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Zos Tiheyeh Toras HaMetzora BeYom Taharaso


This week’s Torah portion, Metzora, opens with a discussion of the rituals by which a person afflicted with tzaraas is purified. This subject opens a window onto the underlying spiritual factors that are the root cause of tzaraas, as well as those that cure it.

***The Kabbalah’s View of Tzaraas

We read in the Kabbalistic work Eitz Chaim that tzaraas is caused by a departure from the afflicted person of the influence of the spiritual level known as chochmah. This is hinted at by a Talmudic teaching in conjunction with a verse from the Bible. The Talmud teaches that, in certain respects, a metzora has the status of a dead person; moreover, the verse states, “they die, but not with wisdom.” Taken together, these sources imply that “not with wisdom”— i.e., lack of chochmah—is what brings about “they die”—the spiritual condition of tzaraas.

For a better understanding of the above, it will first be necessary to explain the concepts referred to in Kabbalistic literature as mochin deImma (the “intellectual aspects of ‘Mother’”) and mochin deAbba (the “intellectual aspects of ‘Father’”).

***Mochin deImma and Mochin deAbba: “Recognition of ‘Mother’” and “Recognition of ‘Father’”

It is one of the most fundamental principles of Jewish mysticism that G-d expresses Himself within creation primarily through ten attributes, called the ten Sefiros. To enable us mortals to relate to Him, G-d created us in His image by structuring our own souls with these same ten attributes. In this way—guided by insight gained through Torah study—by contemplating the structure and functioning of our own character, we can glimpse something of G-d Himself.

The very highest faculty within humankind is the intellect. Within intellect itself, we may distinguish between the conceptual faculty—the ability to conceive new ideas, seemingly out of nowhere—and the faculty of understanding, which expands on these seminal flashes of inspiration, fleshing them out into fully understood concepts. The former is known as chochmah (frequently translated “wisdom”) and the latter, binah (“understanding”). Thus, in our context, chochmah denotes the very highest level within a person, and binah refers to the second highest. Accordingly, the very highest level of G-dly manifestation within the universe (which human chochmah and binah are patterned after, as explained above) is known as the Sefirah of Chochmah. Likewise, the second highest Sefirah is that of Binah. The third Sefirah, Daas, is also analogous to an aspect of intellect, while the rest—Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferes, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malchus—mostly correspond to various emotions.

Actually, though, that is not all there is to it, because each of the ten Sefiros is a composite of all of them. In other words, Chochmah comprises the Chochmah component of Chochmah, the Binah component of Chochmah, and so on through the Malchus component of Chochmah; Binah comprises the Chochmah component of Binah, the Binah component of Binah, etc.

Now, the Sefiros of Chochmah and Binah are also referred to as Abba (Father) and Imma (Mother), respectively, since the combination of the germ of an idea (Chochmah) and the gestation, as it were, of that idea in the sense of its development and expansion into a fully understood concept (Binah), gives rise—or, more colorfully, gives birth—to various emotions and motivations about the idea (the so-called emotional Sefiros).

From all the above, it develops that the three intellectual components—Chochmah, Binah, and Daas—within Chochmah are, technically, the mochin (literally, “brains,” i.e., intellectual aspects) deAbba (“of Abba”), while the three intellectual components within Binah are technically the mochin deImma. The reason the word “technically” has been used in the preceding sentence is that the terms mochin deAbba and mochin deImma can imply more than simply the particular Sefiros involved. They can also refer to the effects of those Sefiros, as will now be explained:

Let us distinguish between “knowledge” and “realization.” A person can know something without truly realizing its significance, without fully appreciating it. Anyone who has ever returned to home and family after a period of absence has probably experienced, on first sight of the familiar neighborhood and loved ones, a certain heightened sense of what he or she had been missing, as well as joy at being back. Undoubtedly, the returnee knew, intellectually, what had been left behind; it is not as though coming home supplied any new information. Nevertheless, the homecoming engendered a heightened awareness of what was already known: old memories come vividly alive, and the value of what one had is sharply realized and appreciated as one returns from the context of missing those things. It is that realization of something, that true recognition giving rise to emotion, that is meant by the term mochin.

