Sunday, April 17, 2011


Once again the reader is challenged to understand Torah content that is obscure, obsolete and entirely irrelevant to our time.How does one make sense of the ritual involving a metzora-מצורע- one who has contracted an undefined skin disease-some say leprosy-and apply it to the moral issues of today? Clearly, this kind of material demands an imaginative response which was forthcoming by our Sages who understood the afflicted metzora as one who had committed the sin of slander.They based this association on a word play derived from the word-metzora-מצורע.What emerges from this activity is the phrase “motzi shem ra”-מוציא שם רע—one who slanders, literally, one who brings out a bad name.Thus, the Rabbis conclude that this esoteric disease is the result of the abuse of others by way of language or speech.

I would like to extend this “playful” interpretation into a different area of spiritual concern.If we change the vocaliztion of the phrase-motzi shem ra- מוציא שם רע- -we can read the phrase in the following way-motzei sham ra-מוצא שם רע- meaning “finding there the bad.” Instead of shem-name, we can read the consonants as sham-there. Rather than evil in a moralistic way, ra can be understood as that which is negative,undesirable, unpleasant. In other words, the modern metzora is the one who encounters all places and things in life with a perspective that is negative, a view of things as only undesirable, unsatisfactory, problematic . Life for the “metzora”is a source of sorrow and sadness, not a reason for joy and gratitude. To see life through the lens of unrelenting dissatisfaction and suffering is to create a terribly painful situation of social distance, cutting oneself off from the orbit of human interaction and experience. Like the Biblical metzora-”leper”- the contemporary complainer finds himself isolated, even quarantined. Such constant unhappiness and ingratitude also suggests an attitude of thanklessness toward the Source of all creation, finding fault rather than favor with the world around him.

The antidote to such a response is the capacity to discover the good, tov-טוב- and strive to attain an attitude of a motzi sham tov-מוציא שם טוב- of one who sees life as a precious gift and blessing for which to be deeply grateful. It is perhaps with such an approach to life that others will then recognize the reality that the blemishes and lesions of negativity, once a major component of the metzora's identity have disappeared, and what emerges is an identity of self-worth capable of embracing the world and life as one who found a priceless treasure for which to be eternally grateful. Only then can the high priest declare-”You are now reinstated as a member of a holy people and can be once again considered clean and. pure!”

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