The Pungent Aroma

April 15, 2012

4 min read


Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12-15 )

When he was six years old, the Vilna Gaon was asked if he could explain the juxtaposition of the end of Parshas Shemini to the beginning of Parshas Tazria, two parshas with no immediately apparent connection. He immediately walked to the bookshelf, brought a Talmud Yoma to the table, and proceeded to open to folio 82a.

The Talmud there discusses an episode in which two women were pregnant on Yom Kippur. Both smelled a pungent aroma which caused them to be seized with an overwhelming need to eat immediately. The Sages suggested that somebody whisper in the ear of each woman a reminder that it was Yom Kippur. One woman was able to regain her senses and successfully completed the fast, while the other continued to demand food. Because it was a question of saving her life, she was permitted to eat. The Talmud concludes that the first woman gave birth to the righteous Rebbi Yochanan, while the second woman gave birth to the wicked Shabsai Otzar Peiri, who used to hoard fruits to drive up the prices, thereby causing untold suffering to the poor.

The Vilna Gaon suggested that the juxtaposition may be read as hinting to this episode. Our parsha ends by teaching that a separation between the pure and the impure will be caused by the difference between the pregnant woman (often referred to in the Talmud as "chaya") who eats (on Yom Kippur) and the one who doesn't, and Parshas Tazria begins by clarifying that the difference in purity will be manifested in the sons they will bear! (see Leviticus 11:47 - 12:2)

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The Torah requires a woman who has given birth to bring a sheep as a Korban Olah and a dove as a Korban Chatas (Leviticus 12:6). If she is poor, both sacrifices shall be birds (12:8). If she has the means, why does the Torah prescribe that she bring a dove, which is the sacrifice of the poor (see 5:7), as a Korban Chatas and not a sheep?

Meshech Chochmah cites the Talmud (Nidah 31b), which teaches that the reason that a woman who has given birth must bring an offering is because when her labor pains become intense and unbearable, she may take an oath never to have relations with her husband in order to prevent this from happening again, an oath which she will eventually come to break. Thus she must specifically bring a dove as her sin-offering even if she can afford a more expensive animal, as the Talmud (Eiruvin 100b) teaches that the dove is the paradigm of an animal which remains eternally faithful to its mate, a lesson which this woman needs to internalize.

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If a garment made of wool, linen, or leather develops a green or red affliction, it must be shown to a Kohen. The Kohen quarantines the garment for seven days, after which he examines it to see if the affliction has spread during this period. If it has spread, the garment must be burned, but if it has not, the garment is washed and locked up for a second seven-day period. If at the end of this period the affliction has dimmed, it is ripped out of the garment, the remainder of which may then be used. However, the Torah decrees that if the Kohen sees that during this second seven-day period the color of the garment remains the same, the entire garment must be burned in fire and destroyed.

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that during the time that the garment is quarantined, its owner should be focused on repenting his mistake which caused it to be afflicted in the first place. The Talmud (Arachin 16a) lists seven transgressions which can cause tzara'as, one of which is "tzarut ayin"- viewing others with a narrow and stingy eye. If a person is stricken with an affliction on one of his garments as a result of this, it is incumbent upon him to work on relating to others with a more generous spirit in order to rectify his character and prevent his garment from being destroyed.

In light of this, the expression "lo hafach hanega et eino" - "the affliction did not change its color" (Leviticus 13:55) - can also be understood as an allusion to the reason that such a garment must be burned. Instead of utilizing the seven-day period to change his outlook toward others and to develop within himself a positive and giving attitude, "lo hafach hanega et eino" - "the stingy eye with which he viewed others didn't change," and he still possesses the same miserly worldview which brought about the initial affliction. As a result, the Torah gives no choice but to burn his garment and remove it from the world.

Rabbi Leib Lopian points out that the letters in the words "nega"- affliction - and "oneg"- pleasure - are identical. The only difference between them is the location of the letter ayin. King Solomon writes that "hachacham einav b'rosho" - "a wise person places his eyes in front" (Ecclesiastes 2:14). This can be homiletically interpreted as teaching that by training one's eyes to focus on the strengths and talents of others, which correspond to the front, a person can place the letter ayin at the beginning of the word, and he will become a happy person whose life will be joyful oneg. However, if he puts the letter ayin at the end of the word by allowing himself to always seek out other people's shortcomings and weaknesses, he will become a bitter and stingy person whose life will be transformed into a nega, one full of afflictions and suffering.

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