Chochmah, as mentioned above, is the very highest intellectual faculty, conceiving new ideas seemingly from nowhere. With respect to the Sefiros, Chochmah represents the first glimmer of manifestation of G-d Himself, the very first revelation of the Or Ein Sof—the light of the Infinite One—in the created universe. That unknowable, transcendent aspect of G-d—the Or Ein Sof—is the “nothing” from which the world’s “something” sprang, it is the “nowhere” that is the ultimate source of what Chochmah conceives. Turning back to our own attributes for an analogy, let us imagine a great scholar of, say, philosophy or physics. That person has acquired considerable knowledge in his or her field, in large part by studying the works of previous scholars, including, perhaps, the founders of particular schools of thought or of new approaches. Now, let us assume that, at a professional conference, our scholar is able to meet the great So-and-So, founder of the school of thought in which the scholar specializes. As the scholar listens to the speaker, his or her impression is likely to be one of awe: “What profound grasp of the subject! What intimate familiarity with the material! He or she is the ‘real thing’; I don’t know anything compared to this person!” Previously, the scholar knew that So-and-So’s mastery was superior to his or her own, but that knowledge was just an abstraction; the scholar was not particularly moved by it. Now, however, coming face to face with the very fount of wisdom, the source of all he or she is, the scholar is moved to an awed humility, the feeling that he or she is utterly insignificant next to the vast store of knowledge and expertise evidenced by the master. This, too, is a function of mochin.

Mochin deImma thus refers to a true realization within Binah, an awareness that engenders inspiration. When Binah fulfills its function—that is, when, after reflection on G-d’s greatness and how nothing exists but Him, it gives rise to true appreciation of G-d’s utter unity and omnipresence—the result is great joy and yearning to unite with Him. This is because, prior to contemplation and realization of this concept, Binah had been in a position comparable to that of a prince separated from his father the king. Once the prince returns home and sees his father again, he experiences a rush of emotion stemming from the realization of what he had been missing and the knowledge that now, he is back. Likewise, true realization, through contemplation on the part of Binah, that G-d is the only true existence gives rise to great joy and yearning because, although previously the person had been oblivious to this, he or she now appreciates how good it is to be “home.” This effect of Binah is hinted at in the verse, “The mother of sons rejoices”—i.e., the Mother, Binah, is what gives rise to rejoicing in G-d.

Likewise, Mochin deAbba means not merely the abstract knowledge that Chochmah’s source is the light of the Ein Sof, but the true appreciation of that source, the full consciousness on Chochmah’s part (so to speak) of the light of the Ein Sof present within it. This awareness, this realization, results not in joy (as with Binah), but in the utter bittul—negation of self—that is characteristic of Chochmah. In fact, that is the only result possible, since the Or Ein Sof is, by definition, infinite and all-encompassing—there is no room for anything else but bittul in the face of direct exposure to the Or Ein Sof. This state of utter nullity before G-d is symbolized by bowing to Him during the Shemoneh Esreh prayer.

***Ratzo VaShov: The Spiritual Dynamic of “Running and Returning”

Another fundamental principle of Jewish mysticism is that there is a spiritual rhythm or pulse to the universe, which is reflected in our own relationship with G-d. This general concept is known as ratzo vashov, “running and returning,” based on the verse, “The [heavenly] creatures ran and returned.” As it applies to our worship of G-d, ratzo vashov describes the dynamic whereby first we reach out to G-d through our love and longing for Him, yearning to break free of our earthly moorings and run back to reunite with G-d (ratzo), and G-d then responds by bestowing upon us an increased measure of spirituality (shov). This is relevant to what was said above, because the joyous love and yearning for G-d that results from comprehension and appreciation—binah—of His greatness and unity is the ratzo that leads to the shov of that added perception of G-dliness by which we lose all sense of self and simply dissolve into a state of bittul—chochmah.

The passionate love for G-d that characterizes ratzo burns like fire within our hearts; shov, on the other hand, associated with the bittul of the intellect, is like cool water that quenches that fiery thirst. This is the inner meaning of the Kabbalah’s advice, “If your heart races [lit., “runs”—ratzo], return [shov] to one.”

It is certainly a great thing to achieve such a burning love for G-d that one actually wants to flee one’s earthly existence and be reabsorbed in His utter unity. Nevertheless, such ratzo is considered inferior in one respect: it leaves the person intact as an independent entity with feelings of his or her own, albeit refined feelings like love for G-d. The true pinnacle of worship, by contrast, is shov, whereby one is incapable of feelings of one’s own because one has become absolutely nullified, batel, to G-d. Shov can only be achieved through the bittul associated with mochin deAbba, and is essentially an extension of G-dliness from above, a bestowal upon the person of increased spirituality.

***“Making Room” for G-d through Torah

For this to happen, something else must take place first: one must expand one’s capacity for spirituality, opening oneself up to the additional revelation of G-dliness. This can only be done through the Torah. To understand why, we must explain something about the nature of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet (the alef-beis).

***The Letters of the Alef-Beis: Building Blocks of the Torah

Ideas are fluid and without form; they expand, they narrow, they shift focus constantly. It is only by putting an idea into words that it can be pinned down at all, defined and expressed in some set way. Then, the idea as expressed has shape and definition: it extends so far and no further, and it can be distinguished from other ideas, even if similar. We may look upon letters as the most basic elements in this process, the vessels or containers for “packaging” abstraction. Individual letters, of course, are still not definite enough to express things precisely, but they are the first and most important step on the road to words, sentences, and paragraphs. Thus, letters represent the transition from abstraction to concrete expression.

