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Rags to Riches

Metzora (Leviticus 14-15 )

by Rabbi Jared Viders

"If he is poor and his means are not sufficient, then he shall take one male lamb as a guilt-offering ... to provide atonement for him ... of whichever his means are sufficient." (Lev. 14:21,31)

This week's Torah portion describes the elaborate process by which a Jew suffering from tzara'as (a physical malady caused by a spiritual affliction arising from one's violation of the Torah) could achieve atonement for his misconduct. Amidst this process we find an unusual twist whereby the Torah sets forth the purification process for your run-of-the-mill metzora and then subsequently offers a notably "lighter" purification process for those who are impoverished.

Why is the Torah suddenly concerned about tax brackets and income stream? Jews are Jews regardless of their socio-economic status or the diversification of their tax portfolio.

Rabbi Schwab explained to me (from the writings of Rav S.R. Hirsch zt'l) that the answer lays in the fact that the metzora is seeking to break free from the clutches of sin and re-enter a world of purity and connectivity with God (and his fellow Jews). In this respect, the Torah goes "out of its way" so-to-speak to eliminate any potential obstacles (in this case, additional expenditures that he cannot afford) that could frustrate the realization of that esteemed goal. In other words, our overarching desire to get this person untangled from his transgression (and the collateral spiritual damage), translates into a broader strike zone whereby even those of lesser means can be aided in that quest.

When a student fails a test, what is the response of a thoughtful teacher? In my humble estimation, it's the opportunity to take a re-test on the same material. Not only does that provide a suitable framework to comprehend the assigned information, but it provides a guilt-free way for the sincere student to get above-and-beyond the sense of embarrassment associated with the initial sub-par mark. A failing score in a grade book or the mere (ungrounded) optimism that "there's always next time" offers little (if any) meaningful consolation.

No Jew is above and beyond the need to do teshuvah, to repent and change his direction. We all have our shortcomings, our transgressions and our record of errant judgment calls whereby we elevated our personal desires over that which God desires (and expects) from us. Nevertheless, should one think that we must mire in the spiritual muck, estranged from God indefinitely.

"Rather, the matter, i.e. teshuvah is very near to you - in your mouth and your heart - to perform it." (Dev. 30:14). More than that, God "allows us wide-ranging excuses when we stray from the path of His service and has promised to accept [our efforts to change] and quickly favor us, even if we have long defied His word and violated His covenant." (Duties of the Heart).

Returning to God is a priceless opportunity that is readily available to all of us all the time. Let us not be deterred by the perceived obstacles in our way. For our loving Father is eagerly awaiting to hear from us and more than willing to "help those who seek to purify themselves."

Good Shabbos.

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