Parshas Ki Seitzei - The Uncut Version of Life

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 08/27/20

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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Be cautious regarding the lesion of tzara’as...  that you do not remove any of the signs of uncleanness, and that you do not cut off a baheres. (דברים כד ח ורש"י שם) 

One afflicted with tzara’as may not tamper with the lesion to ‘rid’ oneself of the defiled state and all its inconvenient consequences. 

Immediately following this injunction, the Torah directs us to remember the fate that befell Miriam, when she was stricken by tzara’as for having unjustly criticized Moshe for having separated from his wife.   

There seems to be no inherent connection between these two verses other than the fact they both relate to tzara’as. 

Although the Torah initially seems to be only forewarning against the physical removal of the lesion, the Sifra understands this verse to be broadly ‘cautioning’ us to desist from speaking slanderously, lest it result in being smitten with tzara’as.  

With the Sifra’s enlightening interpretation of the verse, the message in the juxtaposition of these two subjects is now noticeably clear. One must do whatever it takes to prevent the developing of tzara’as — refrain from loshon hora. The Torah drives that lesson home by calling us to remember how even Miriam, after faltering and speaking inappropriately against Moshe, was punished with tzara’as

Yet, the פשוטו של מקרא, the ‘simple reading of the text’— do not tamper with the tzara’as and the subsequent reference to the episode with Miriam leave us begging for an explanation as to its linkage. 

The holy Kohen of Tzfas, Rav Mordechai HaKohen, a disciple of the students of the Arizal, in his remarkable work Sifsei Kohen, offers a brilliant twist in interpreting the deeper message within these verses. 

The Torah is not merely enforcing strict adherence to its rules, but rather enlightening us to embrace the privilege of challenge. One who finds oneself suffering, should view it as an opportunity to correct the course of one’s misguided actions. One can never escape the divine hand that directs us to alter our path. Inevitably we will have to face the music. Do not cut yourself from the circumstances in life that speak to you on behalf of G-d, inviting us, with love, to change and improve ourselves.  

Miriam — a prophetess; a woman who bravely risked her life to save the infants in defiance of the evil Pharaoh’s decree; in whose merit the entire congregation were granted the miraculous well that traveled with them in the desert; who only spoke against Moshe, innocently, in support of her sister-in-law Tzipora — when admonished for her error and stricken with tzara’as, accepts her fate with equanimity, knowing it is justified despite all the excuses she could possibly offer. Although she would now be quarantined for a week, holding up an already anxious nation, she acquiesces loyally to her Father’s reprimand, accepting her difficulty with love and understanding, thanking G-d for His attention and encouragement, feeling fortunate in His embrace. 

In the marvelous expression of love, as evinced in the blessing of Ahava Rabba, we exult:  בחרת... וקרבתנו..ובנו  — You have chosen us... And You have brought us close, לשמך הגדול — to Your great Name, להודות לך — to offer praiseful thanks to you. 

The holy Arizal teaches that the first reference, that we were chosen and brought close, corresponds to the obligation to remember the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The second  mention of His great Name, alludes to the command to remember what Amalek did to us in their ceaseless attacks to diminish His great Name. This third call to praise and thank G-d, represents the directive to remember what happened to Miriam, a call to utilize our mouths — which were created to sing praise to G-d — in thanking the Almighty, rather than espousing words of loshon hora, slander. 

The proper use of our mouths to express exclusively words of thanks to G-d, precludes not just the abuse of the mouth in speaking slander, but also not to utter — falsehood, vulgarities, wasteful talk... and calumny. In what way does this particular sentiment —להודות לך  — reflect specifically on not talking loshon hora? 

One who is disgruntled with life and its difficulties, and incapable of taking stock, to tackle and accept to deal positively with those challenges, will inevitably attack others with bitterness and degrade all those around him that remind him of his plight and unhappiness. 

One, however, who perceives a world of kindness even amidst personal challenge, will only have words of praise for all that is right in life. 

As the Kohen Gadol of Tzfas taught, the lesson we derive from Miriam is to value difficulty and see it as a summons to come close, accepting it positively. One may never devalue the ‘gift’ of suffering. Do not ‘cut off’ the ‘lesions’ that may pain you now but are there to heal you towards a greater health. Remember how Miriam continued to praise G-d throughout her ordeals.  

להודות לך — to offer praiseful thanks to you, is the imperative to see life and all its glory through its darkest clouds, never descending to uttering of negativity — the very essence of the message in remembering the positive attitude of Miriam. 