On a broader scale, this can serve as a metaphor for the manner in which G-d—Who is utterly unknowable, beyond “abstraction”—nevertheless expresses Himself within creation. Specifically, it is through the Torah that G-d expresses Himself to us. We know from our own experience that profound concepts, much deeper than can be encapsulated in a few words, can nevertheless be represented symbolically by some suitable object, phrase, or custom. In a similar way, G-d Himself is utterly unknowable; even those aspects of Himself (so to speak) that He wants us to know are beyond the grasp of mortals. However, to bridge this gap, G-d “condensed” these spiritual concepts into the Torah, formulated in terms of real life here on earth. We can easily understand what it means to weave wool into tzitzis, or to resolve business disputes according to Torah guidelines, or that this person “begat” that person. But these things, by themselves, are not all there is to it: everything in the Torah is a symbol, actually a vehicle for the expression of G-dliness so lofty it is beyond our mortal reach. That G-d places it firmly within our grasp anyway, by packaging His very Self into bite-size format, as it were, is not only miraculous, but a sign of His great love for us Jews, to whom He gave the great gift of Torah. The letters of the Torah—the 22 letters of the alef-beis—are the first step in this transition from G-d’s utter abstractness to His concrete expression in everyday terms. Indeed, the Hebrew letters themselves, which facilitate the expression of G-dliness within the Torah, originate on a spiritual plane so lofty it transcends the Torah itself.

***The Written Torah and the Oral Torah: the World of Thought and the World of Speech

Carrying this concept a bit further, we may note the way ideas take shape in our own minds. At the deepest level, what is closest to our innermost selves cannot be put into words—even in the form of our own thoughts. The very fact we have formulated an idea within our own minds represents progress: we, at least, are beginning to know our inner selves, even if no one else does. Putting our thoughts into spoken words projects them even further, so that even others can know what is on our minds. In Kabbalistic terms, the former stage is known as “letters of thought”; the latter, “letters of speech.” With respect to the Torah as G-d’s expression within the universe, the Written Torah is associated with letters of thought and the matriarch Leah, while the Oral Torah is associated with letters of speech and the matriarch Rachel.

***Harchavas HaKeilim: Constructing the Partzufim of Leah and Rachel

Armed with the above insight, we are able to understand something about the “mechanics” of shov. We said above that this transmission of added spirituality only comes about through the Torah; in Kabbalistic terms, we say that for shov to take place, there must first be harchavas hakeilim, “expansion of the vessels.” At the same time, we now know that the vessels, or containers, for G-dly revelation are none other than the letters of the Torah. Thus, expansion of the vessels actually is shov: by definition, it means that increased G-dliness is flowing into the world.

More specifically, the Torah as we know it—i.e., G-dliness expressed in terms the world can relate to—originates on the plane of the so-called “emotional” Sefiros, namely, Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferes, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod (collectively referred to by the abbreviation za). To return to our human analogy, when a person is batel—when he or she has no self interest—he or she will effectively desire only what G-d desires. The person’s emotions, in other words, will themselves develop into G-dly emotions by virtue of their being suffused with the spirituality flowing through the soul’s own link with G-d: the faculty of chochmah. The same is true, in a heavenly sense, of Torah: the bittul associated with mochin deAbba suffuses the Sefiros of za, rendering them transparent or elastic, so to speak, so that they can expand to accommodate the increased flow of G-dliness of shov. In mystical terms, this is the “expansion of the vessels”—the letters of the Written and Oral Torah—that is Kabbalistically referred to as “constructing the faces (partzufim) of Leah and Rachel.”

This cannot occur from mochin deImma alone. As explained above, mochin deImma implies great joy and a fiery, passionate love for G-d. Virtuous as those things are, they are obviously functions of emotional strength, not emotional nullity or bittul. On the contrary, mochin deImma results in yearning to leave one’s “vessels” entirely; it is a spiritual outflux (ratzo) as opposed to a receptivity to spiritual influx (shov), and is inherently incompatible with the latter.

***How Tzaraas Is Caused by Foreclosing the Influence of Chochmah

And that is precisely the reason behind the Kabbalah’s teaching that tzaraas is caused by departure of the influence of Chochmah. There are several possible symptoms of tzaraas, the most important of which are the skin conditions s’eis (a white blotch), sapachas (a dull white discoloration), and baheres (a bright white or pink spot). The Kabbalistic work Eitz Chaim, cited at the very beginning of this discourse, states that s’eis corresponds to Leah and that sapachas and baheres correspond to Rachel. This teaching, at first blush incomprehensible, takes on meaning in light of what we have just been saying.

