In this week’s Parsha we learn of the laws of the Tzaraas, loosely translated as leprosy, though in fact the Talmud explains that this was no ordinary physical ailment. Tzaraas was the physical manifestation of spiritual sickness. Specifically, if one spoke Lashon Hara (slanderous or negative speech) about another, he or she would be stricken by this disease. We are told in great detail about the process for declaring someone a Metzorah as well the multi-step purification process. While there are many intricate details involved with this process, one thing is clear. It is only a Kohen who could make the final determination as to whether a particular discoloration was in fact Tzaraas. Someone could study the laws of Tzaraas for years, but only a Kohen could utter the words Tamei(impure) or Tahor (pure). It is this Kohanic utterance that determines the ritual status of the individual.
But why the Kohen? Why is he vested with this ultimate authority? The person who contracted Tzaraas spoke negatively about another (as mentioned above) and in doing so had driven a wedge, created a chasm and orchestrated a divide within Klal Yisroel. Who can repair this damage? It is only a Kohen, a descendant of Aharon whose entire being was dedicated to creating peace, harmony, love and respect within the ranks of the Jewish people who could heal this stricken individual. The Metzorah must come face to face with a man who is the very antithesis of what the Metzorah represents. The Metzorahdivides, the Kohen bridges. The Metzorah sows the seeds of animosity, the Kohen nurtures the sapling of love. The Metzorah sees the worst in everyone, the Kohen sees the beauty in every soul. It is only the Kohen who can repair that which the Metzorah has destroyed.
The laws of Tzaraas may not be currently applicable but the message certainly is. We must make sure the Kohen triumphs over the Metzorah. We must do what we can to prevent animosity, slander and negativity within the ranks of our people. We must foster an atmosphere of achdus (unity).
We speak often about unity. Throughout the ages, rabbis, sages and scholars have all written on the need to avoid conflict and create national cohesion. The Talmud warns us repeatedly regarding the dangers of being a divided people. It sounds so simple, yet it often feels so elusive. Where do we start? What is the first step in achieving this lofty goal of Jewish unity? There is an incredible passage in the Zohar (Shmini, 36a):
Rabbi Pinchos ben Yair was once travelling and his donkey began to bray happily. Rabbi Pinchos said, “If my donkey is braying happily it must be that another Jew is on the road approaching us. As he rounded the side of the mountain he met Rabbi Elazar. Rabbi Pinchos said, “I now know why my donkey was so joyous!” Rabbi Elazar embraced and kissed Rabbi Pinchos. Rabbi Pinchos said, “If we are travelling in the same direction, let’s travel together.” To which Rabbi Elazar responded, “Once I have found you, I will travel in whichever direction you are headed.”
The Zohar then goes on to discuss the various topics they pondered as they were journeying together. What is so striking about this story is the donkey. Rabbi Pinchos ben Yair had a donkey which brayed happily at the presence of another Jew. This is because Rabbi Pinchos ben Yair was one who greeted every person with a smile and warm countenance. When you greet someone with a smile you convey to them a sense of importance and meaning. A simple smile allows a person to feel recognized. So many people walk through this world thinking they are unimportant or extra. So many people feel the world doesn’t need them and no one would care or notice if they were no longer here. When you smile at someone you are making the statement, “You are important. Important enough that I am going to take the few extra moments, flex my facial muscles and extend a greeting to you. I see you, I recognize you, we are part of the same nation. Even if I don’t know you, deep down, I do.” And when you do this enough you begin to change the world around you. The feelings of friendship, warmth, companionship and love for the other are felt not only by the recipient; they permeate those around you and change the emotional climate. When you take the time to smile and acknowledge the other it even impacts your donkey.
The road to achdus, national unity is a long and circuitous one. We must find our inner Kohen and our external smile; and when we do, we can change the world.