine nature of the cure, the “treatments” of the kohen were exactly the opposite of what doctors would normally do. Normal medical practices involved bloodletting. Here the kohen does not extract any blood. Rather, he ritually places blood on those areas where the symptoms first appeared. Similarly, the oil teaches us that unlike accepted medical practice, it is not necessary to empty excess fluid. Rather, we place oil on the individual to emphasize again the miraculous nature of the cure. Finally, whatever oil remains is placed on the head. As it says in Ecclesiastes: “...let your head never lack oil”.(Ecclesiastes 9:8) The oil is a metaphor for the wisdom which, hopefully, has been imparted to the afflicted individual as a result of his experience.

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