To make the explanation as clearly as possible, let us preface it with a paragraph of background. In a well-known metaphor, it is said that the soul expresses itself through three modes of expression, termed its “garments”: these are thought, speech, and action. As is intuitively obvious, thought is the most subtle, the “innermost,” the closest-fitting, as it were, garment of the soul; speech is a bit further removed from the soul’s essence; and action is the soul’s outer garment. We can restate what we have said earlier in these same terms, with respect to the increased G-dliness flowing from mochin deAbba into vessels consisting of the letters of the Torah: the Written Torah, associated with Leah and the world of thought, is the innermost garment, or form of expression, for this G-dliness; and the Oral Torah, associated with Rachel and the world of speech, is the middle garment. However, the Oral Torah also contains the details and practical laws of all the mitzvos of the Torah—that is, instructions for how they are to be carried out in actual practice. In this sense, the Oral Torah is also associated with action—the outer garment for the G-dliness of mochin deAbba. These three garments—thought, speech, and action, represented by the Written Torah and the Oral Torah—are Kabbalistically associated with the three alefs of the Shem Mah, the Divine Name of 45. This is because the Shem Mah represents the bittul associated with Chochmah, and the letter alef represents transmission from a higher level to a lower; the three alefs signify transmission of increased G-dliness flowing from mochin deAbba into the worlds of thought, speech, and action, symbolized by the Written and Oral Torahs.

To return, then, to the symptoms of tzaraas:

When mochin deAbba is present, the light of the Ein Sof inherent within Chochmah is transmitted to the vessels that are the letters of the Torah: that is, to “Leah” and “Rachel”; to the worlds of thought and speech associated with the Sefiros of za, as well as to the world of action associated with the Sefirah of Malchus. So much is well and good. However, if only mochin deImma is present, without the light of Chochmah, what we have is ratzo alone, without shov—that is, a movement away from the vessels without a corresponding return in the form of bittul, necessary for an influx of G-dliness.

This state of affairs is fraught with danger: it is essentially a stirring up of the emotions, an inflammation of passion, without the cooling, calming influence of intellect that would ensure their proper use. In our own experience, this phenomenon could take place if one has aroused one’s passions at prayer, yet not followed up with Torah study after praying. In that case, it is possible for one’s zeal to be diverted to improper things like intolerance or anger, leading eventually to haughtiness or even desire for worldly temptations (G-d forbid). (This usurpation of holy energy and its diversion to evil use is known as “nurturing of the chitzonim,” or forces of evil.) If this happens—if the letters and vessels (i.e., the means for expression) of holiness within za and Malchus are supplanted by letters of unholiness—the latter are referred to as s’eis with respect to Leah (the world of thought) and as sapachas and baheres with respect to the two levels (the worlds of speech and action) within Rachel.

This is why tzaraas is translated segiru by Onkelos, the classic Aramaic Bible translator. This word connotes a closing or shutting off, and refers to the closing off of the influence of Chochmah as the essential nature of tzaraas.

Now, here is an important principle in Divine service: what we do down here in this physical world—how we exercise and express our own character traits, the ten attributes of our souls—elicits a response in kind from G-d. This is how G-d wishes the universe to function, and He so thoroughly ingrained this “rule” in the spiritual infrastructure of the universe that we may think of it as, in a sense, “mechanical”: if we act a certain way, a certain heavenly consequence will result; if we act in another way, a different consequence will follow, and so on.

In light of all the foregoing, we are finally in a position to understand the teaching that tzaraas is caused by the foreclosing of the spiritual influence of Chochmah. As noted earlier, tzaraas was not identical with the disease known today as leprosy; rather, it was a spiritual ailment whose physical symptoms miraculously mirrored a spiritual deficit and whose cure was effected through the ministrations of a Kohen (priest). When a person, in that person’s own worship, failed to achieve mochin deAbba after the fiery emotion of mochin deImma, the symptoms of tzaraas would miraculously appear on the skin.

***“The Entire Torah [Consists of] the Names of G-d.”

The idea, elaborated earlier, that G-d expresses Himself through the letters of the Torah is similar to the teaching that “the entire Torah [consists of] the names of G-d.” In a sense, the Torah bears a similar relationship to G-d as a person’s name does to that person.

In isolation, one is not called by name. One is who one is; a name has no meaning to a person as he or she knows him- or herself. Instead, a name is merely a device to identify the person to others. However, although one’s name represents the complete person, it is not in any way a part of or physically similar to that person. In a comparable fashion, G-d makes Himself known to the world through the Torah. Like a name, which represents a person to others yet is not itself of that person, the Torah represents G-d to the world, bridging the gap between us and His very Self—a level which is completely unknowable.

