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A lesson in passing judgment on others & the requirement to look at another with a good eye
(Likkutei Sichos Vol. 27 Sicha 2)
This week’s Parsha, Parshas Tazria, we learn about the law of an individual who contains a skin lesion known as Tzaras. There are various details pertaining to the criteria necessary to deem the skin lesion as pure versus impure. Now, while these detailed laws are certainly a subject of great wisdom which requires study and scholarship, the Torah does not suffice with merely a person knowing the laws of the subject to determine if the lesion is pure or not. In order for a skin lesion to be deemed pure or impure based on the detailed laws, it must be pronounced to be this way by a priest. Only the priest has authority to declare purity or impurity by his skin lesion, and even the greatest scholar and expert in these laws cannot do so if he is not a priest. What is the reason that the Torah makes the pure or impure status of a skin lesion dependent on the priest’s declaration? The only thing that should matter is whether it fulfills the criteria of purity or impurity, and not regarding who makes the announcement. In this talk, the Rebbe delves into this question and explains that priests contain a special quality within their personality for which reason only they are valid to make declarations of purity and impurity. What the special quality is that priests have, and what lesson we can learn from it to emulate within ourselves, will be discovered in the coming paragraphs.
Explorations of the Sicha:
1. What persons are valid to determine purity or impurity by a skin lesion and on what is the purity or impurity dependent on?
2. What is so significant about priests that specifically they are granted the rights to declare purity or impurity of a skin lesion?
3. What condition and personality type must one have in order to pass negative judgement on another?
1. The conditions required to deem Tzaras as a pure or impure lesion:
The skin lesion known as Tzaras carries with it laws detailing whether it is a pure lesion or an impure lesion. Determining whether the lesion is pure or impure is dependent on many factors such as the color of the lesion, the hair that it contains and its color, the area of the body that it is found on, and its size. The ramification between whether the lesion is deemed pure or impure is in regard to whether the individual must go through a period of isolation and process of verification as detailed in Parshas Tzaria and Metzora, and the laws of Tzaras found in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. Now, determining whether a skin lesion is deemed as pure or impure is not just dependent on identifying its status based on the detailed criteria’s explained, but also based on a declaration of the priest. Thus, to deem a lesion pure or impure two conditions must be fulfilled:
- Showing your lesion to an expert-The need for expertise and specialization in the detailed laws of Tzaras: The first condition that must be fulfilled in order to determine whether a skin lesion is pure or impure is to show it to a Torah scholar. A Torah scholar who is expert in all the various detailed laws of all the different forms of Tzaras and knows to identify a pure versus impure skin lesion must look at the skin lesion, and give us his opinion based on what he sees. The Torah scholar may be from any tribe of the Jewish people and does not specifically have to be a Kohen or from the Levite tribe.
- Having a priest declare its pure or impure status: It does not suffice for a Torah scholar who is expert in the laws of Tzaras to give his diagnosis as to its status of purity or impurity, and in addition the diagnosis must be declared by a priest. If it happens to be that the Torah scholar who is expert in these laws is also a priest, then the declaration of his own diagnosis suffices to fulfill both conditions. If, however, the Torah scholar is not a priest, then he must tell his diagnosis to a priest, even to a priest who is a total ignoramus, and have them then declare pure or impure on the lesion. Until the priest makes this declaration, the lesion cannot be deemed pure or impure. The declaration of the priest is a required factor in making the prognosis. Any priest may be used for this purpose even if he is completely ignorant and the laws of the lesions, and even if he is still a child, or is mentally insane. In such a case the process is as follows: After the expert looks at it and makes his determination, he tells the priest to declare whether it is pure or not pure and the priest then declares it and makes it officially binding.
2. Why must specifically a priest declare the status of the Tzaras?
Regarding the second condition, that the lesions status must be proclaimed by a priest, the following questions are raised:
- If in any event the priest relies on the opinion of the scholar and is required to repeat his determined diagnosis, then why is this at all required? Meaning, if the priest completely relies on the scholar and does not enter anything of his own to the final decision, then why is he needed at all?
- There are many cases of purity and impurity brought in the Torah. Why is it that specifically by the impurity of Tzaras do we find this strange novelty that it must be declared by the priest?
Although in general the laws of the Torah relating to purity and impurity are above logic and are considered a decree of the verse, nonetheless, this does not mean that we are exempt from trying to find some understanding behind it, and derive from it a lesson in our divine service. Thus, we will begin to explore a possible explanation.
3. The reason it is necessary for the priest to declare purity status:
The main focus of the above questions is not on why the priest has to be the one to declare the purity status, but rather why he is to be the one to declare the status of impurity. Regarding the status of purity, this is a status that can only be declared as part of the purification process after a status of impurity has already been determined. Meaning, only after a sage diagnoses the lesion as impure and a priest declares it as such, and the period of segregation is followed, only then can a priest declare it as pure. This part, that only a priest can declare it is pure, seems to make sense, as since he is the one who declared it to be impure, he therefore must be the one to declare it as pure. What remains to be understood is to begin with why only the priest can declare it as impure and not anyone else. Furthermore, there is also an intrinsic explanation behind why the pure status declaration must be done by a priest, as priests are required to hold a status of purity in order so they can serve in the temple at any given moment. It is therefore forbidden for a priest to defile himself to a corpse. Now, being that the priests must hold a higher status of purity therefore the Torah entrusted them with the proclamation of purity of a person who had a skin lesion of Tzaras. However, not only does this reason not explain to us why also regarding impurity the priest must make the declaration, but furthermore actually makes it even more difficult to understand, as seemingly a priest due to his high level of purity should only be dealing with matters of purity and not the opposite.
