VOLUME 55 NUMBER 4
April 2nd, 2011
27 Adar 2, 5771
Doing Sixty in a Forty-Five Zone
By Rabbi Raphael Leban
One morning, after leaving the house a few minutes later than usual (four year olds!), I have to admit, I was driving a little quickly to make it to shul on time. Well, a lot quickly.
A mere block or two before I arrived, it happened. I saw a white motorcycle with flashing red and blue lights slip in behind me. I felt that awful feeling deep in my stomach. I was being pulled over.
The officer was very polite and efficient. He didn’t even give me a chance to make an appeal to his sense of mercy (or his sense of humor, depending on how bad the appeal was). He wrote me a speeding ticket and wished me a good day.
A decade without a speeding ticket, I was somewhat crestfallen. Oh, the embarrassment. Oh, the indignity. Oh, the $100 dollar fine.
As I read the ticket later in the morning, I found out how Colorado tickets work. Since I am sure that you, dear reader, haven’t received such a thing, I’ll describe it.
If you wise up quickly, you send the money within 20 days and the charge is reduced to ‘Operating an Unsafe Vehicle’. To do so, you must sign the ticket declaring your guilt and pay the fine promptly. If you aren’t so wise, after thirty days, the fine goes up to $120 dollars and you get the full charge of speeding on your record. If you haven’t responded in six weeks or so, your court date arrives and then you have to pay court fees as well. After that, we can only pity the brainless soul who fails to appear in court! I wonder what he gets.
As I thought about it all, I found myself saying (in the middle of dovening), ‘Thank G-d for warnings.’ As unpleasant as it is to get a ticket, it’s healthy. Unchecked speeding and careless driving cause accidents. Deal with the fine and wise up, the sooner the better.
In a well-known chapter of Tehillim (Psalms) King David wrote, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” I am not a sheep, but I would imagine that the sheep who gets smacked with the rod when he gets out of line is not exactly ‘comforted’ by it. How is the rod a comfort?
With the rod, the Shepherd keeps the sheep together and safely within His care. Without it, they would wander off on their own and be lost. The warning patch (smack) of supervision keeps them comfortably safe.
This week’s parsha reads like the back of the speeding ticket. When the Temple stood, there were Divinely sent warning signs for all kinds of misbehavior. If someone spoke slanderously about someone else, was selfish with his possessions, or treated the people around him with haughty disdain, G-d sent a skin discoloration as a warning.
Those who wised up quickly, simply had to go to the mikvah. For those who dragged their feet a bit, the penalty was still minor: a week of quarantine (a little time to think about things) and then a trip to the mikvah. For people who didn’t get the message, there could be a few extra weeks of quarantine, a major haircut, and a sacrificial donation brought on the altar. And who knows what befell the person who never heeded the warning.
The parsha lists many different types of skin afflictions for different types of aberrant behavior and objectionable character traits, a veritable catalogue of Divine ‘speeding tickets’.
We pray that the Temple will speedily be rebuilt, when we will again be blessed with the opportunity to get a spiritual ‘pulling over’. It may not sound so appealing, but it’s a lot better than cruising down the highway of life headed for a spiritual thirty car pile-up.
What is a Tongue Lashing?
By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
This parsha has a lengthy discussion concerning one who is afflicted with the ‘disease’ of tzora’as. His house is first affected and if he does not repent, it is razed. Then his clothing suffers discoloration requiring him to ponder what he is doing wrong. If he recognizes his sin, he must change his ways. However, if he does not take heed and continues on his brazen path, his very person is afflicted with spots which will certainly spur him on to identify what his misconduct is. If he still does not figure out the problem, he is sent outside of the regular camp and he remains in isolation until he rectifies that which he is doing wrong.
The innocent reader of the above narrative would have to assume that the sinning individual must have committed a heinous crime to deserve such a terrible punishment. After all, he is losing his house and possessions and has even been evicted from the community. His embarrassment is known to all and everyone keeps their distance from him. What is his crime?
Maimonides explains that this individual has transgressed the laws of loshon hora, gossip and tale-bearing. He has abused the special gift of speech that elevates him above all the animals that roam the world. On the contrary, he has descended into their realm; the separation between himself and the animal kingdom has disappeared. He is truly banished from human civilization since he has divorced himself from appropriate conduct. He received numerous warnings from Heaven and yet he chose to ignore them and continue to reject the Torah’s admonition to cleanse his speech.
Maimonides adds a most interesting detail. This entire process is to emphasize to people that they must cease from expressing themselves in the way of the wicked. He then defines that those who are wicked speak loshon hora and scoff at others in conversation. They speak needlessly like those who are idle and converse about unnecessary issues and topics.
The former Rosh Yeshiva of the world famous Yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jersey pointed out that Maimonides is making a most startling assertion. The road that leads to degraded speech begins simply with pointless conversations about nothing; just sitting around and mindlessly talking without thinking. Such conduct eventually leads to speaking about others inappropriately and even to speaking ill about Hashem Himself. Why is this so?
He explained that the capacity of speech is a Heavenly gift which defines our role in the universe. We are mandated to use speech in order to elevate our lives and the lives of others. However, if we abuse our ability to grow and refine ourselves, we ultimately descend into a lower caliber of creature, incapable of serving Hashem properly.
Now we understand the depth of depravity of one who speaks loshon hora and slander. The spark of holiness that we are bestowed with is potentially extinguished by such behavior. Our words of Torah and prayer are tainted when our mouths indiscriminately issue dreadful gossip. However, as we learn to utilize our faculty of speech in a positive way, our lives will change for the better and we will improve and increase our ability to serve Hashem.
Byte for Shabbos
In the laws of tzora’as, the spiritual skin afflictions discussed in this week’s parsha, a small spot of white is a sign of impurity, but if the entire body turns white, the person is considered pure. Why? If G-d punishes a gossip-monger so severely that his entire body is stricken, even the most stubborn person would realize that his atrocious behavior needs attention. Unquestionably he will make amends and change his behavior, and there will be no need for the banishment that impurity would obligate.