This concept underlies the teaching that tzaraas is caused by slander, known in Hebrew as motzi shem ra, “creating a bad name.” The letters of the Torah expanding to accommodate increased flow of G-dliness into “Leah” and “Rachel” are called shem tov, “a good name.” A person who slanders another (which is antithetical to the flow of shov, the expression of G-dliness within letters and vessels of holiness) not only does harm in this world, but brings about the opposite effect in heaven as well: the emergence of letters expressing the spiritual energy from which the forces of unholiness derive sustenance, referred to as “a bad name.”

This connotation of the word shem (name) is also found with respect to the statement by those building the Tower of Babel, “Let us make a name for ourselves.” Similarly, we find, “The Nefilim [giants, lit., ‘fallen ones’] were in the land…men of renown [lit. ‘name’].” Likewise, the Torah describes those involved in Korach’s rebellion as “men of renown.” Aaron’s spiritual function as high priest was to draw forth the G-dliness associated with mochin deAbba and channel it to the people. Korach refused to subordinate himself to this; instead, he wanted the Levites to be independent of the influence of mochin deAbba. Korach wanted to make do with mochin deImma alone—the very thing we have said is the root cause of tzaraas and shem ra.

The same connotation can be associated with an alternate reading of this Hebrew word, in which case it would be pronounced shom, “there”—as we find, “They will call out there, ‘Pharaoh,’ and, “They will die there.” This latter reference is also significant in light of the teaching that a metzora is like a dead person.


***The Cure for Tzaraas

Introducing the subject of the rites by which a metzora is purified, the Torah states, “This shall be the law of the metzora on the day of his purification: He shall be brought to the Kohen. And the Kohen shall go outside the camp [to examine the metzora and officiate at his purification].”

The first step in the process calls for the metzora to be brought to the Kohen. This is because, as mentioned above, the function of the Kohen is to draw forth Or Abba—the light, or spiritual influence, of Abba—and channel it to the people. It makes perfect sense that, to cure a condition caused by absence of the influence of Abba, one must have recourse to the Kohen—the very person who can remedy that deficit. As explained above, mochin deAbba refers to the influence of the Or Ein Sof within Chochmah of Atzilus. It may be thought of as the input to Chochmah of the light of the Ein Sof; the point at which Chochmah is just receiving this illumination from above. On the other hand, it was also stated that the light of the Ein Sof is only transmitted beyond Chochmah (i.e., to Binah and the other Sefiros) by way of its investiture within Chochmah. The output, so to speak, by which the light of the Ein Sof is passed on from Chochmah into the next level is known as Yesod Abba. Technically, then, what happens is this: the flow of mochin deAbba into za results in a bursting through or penetration by Yesod Abba of Yesod Imma—this, in turn, is the flow of shov. It is also mystically symbolized by the union of the patriarch Jacob with Leah and Rachel, his wives: the Hebrew name Jacob (Yaakov) comprises the identical letters as the word yibaka, signifying Yesod Abba bursting through Yesod Imma. This is the source of the spiritual influence that flows into the letters of thought and speech; Leah and Rachel; the garments machshavah (thought), dibbur (speech), and maaseh (action).

***Significance of the Wording, “the Torah of the Metzora

This also explains one aspect of the wording of the verse. In Hebrew, the phrase “the law of the metzora” is toras hemetzora—which can also be interpreted as “the Torah of the metzora.” As explained above, tzaraas is caused by withdrawal of the influence of mochin deAbba flowing from Chochmah, source of the Torah. The remedy for this situation (as Eitz Chaim points out) is to learn more Torah. When introducing the cure for tzaraas, the verse says, “This shall be the Torah of the metzorah”—and not, for example, “the purification of the metzora”—to hint at this inner meaning.

A similar allusion is found in Midrash Tanchuma and Yalkut, where it is stated that the verse, “The tree of life is a healing for the tongue” teaches that Torah study (the “tree of life”) is the remedy for the sin of slander (“the tongue”).

This is also alluded to by the verse, “A good name is better than fine oil.” In Hebrew, the word “than” in a comparative construction such as this is signified by the letter mem, which also means “from.” It is therefore possible to read the verse as follows: “tov shem (a good name) mishemen tov (comes from fine oil).” The Torah is “the fine oil” (an allusion to Chochmah Ilaah, the supernal Chochmah—the Torah’s source); As explained elsewhere, the high priests were anointed with a sacred preparation of oil described as shemen mishchas kodesh. Literally, this simply means “sacred anointing oil,” but, since the word mishchas implies “drawing forth,” the phrase can also be interpreted as “oil (shemen) that draws forth (mishchas) the sublime spiritual level known as ‘Holy’ (kodesh).” Kodesh is a reference to the Sefirah of Chochmah within the realm of Atzilus, which, as we have been discussing, is the source of the Torah. additionally, the word “good” can be understood in the sense of improvement or rectification, as in hatavas haneiros, “fixing up the candles [of the Menorah].” Thus, the verse is hinting to us that improvement, fixing up, of the “name”—which, through slander, had been shem ra, a bad name, and needs to be restored to the state of shem tov, a good name—comes through Torah and mitzvos.

