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Tazria-Reacting to Yissurim

Published on Friday April 20th, 2018

Parshas Tazria discusses the various forms of negaim (marks on the body) and the process by which a person can be healed.  Since the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the laws of negaim no longer apply.  Given this, how is this parsha relevant to our daily lives?  The Sefer HaChinuch answers this question: He writes that the tumah (impurity) of a metzora comes about because of a person's aveiros (sins).  The suffering that a person endures is not coincidental - it comes from Hashem.  The metzora must go through a wrenching process of seclusion in which he is supposed to reflect on his behaviour and come to a recognition of how he erred.  This message is of course highly relevant in every generation.  We no longer suffer from negaim but we are afflicted by many other forms of yissurim (suffering).  Tumas negaim teaches us that we should not ascribe such suffering to coincidence, rather we should see it as Hashem's way of communicating to us.

There is another mitzvah related to negaim which further teaches us to how we should and should not react to yissurim.  The Torah tells us that one form of negaim is a nezek (damage).  If a person finds a nesek on his body he goes through a process of seclusion and examination by a Kohen.  If, after one week of seclusion, the nesek has not spread, then the person must shave the area around the nesek.  However, he is strictly forbidden from shaving the hair that is on the nezek. The Sefer HaChinuch explains the significance of this prohibition.  "This mitzvah teaches us that every person should accept whatever pain or punishment that Hashem sends to him;  he should not kick out against them, and he should not think that he has the ability to nullify them and hide them from people.."  The Chinuch teaches us that there are two incorrect ways in which people react to yissurim which are symbolized by shaving off the nesek sent by Hashem.  Firstly, a person may "kick out" against Hashem when he suffers, questioning Divine justice.  A person may be blaming Hashem for their pain but may adopt another incorrect approach. He may try to remove the suffering without learning the lessons that it represents.  Moreover, a person may be more concerned about what people think and primarily focus on hiding the yissurim, rather than using them as an opportunity to grow.  The prohibition of removing the nezek teaches us that we should not ‘put our head in the sand’ when we endure difficulty, rather we should strive to grow through them.

The Mashgiach of Slobodka, Rav Avraham Grodzinski zt”l elaborates on the message of yissurim at length in his sefer Toras Avraham.  He writes that the main purpose of prophecy was to communicate to the people how they were erring.  Even when, ostensibly they were doing nothing wrong, the prophet would delve deep into their hearts and pinpoint an area in which they were lacking.  He asks, in the post-prophecy era how does Hashem communicate to us to tell us what we are doing wrong?  He answers that ‘yissurim’ are the replacement for prophecy. When a person is in pain, no matter how small, Hashem is communicating to him in some way that he needs to grow.  Thus, yissurim are a tremendous gift - they provide us with an opportunity to mend our ways.  The Gemara says that suffering doesn’t just refer to great afflictions, rather even minor difficulties; it gives the example of when a person tries to take out three coins from his pocket and he only picks up two. In this way Hashem is constantly communicating with us through yissurim

The obvious question that we are faced with is, ‘it was very easy in the time of the Beis HaMikdash when people suffered from afflictions such as negaim that arose when specific aveiros such as lashon hara were committed.  But nowadays, how can a person know what message Hashem is trying to tell him through the yissurim?” Of course it is impossible to be certain but The Toras Avraham brings a principle from Chazal (Our Sages, of blessed memory) that Hashem punishes a person mida ceneged mida (measure per measure) for his aveiros (sins).  For example, The Mishna in Sotah tells us that Shimshon sinned with his eyes, therefore he was punished that the Plishtim took out his eyes, and Avshalom was arrogant about his beautiful hair, therefore his hair was the cause of his death when it got tangled up amongst the branches of a tree.  Therefore it is recommended that a person look for a cause that is somehow connected to the form of suffering.  For example if someone experiences pain in his mouth then perhaps he should first assess whether he transgressed in an area connected with speech. There is, ironically a very good example of this idea in relation to Rav Grodszinski’s life himself.  He suffered from a noticeable limp and when a shidduch was first proposed to Rav Ber Hirsch Heller’s daughter Chasya, she rejected it because of his limp.  Shortly thereafter she fell down the stairs to the cellar, breaking her leg.  She concluded that this was a sign not to reject the match because of Rav Grodzinski’s bad leg and they did indeed marry.  

However, more important than whether we find the ‘correct’ aveira or not is that we search for it at all.  In the previous example, if the person’s pain in his mouth comes as a result of lying but he works on lashon hara then he has achieved the main tachlis (objective) of the yissurim - trying to grow.  This is an extremely important point because there is a common trend that when a person experiences suffering he looks for different segulos (protective or benevolent charms) in order to end the pain.  However, this seems to contradict the lesson of the Chinuch that we should not merely strive to nullify our pain. Hashem does not send us yissurim merely so that we can do some kind of segula (even if it is effective in ending the pain), rather he wants us to grow.  This does not necessarily mean that all segulos are negative but one should not forget the tachlis of the yissurim - that Hashem is telling us to grow.  The parshas of negaim are indeed highly relevant to all of our lives - they teach us how we can utilize yissurim to become better people.  May we all be zocheh (have the merit) to grow from the yissurim Hashem sends us.

Rabbi Yehonasan GEFEN - © Torah-Box Account

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