The Arizal says that four of the Six Remembrances: to remember — the exodus from Egypt; the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai; Amalek’s attack; Miriam’s episode, correspond to four of the holidays we celebrate yearly. The exodus — Pesach. The receiving of Torah — Shavuos. Amalek — Sukkos, which commemorates the protection the Clouds of Glory from the forces of Amalek. The episode of Miriam — Rosh Hashana. 

In what way does the remembrance of Miriam reflect on the specialness of Rosh Hashana? 

The prelude to accepting G-d’s kingdom is the ability to appreciate and thank Him for the endless kindness He showers upon us. 

At the end of Hallel we recite: 

יְהַלְלֽוּךָ ד' אלקנו כָּל מַעֲשֶֽׂיךָ... וְכָל עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּרִנָּה יוֹדוּ וִיבָרְכוּ וִישַׁבְּחוּ וִיפָאֲרוּ וִירוֹמְמוּ וְיַעֲרִֽיצוּ וְיַקְדִּֽישׁוּ וְיַמְלִֽיכוּ אֶת שִׁמְךָ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ. כִּי לְךָ טוֹב לְהוֹדוֹת 

All of your works shall praise You, Lord our God ... and all of Your people, the House of Israel will thank and bless in joyful song: and extol and glorify, and exalt and acclaim, and sanctify and coronate Your name, our King. Since, You it is good to thank... 

When we are grateful for every encounter in life, both those that appear good and those that are seemingly bad, with an awareness that it is all orchestrated from on high for our ultimate good — then we are capable of fully accepting the yoke of Heaven, on the day that celebrates the birth of man, the pinnacle of creation — Rosh Hashana. 

The preparation for Rosh Hashana takes place during Elul. We must see that everything in life is good. The saintly Rav Yaakov Abuchatzera points out that the sentiment, כל טובAll is good, is numerically equivalent to אלול, 67. 

Months ago, I visited an old acquaintance who was sitting shiva for his older sister, and he shared a remarkable sequence of events that took place in the context of his sibling’s burial. 

His sister, who lived in Upstate New York was a gentle soul, a musician who shared her passion for music with her adoring nieces and nephews, sending them birthday cards and Chanukah gelt dutifully through the years, passed away, alone, after enduring many health issues. 

The local coroner, a bureaucratic stickler, stubbornly insisted on an autopsy before releasing the body for burial.   

My friend, the epitome of quiet fortitude and faith, calmly initiated a series of calls in hope he would find someone who would assist him to expedite his sister’s funeral, bringing her well-deserved dignity in accordance with Jewish law. 

He successfully enlisted the aid of a representative of a major Jewish organization upstate, who lived in Syracuse, to make a call to the coroner, who flatly refused to even speak with him. The representative then asked his good friend, the local coroner in Syracuse to attempt to connect with his ‘colleague’ further up north, but his request, as well, fell on deaf ears. 

Why must this innocent deceased soul have to suffer in death as well, everyone wondered? Why didn’t the normal processes achieve this rather simple goal in overcoming the red tape? 

In the interim my friend's daughter, naively figured she would try locating a local Chevra Kadisha in that region, to see what they can do. She googled it and came up with the name of a rabbi in a neighboring town. Sure enough, he knew the right person, an elected ranking government official, who with one brief phone call put the coroner to bed, and the matter to rest. 

My friend called the rabbi to thank him and in passing mentioned that in the neighboring city where his sister lay waiting for burial, the local Chevra Kadisha told him that due to Covid, they would have to refrain from doing the traditional tahara — religious cleansing of the body, prior to burial. The rabbi immediately told hm, that he had no hesitation in performing it, and would promptly head over there with his wife to make sure it was done!  

What at first seemed like an unfair set of circumstances turned out to be the catalyst to connect with someone who would not only prevent an autopsy but would also assure the last respects, the sister so deserved. Were no obstacle to have been placed in their way, in the form of the unreasonable demand for an autopsy, likely the family would have innocently acquiesced in not performing a proper tahara, in conformance to the real health concerns involved. Only the genius of G-d, Who masterfully orchestrated a magnificent symphony of hashgacha — divine providence, in tribute to a special soul who inspired the world with her music and life, could have brought this about.  

The first letters in the phrase, 'טוב להודות לד — It is good to thank Hashem, equal, באלול — In Elul! 

Let us get to work, in seeing everything in life in a positive light, so that we may celebrate our good fortune in being worthy of joyously coronating our most benevolent King, this Rosh Hashana! 


צבי יהודה טייכמאן