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Changing the Eye

Tazria (Leviticus 12-13 )

by Rabbi Yissocher Frand

When a tzaraas lesion remains on a garment after all the instructions of the Kohein have been followed, he examines it one last time. If it “has not changed appearance,” the garment is burned. The exact Hebrew language is “lo hafach hanega es eino,” which translates literally as “the lesion has not changed its eye.” Although the meaning is clear, we cannot help but wonder why the Torah chose such an unusual form of expression.

The affliction of tzaraas is spiritual rather than medical in nature. The Talmud discerns (Arachin 16a) seven different causes for tzaraas, the most famous of which is lashon hara, improper speech. The other six are not as well known. One of them is tzarus ayin, which translates literally as “narrowness of the eye.” It refers to mean-spiritedness, a tendency to see the negative and overlook the positive in everything. It is a singular lack of generosity in all things, a constricted view of the world and everything in it.

If this affliction of the spirit caused the lesion on the garment, then the therapy is to transform the trait of tzar ayin into tov ayin, literally “a person with a good eye.” Instead of being a sour-faced, mean-spirited curmudgeon, he must become a smiling, generous, expansive, optimistic, warm and friendly person. Then the lesion will fade away. If he does not change, the lesion remains on the garment, and it must be incinerated.

This is what the Torah means, explains the Chiddushei Harim, by the words “lo hafach hanega es eino, the lesion has not changed its eye.” The owner of the garment has not changed his narrowness of the eye into goodness of the eye; he has not transformed himself from a mean-spirited person into a kind and generous man. Therefore, the garment is burned.

The Chiddushei Harim concludes with a classic chassidishe vort, an interpretation in the Chassidic style. The Hebrew word for lesion or affliction is nega. The opposite of affliction is pleasure, which is oneg in Hebrew. Both words are constructed of the same three letters. Nega is spelled nun, gimmel, ayin. Oneg is spelled ayin, nun, gimmel. The only difference is in the placement of the ayin. Move it from the back to the front, and affliction is transformed into pleasure. The Torah is telling us that “the lesion has not changed its eye (ayin).” He is the same narrowed-eyed person he was before. Therefore, the nega was not transformed into oneg.

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