To understand this matter, and why specifically a priest must be used for the declaration of impurity, we must first introduce the level of severity of impurity of Tzaras.
4. Tzaras is one of the most severe types of impurities:
Regarding the impurity of Tzaras we find a severity that is not found by other laws of impurity. A person who is deemed to contain impure Tzaras must enter into segregation and seclude himself from society. The Metzora must exit the parameters of all three camps of the Jewish people, and even there, while outside the camp, he must live in isolation and cannot be joined by any other person, even if the other person is also impure. Thus, we see that Tzaras is such a severe type of impurity that it requires the person to be segregated even from other people who are impure. It is considered as if that the Jew has been ostracized from the Jewish people and is temporarily not allowed to have any connection with them. This is in contrast to all other impurities of which we do not find any obligation of segregation which applies to the person or item that is impure.
It is due to these very severe segregation requirements that apply to a person with Tzaras that the Torah prescribed specifically for a priest to declare his impurity. Now, the connection between this very severe segregation requirement and the priesthood is what we will explain next.
5. A priest is rooted in kindness and love:
G-d commanded the priests not just to bless the Jewish people, but to do so with love, as the wording of the priestly blessing states, “to bless the Jewish people with love.” Priests are considered men of kindness and love, and specifically due to this reason G-d commanded them to give the priestly blessing to the Jewish people, as one of the conditions of giving the priestly blessing is that it must be expressed with love. In fact, it states that a priest who does not bless the Jewish people with love puts his very own life in danger. It is specifically because priests contain a predisposition towards kindness and love that G-d chose them to do this job. It is also due to this reason that G-d instructed for specifically priests to be the one to make the final determination of the impurity of a Metzora as we will now explain.
6. Specifically a man of kindness must be chosen to determine impurity:
It is without question, that the determining factor behind a pure versus impure skin lesion are the criteria set forth by the detailed Torah laws which dictate this matter. For this reason, first and foremost a sage who is well-versed in these laws must look at the lesion to determine its status according to Torah law. A priest’s declaration of purity or impurity on the lesion is worthless if it contradicts the conditions set forth by the Torah. Nonetheless, a sages diagnosis alone does not suffice to officialize the status of the lesion, and for this one must go to the priest. The reason for this is because specifically the priest who contains a predisposition towards kindness and love will do all in his power to learn merit on the individual and find leniency. Even if he personally is not very well versed in the laws, he will question and inquire the sage regarding his ruling, and do all he can to swerve the sage to find leniency. A typical Jew, including even a thorough sage, may not be so bothered by the fact that another Jew is deemed impure and must be thrown out of the camp and live in segregation. Accordingly, he may not invest enough effort and energy to research a source of leniency for the individual. However, a priest who has a disposition for love for his fellow Jew will naturally seek and search for whatever leniency can be found.
Based on all the above is understood that only when a priest declares impurity can we rest assured that this diagnosis is truly accurate. If a regular Torah scholar who is not a priest makes this declaration of impurity, it is possible that his stringent ruling is the result of lack of greater in-depth research, and is hence not accurate. However, if even the priest himself agrees to proclaim this declaration of impurity, it is a sign that even he is satisfied with the research and that all avenues of leniency have been sought and exhausted.
7. The divine lesson:
From the above we can learn a great lesson in our service of G-d. When one sees a negative matter within another Jew he should not be so quick to judge him, and to quickly declare him as being outside of the camp of Israel. The Torah thus states that even a great sage who is an expert in the entire Torah, and based on his Torah understanding declares that a sinning Jew must be thrown out of the community, even he must first contemplate his disposition as to whether he’s naturally kind and loving or not. How strong is his level of kindness and love of a fellow Jew? If he knows that he is lacking in his love of a fellow Jew, then he should disqualify himself from giving a ruling of such nature regarding another person. If he does give such a ruling, it is possible that this ruling is not an innocent conclusion that his Torah knowledge obligates, but is the result of his unrefined character. Furthermore, if he gives a mistaken ruling under these premises, then it ends up that he is liable for slander, by having falsely determined a fellow Jew to be impure, which makes him personally liable to now receive the skin lesion of Tzaras. What then is the rectification of such a Jew who falsely determined another Jews impurity? His rectification is to separate himself from judging others. So long as he cannot accustom himself to look at others with a right eye, an eye of kindness, then he should not be involved in this business. He should separate himself from other Jews, so he does not come to slander them.
The practical application of the above:
Many people do not have the natural disposition of looking at others with love, kindness, and forgiveness. Aside for possibly containing a strong feeling of self, known as ego, which often searches to find fault and failure with others so our own self-image remains in the elite, we may not carry with us strong philosophies and ethics with regard to how we look at a fellow Jew. Accordingly, it can be quite easy and natural to be very judgmental about others, and their failures and struggles. A person who knows himself to be guilty of this should not be in the business at all of judging other Jews. Only G-d can be the true judge and understand people’s challenges and failures, and therefore he should completely divulge himself from passing judgment on others. When one sees or hears of the negative actions of another fellow Jew, he should try to seek merit on his behalf and not be so quick to judge him and blacklist him from the Jewish community.
 See Rambam Hilchos Tumas Tzaras 9:1-3
 See Sotah 39a
 See Admur 128:19
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