The final clause in our verse—“This shall be the Torah of the metzora on the day of his purification”—is also consistent with this theme. The Zohar teaches that purification can only come through Torah, just as healing is found in Torah. Thus, “on the day of his purification” is also an allusion to the Torah.

Notwithstanding all the above—concerning how Torah is the antidote, as it were, for the spiritual defect underlying tzaraas—the verse goes on to say “He shall be brought to the Kohen.” Granted that Torah study is the remedy for what causes tzaraas, and that the Kohen (whose function, again, is to draw forth Or Abba) symbolizes this. Nevertheless, Torah must be studied with the requisite bittul, consistent with its origin in Chochmah, also characterized by bittul. As our sages have taught, “Anyone who says, ‘I have nothing but Torah’ [meaning that his or her preoccupation is with acquiring a vast knowledge of Torah, without caring about the enhanced worship and closeness to G-d such knowledge should entail] does not have even [that].” One should not think of him- or herself as significant, and of the Torah as a possession, something to be acquired. Rather, one should recognize the Torah’s primacy and one’s own need to leave one’s place and seek it out at all costs. One must be “brought to the Kohen,” not the other way around.

***Ratzo Is a Prerequisite for Shov

The previous paragraph made an important point based on the fact that the metzora must be brought to the Kohen. There is something very puzzling about that, though: the very next words in our Biblical passage read, “And the Kohen shall go outside the camp [to see the metzora].” Which is it, then—is the metzora to be brought to the Kohen, or is the Kohen to go to the metzora?

Something else needs clarification as well. The Torah does not waste even a single letter; even the smallest detail of Torah has profound meaning. As the commentator Alshich points out, instead of “This shall be the law of the metzora”—a phrase requiring the seemingly superfluous word tiheyeh (“shall be”)—the Torah could simply have said (as it does in similar verses elsewhere), “This is the law of the metzora.” In Hebrew, there is no separate word for “is”; it is always understood from the syntax. Thus, we are not asking why one word was used instead of another; the question is really, why did the Torah see fit to introduce an entirely superfluous word, without which the sentence would, apparently, have meant exactly the same thing? What hidden meaning does the word tiheyeh contribute?

These two questions will be understood on the basis of a passage in the Kabbalah. The Zohar states that the “Kohen” before whom a metzora must be brought is actually G-d. If so, why does the verse say “He shall be brought to the Kohen”—the appropriate wording would seem to be, “He shall be raised up unto the ‘Kohen’”? However, Eitz Chaim explains the meaning as follows: Certainly, there is a real life Kohen of flesh and blood before whom the metzora is brought. As with all mitzvos, the metzora coming before the Kohen in this physical world has ramifications in the heavenly realms as well: the lights, or spiritual emanations, of Imma within za—that had left their vessels and assumed the status of negaim (“leprous” afflictions)—thereby return to their source, in accordance with the spiritual principle of ratzo vashov.

What all this means to us is this:

One might think, since the problem stems from a deficit of mochin deAbba within the vessels of za, that the solution is simply to draw forth more mochin deAbba through Torah study. However, this would be an error: it could not work. The reason is that one must first address the reason mochin deAbba failed to flow in the first place. That happened because the action of mochin deImma within za did not take place with bittul, selfless devotion to G-d; the emotions, once inflamed, were allowed to stand independently, as fiery passions in their own right. They were therefore susceptible to misdirection. Only after one has rectified that situation—only after one has remedied the defect in mochin deImma, so that one’s emotional faculties reach out selflessly to G-d alone (in the manner of ratzo)—can mochin deAbba once again respond (shov) and suffuse the emotional attributes of za. This accords with a Talmudic principle. The Talmud states that genuine teshuvah (repentance, lit. “return”) is defined as one’s refraining from sin under the exact same conditions that had prevailed when one had originally succumbed to temptation. Thus, in our context, which (as is about to be elaborated in the main text) is a mystical form of teshuvah, it is not enough to seek mochin deAbba; one needs the underlying defect in mochin deImma—the original conditions of the “sin”—to be made right first.

***The Mystical Concept of Teshuvah

Indeed, this is the mystical principle of teshuvah, usually translated “repentance” but literally meaning “return.” For, in a broad sense, negaim are not merely symptoms of misdirected emotion, but are—in their heavenly form in the Realm of Atzilus—the spiritual root of all sin.

Now, it is an interesting fact that the Hebrew language—which is the Holy Tongue, whose every nuance has spiritual meaning—has no word for “repentance” per se. The closest thing may be charatah, “regret,” but that is not the same at all: teshuvah is something special. What is being “returned” when we engage in teshuvah? This question has more than one answer, but in our present context, the answer has to do with the symbolism of the Tetragrammaton, the four letter name of G-d.

The Tetragrammaton is spelled as follows: the Hebrew letter yud, followed by the letter hei, followed by the letter vav, followed by another hei. It is well established in the symbolism of the Kabbalah that the yud of G-d’s name represents the Sefirah of Chochmah, and the first hei, the Sefirah of Binah. Based on this, we may express the dynamic of tzaraas—mochin deImma (Binah) having become disconnected, as it were, from mochin deAbba (Chochmah)—as the first hei of the Tetragrammaton having become separated from the yud.

The word teshuvah hints at the rectification of this condition. This five-letter Hebrew word can be separated into two segments: the first, consisting of the first four letters, would then spell tashuv, “[she] will return,” and the second, consisting of the letter hei, would represent the hei of the Tetragrammaton: the hei will return. What we are talking about, then, is the “return” of the initial hei (symbolizing Binah, or mochin deImma), and its reconnection with the yud (Chochmah, or mochin deAbba) that precedes it. This is effectuated in accordance with the verse, “From the depths I call out to You.” The word “depths” (maamakim) is plural, because true repentance must reach both “depths”—the Yesod elements of both Abba and Imma—together. That is, repentance must involve both ratzo (ahavah rabbah, Great Love for G-d) and shov (the bittul that transcends such love) together in order for the hei to return to the yud. Without prior arousal of the ratzo associated with mochin deImma, though, there can be no corresponding flow of mochin deAbba to cure the metzora, as mentioned above in the main text.

This dynamic is also reflected in the service of the Leviim (Levites) and Kohanim (priests). As touched upon earlier, the spiritual function of the Levites was to arouse mochin deImma through their singing, and that of the Kohanim was to arouse mochin deAbba. The prescribed order of service was that first the Leviim sang, then the Kohanim offered sacrifices. The latter was dependent upon the former; the Kohanim alone would not have been spiritually effective.

This, then, is the meaning of Eitz Chaim’s explanation of the Zoharic passage referenced above: it is specifically through the metzora coming before the Kohen—that is, specifically through the defect in mochin deImma first being repaired and once again connecting with mochin deAbba—that the lights of Imma that had left the vessels of za can then return to their source, in accordance with the spiritual principle of ratzo vashov.

And this explains the first of our two questions. The expression “He shall be brought to the Kohen” refers to arousal of ratzo through mochin deImma and the need for that ratzo to be subsumed within the bittul of mochin deAbba. This is hinted at by “return of the hei to the yud.” This is also alluded to by the phrase Shema Yisrael (“Hear, O Israel”): as explained at greater length elsewhere, the first two letters of the word shema are numerically equivalent to the sum of 288—representing the 288 sparks of holiness embedded within this physical world—and 52—representing the Divine Name of 52, associated with the Sefirah of Malchus. This combination symbolizes elevation of the sparks to their source in Malchus of Atzilus, from where they are elevated even further and included in their antecedent source in the Sefirah of Binah—symbolized by the final letter, ayin, of the word shema. The word shema, then, represents the development of the emotional attributes and their inclusion in mochin deImma. The following word, Yisrael, symbolizes Chochmah, and the juxtaposition of the two indicates that once mochin deImma has been developed, it must then move on to be included within mochin deAbba, as we have been saying. Only thereafter does the Torah go on to say “and the Kohen shall go forth,” that is, after ratzo comes shov: the flowing forth of Yesod Abba, bursting through Yesod Imma and investing itself into vessels and letters. Once that happens, the verse continues, “the affliction of tzaraas has healed.”

***Significance of the Word Tiheyeh

Along the same lines, we can now understand the answer to the second question: what is the purpose of the seemingly unnecessary word, tiheyeh, “will be”? This word is spelled by the letters tav, hei, yud, and hei. The initial tav is the part of the word that signifies the future tense; “will be.” The remaining letters hint at the principle we have been discussing:

The first hei in the word tiheyeh precedes the letter yud. Since, as noted above, hei symbolizes Binah and yud symbolizes Chochmah, this sequence indicates that mochin deImma must come before mochin deAbba. On the other hand, once this prerequisite—the “return of the hei unto the yud” discussed above—has been satisfied, the influence of mochin deAbba flows forth and invests itself within mochin deImma—symbolized by the fact that the yud is itself followed by another hei. In fact, the transmission of spiritual influence extends even further than the hei that follows the yud. That hei corresponds to the initial hei of the Tetragrammaton (representing Binah), but in fact, the influence of Chochmah continues through the latter two letters of the Tetragrammaton, vav and hei (representing za and Malchus, respectively) as well—symbolized by the form of the letter vav, a line from above downward.

It develops, then, that the entire word is meaningful: “This shall be the Torah of the metzora” stands for the idea that mochin deAbba alone (simply learning more Torah) is insufficient. Torah as the remedy for tzaraas is indeed out there somewhere as the solution, but it is in the future; there is something that must come first. What is needed is the full process alluded to by the sequence hei, yud, and hei as just described; only after that will one’s Torah be complete.

***Importance of Breadth in Torah Knowledge

The upshot of all this is that one should always strive for one’s ratzo to be followed by shov. Ratzo itself is but preparation, laying the groundwork, so to speak, arousing the soul to a state of readiness for the main thing, which is shov. And shov requires that there be many vessels to contain it: the letters of Torah and the mitzvos. That is why our Sages have taught, “A person should always study [Torah] broadly [before delving deeper into its intricacies]—even if he forgets, even if he does not know what he is saying, as it is written, ‘My soul is crushed by longing.’” The straightforward meaning of this teaching is that one should acquire a broad foundation in Torah concepts before focusing on intense analysis, because the knowledge one gains will assist one in the analysis. On a deeper level, however, the Talmud’s advice is based on the fact that our main task is to prepare a great many vessels to contain the revelation and flow of the G-dly light—and these are the letters of the Torah one studies. It is by doing this that the light of shov will not only be drawn forth, but will endure, because it will be preserved in all those vessels.

***“She Does Not Fear for Her Household When it Snows, for All Her Household Is Garbed in Red.”

One final point: on the basis of all the foregoing, we can understand a deeper meaning of the verse, “She does not fear for her household when it snows, for all her household is garbed in red.”

It was said earlier that the G-dly life force that animates all of creation—the light of the blessed Ein Sof—flows into the universe exclusively through the Sefirah of Chochmah. By reason of its investiture within Chochmah, the life force spreads through all of creation, since Chochmah itself is enclothed within all levels of creation. For this reason, Chochmah is considered the life blood of the universe, just as blood courses through the entire body, bringing life-giving force to its every part. Consistent with this theme, we find, “Wisdom [Chochmah] gives life”; furthermore, the mystical association between Chochmah and life-giving blood is symbolized by the pulse.

Blood, of course, is red. On the other hand, absence of blood, symptomatic of embolism (G-d forbid)—total blockage of blood flow to a particular area—is conceptualized as white.

Now, the proverbial “woman of valor” who is the subject of the verse “She does not fear for her household” is actually not an individual woman (only), but the spiritual entity known as Knesses Yisrael, the general community of Jewish souls. This concept is associated with the matriarch Rachel and the Sefirah of Malchus.

Cognizant of all these symbols, we can appreciate that if the Jews—Knesses Yisrael—experience a blockage of the life blood of Chochmah—the very same deficit in mochin deAbba that has been explained in this discourse—the result will be tzaraas. Specifically, baheres—the symptom of tzaraas associated with Rachel and Malchus —is as bright as snow, and is, in fact, what is alluded to by the word “snow” in our verse.

On the other hand, also as mentioned earlier, Rachel is identified with the Oral Torah, which is itself associated with the chut hashani, the scarlet cord or string featured, for example, in the atonement rites of Yom Kippur. This represents the drawing down of the light and vitality of Chochmah Ilaah, the heavenly Chochmah. That is why the string was red: that color is appropriate as a symbol of the flow of Chochmah, the spiritual life blood of creation. See the discourse BeShaah SheHikdimu Yisrael Naaseh LeNishma, where it is explained that the phrase, “this is the Torah: adam” implies that the Torah is called adam (lit. “man”) because that word can be divided into the letter alef and the word dam, “blood.” This is an allusion to the function of Torah as the vehicle for infusion of essential G-dly life force (symbolized by the letter alef) into all the 248 positive mitzvos, just as blood carries life force to all the 248 limbs of the body.

And that is what is meant by the statement “She does not fear…snow”: since all the members of her household are garbed in red (shanim in Hebrew, an allusion to the chut hashani); since, in other words, the Jews are engaged in study of the Oral Torah, which promotes “healthy circulation,” as it were, revelation of Chochmah Ilaah within Knesses Yisrael This link between Chochmah and Malchus is in accordance with the Kabbalistic teaching, “the father [Chochmah] founded the daughter [Malchus].”—there is no reason to fear “snow,” the condition of baheres that represents cessation of that flow.

Lo Tov Heyos HaAdam Levado
Mayim Rabim Lo Yuchlu L'Chabos
B'Etzem HaYom Hazeh Nimol Avrohom
Erda Na
Chayei Sara
V'Avraham Zakein Ba Bayamim
Vayachp'ru Avdei Yitzchok
Vayashkeim Lavan Baboker
Vayeavek Ish Imo
VeHinei Anachnu M'Almim Alumim
Ner Chanukah Mitzvah L'Hanicha
Vayigash Eilav Yehudah
Chachlili Einayim Miyayin