> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > Between the Lines

The Twofold Shabbat

Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12-15 )

by Rabbi Abba Wagensberg

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

This week's Torah portion primarily deals with the phenomenon of a "negah" - a physical skin disease that expresses a spiritual ailment. The Sefer Yetzirah (2:7) states that there is nothing greater than "oneg" (delight) and nothing lower than "negah." How are we to understand this enigmatic remark?

The Midrash Socher Tov (citing Rebbe Yitzchak on Psalm 92) notes that all aspects of Shabbat are doubled. In the Holy Temple, the meal offering consisted of a double portion (Exodus 16:22); the animal offerings consisted of two lambs (Numbers 29:9); the punishment for desecrating Shabbat is described with double wording (Exodus 31:14); the reward for observing Shabbat contains double wording (Isaiah 58:13); the commandment to observe Shabbat appears in two forms, "zachor" (Exodus 20:8) and "shamor" (Deut. 5:12); and the Psalm that was sung on Shabbat has two names, "mizmor" and "shir" (Psalms 92:1).

According to the Shem MiShmuel, the Midrash is not merely mentioning that Shabbat is associated with double expressions. Rather, we learn from here that the very essence of Shabbat is twofold. On one hand, Shabbat is called the "secret of oneness" (Zohar), through which all Jews are equated. On the other hand, Shabbat is likened to the Coming World, where every righteous person receives reward based on his individual merit (see Shmot Rabba 52:3 and Shabbat 152a). The Shem MiShmuel explains these two aspects as follows:

All Jewish people are equal when it comes to refraining from transgressions. In passivity, we are all alike. This is the first aspect of Shabbat - the oneness in which all Jews are equated. The other aspect of Shabbat, as we mentioned, is where each person receives reward based on individual merit. This refers to the mitzvot that require action to fulfill. Far from being equated in this realm, we each grow differently depending on how much energy, sincerity, and pure intention we put into our performance of mitzvot.

We can broaden this discussion and suggest that the Jewish people have a dual mission. We have a unified, national mission, in which we are all equated. However, each individual has a unique, specific mission as well - a mission that is different from everyone else's.

Typically, the idea of a personal mission is understood to mean using our individual talents to bring something unique into the world. Based on the Shem MiShmuel, we now see that we can also fulfill our individual mission through our performance of mitzvot. Although everyone's actions might appear to be identical, in reality, each person performs mitzvot with a different degree of enthusiasm and care.

The "metzora" - the one smitten with a spiritual skin disease - is disqualified from both his national and his individual mission. The Torah tells us (Leviticus 13:46) that the metzora dwells alone, which the Talmud (Arachin 16b) understands to mean "outside the Jewish camp." This enforced solitude symbolizes the metzora's disqualification from the Jewish people's national purpose.

Furthermore, we learn that the metzora is locked away for a week (Leviticus 13:4) or sometimes two weeks (Leviticus 13:5). This shows us that different people require different amounts of time to extricate themselves from their spiritual degradation. The amount of time necessary for each metzora to heal is based on the unique way he developed his corrupt behavior. This demonstrates the ruination of the metzora's individual mission, since the time it takes him to heal is directly based on how much effort he put into performing transgressions.

Now we can finally understand the comment from the Sefer Yetzirah that there is nothing greater than oneg and nothing lower than negah. (This is a play on words: both are composed of the three letters ayin, nun, gimmel.) The word oneg is frequently used in association with Shabbat. Nothing is greater than the oneg of Shabbat because, as we stated, the essence of Shabbat is twofold. Shabbat fully expresses both the national and the individual purpose of the Jewish people, thus symbolizing serving God in totality and completion. Negah, on the other hand, symbolizes the utter degradation of the metzora, who is disqualified from both his national and individual mission. Nothing could be lower than this inability to fulfill one's purpose on any level.

May we all be doubly blessed to live up to our national and individual missions, thereby enabling us to serve God in totality and completion.


Leave a Reply

1 2 3 2,900

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram