Metzora (Leviticus 14-15 )
GOOD MORNING! Have you ever read about people seeking to have their dog covered under their medical insurance as their partner or significant other? We love our animals, but what makes a human being distinct from an animal? How much do we use those distinctions to fulfill our potential as human beings?
Science has labeled human beings as "Homo Sapiens" -- defined as having a brain capacity averaging 85 cubic inches, dependent on language and creates and utilizes complex tools. "Homo" is a genus which includes monkeys, gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and baboons. "Sapiens" refers to intellect.
Rabbi Abraham Twerski wrote in his book Twerski on Spirituality that there are traits in addition to intellect which are unique to human beings and which distinguish us from animals. Some of the traits which comprise the definition of a human being are:
1) The ability to learn from past history. A rat will learn not to press a lever if it gets shocked, but it doesn't have the capacity to learn from his grandfather's experience.
2) The capacity to think about the goal and purpose of one's existence. While some humans may not do so, they have the ability to do so.
3) The capacity to volitionally improve oneself. It is unlikely that a cow will ask itself, "What can I do to become a better cow?" Only human beings can reflect on self-improvement.
4) The capacity to delay gratification. Yes, a dog will wait until given permission to eat the doggie treat, but only a human can push off fulfilling a desire for a higher goal or an appropriate time.
5) The capacity to reflect on the consequence of his actions.
6) The capacity to control anger. If an animal is enraged, it will attack. A human being can assess the provocative act and conclude that there is no reason to get angry. It might have been an unintended or accidental act.
7) The capacity to forgive. Animals may forget, but it is highly doubtful they are capable of forgiving. Humans may forgive and forget (but as one husband told me, "My wife forgives and forgets -- but never forgets what she forgave!")
8) Free will. Animals are under the absolute domination of their body and cannot make a free choice. If hungry, it must look for food. It can't decide to fast today. If a jackal see a tiger eating a carcass, it will refrain for fear of retribution. Only a human being can be in a position with no possibility of detection or retribution and decide not to steal because it is morally and ethically wrong.
Writes Rabbi Twerski: the sum total of all the traits that are unique to human beings comprise the spirit that makes us distinctly human. Whether one believes that the spirit was instilled in man by God or somehow developed in the process of human evolution -- the fact that human beings have a spirit is independent of one's belief.
If one is seeking spirituality, then one must exercise his uniquely human capacities. Spirituality is thus nothing more than the implementation of these capacities, hence spirituality can be seen as being synonymous with humanity. To the degree that a person is lacking in spirituality, to that degree he is lacking in humanity.
Without including religion in the definition of spirituality, the above definition is for generic spirituality. However, for Jewish spirituality one needs to look to the Torah for direction on how a Jew should exercise his uniquely human capacities!
Metzora, Leviticus 14:1 - 15:33
The Torah continues with the laws of physical and spiritual purity. The focus of this portion is upon tzora'as, a supernatural physical affliction sent to warn someone to refrain from speaking badly about others. The disease progressively afflicted home, clothes and then one's skin -- unless the individual corrected his ways and followed the purification process stated in the Torah.
This week's portion continues with the purification process for the metzora, the person afflicted with tzora'as and then the home afflicted with tzora'as. The portion ends with the purification process for discharges from the flesh.
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from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
The Torah states:
"When you arrive in the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I will place tzora'as affliction upon a house in the land of your possession. The one to whom the house belongs shall come and declare to the Cohen, 'Something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house' " (Lev. 14:34-35).
The Talmud teaches that the affliction in the house may be a punishment for begrudging things to others (Arachin 16b). The Hebrew word for tzora'as can be broken down to read tsar ayin, an oppressive eye, referring to refusal to share one's things with others. "A person may have asked a neighbor to lend him an item, but the neighbor claimed that he had no such item. The affliction in the house requires the owner to remove everything from the house, at which time his claim that he did not possess the requested item will be publicly proven to have been untrue" (Vayikra Rabba 17:3).
It is also possible to be a tsar ayin even if one does lend his belongings or gives tzedakah. One can do so with a demeaning attitude that causes the recipient to feel humiliated. It is not uncommon for people to look upon recipients of tzedakah as schnorrers (beggars), and even if one does give tzedakah, one may do so with a condescending attitude.
People who are in need of help are often broken in spirit because of their dependence on others. It is a great mitzvah to be encouraging and uplift them. We should remember that when we give tzedakah, we receive much more than we give (Vayikra Rabbah 34:10). If our attitude toward tzedakah is begrudging, the pain we inflict upon the recipient may outweigh the good we do for them.
The Torah says, "When you lend money to My people, to the poor with you" (Exodus 22:24). The commentaries remark that everything in the world belongs to God. In His infinite wisdom, He has given more to some, less to others. The wealthy should know that their wealth has been given to them merely for safe-keeping, and that they must give of it to the poor.
" 'To the poor with you' means that the money of the poor is with the wealthy, who should know that they must give of it to the poor, because it is their rightful possession. This is why the Torah emphasizes 'the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession.' Remember that it is My land, and that it is given to you with the understanding that you will share your portion with the needy. Rabbi Yishmael cites the verse, 'the one to whom the house belongs' will suffer the affliction in the house; i.e., one who thinks that the house is exclusively his, rather than a gift from God which he should share with the less fortunate" (Arachin 16b).
If one is aware that the tzedakah that he gives is merely that which rightfully belongs to the poor, one will not give grudgingly.
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It's not doing the things we like
that makes life happy;
it's learning to like
the things we have to do