Swallow Your Words

Rabbi Zvi Teichman

The root problem of the מצרע — the Metzora is evident in his very name: צָר עַ[ — a stingy eye. 

One who possesses an ‘evil eye’, one laced with jealousy and contempt for all who disturb his narrow view of the universe and his machinations, will infiltrate negativity to every interaction, inciting divisiveness, stress and dissatisfaction. 

Most often it is the caustic comments and insensitive words that become the agents of the evil eye that wreak havoc among society, and breed the numerous sins associated with the Metzora, as enumerated throughout the Talmud and Midrash.

Despite the wagonload of sins born by the Metzora, upon the conclusion of the suffering he must endure because of his attitude, the Talmud states he achieves full atonement.

Although upon healing he must still bring an אשם — guilt-offering, and a חטאת — sin-offering, which would intimate his need for further expiation, the Talmud teaches this is not the case, and he is no longer in need of atonement. 

Despite his requirement to bring a guilt-offering and sin-offering, it is merely for the purpose of ‘purification’ from his former spiritual ailment. This is indicated in the anomaly of the Metzora’s offerings from amongst all other guilt-offerings and sin-offerings, who are not to offer ‘joyous’ and ‘refreshing’ nesachim — libation of wine and oil, to accompany their offerings that are tainted from sin, but the Metzora must bring libation! 

It has been suggested that since the Metzora is not bringing a sin or guilt offering in the normative sense, then it would also not require ודוי — a declaration of his having sinned, as is required by all other sin and guilt offerings. In its place he would instead express words of שבח — praise and gratitude, like what one who brings a peace-offering does.

It seems that what is taking place here is a transformation from a narrow-eye malcontent into a gracious and grateful servant of G-d who has deepened his awareness of a benevolent G-d Who runs His universe with kindness and purpose, with no room for selfishness and disappointment, only praise and thanks.

The Midrash asserts that we initiate the purification process with the taking of two birds, one which we slaughter and one that we set free, expressing, “let the voiceful ones atone for the one who made noise”.

As the Rebbe, Reb Nachman, so exquisitely asserts, ‘let the sweet music of the universe, embodied in these ‘live birds’, enthuse the one whose vocal cords were smitten with egotistical coarseness.’ (מהר ג

It is alleged that the סנונית — the swallow, is the bird that is utilized in this process. 

The שירה — the song, this bird sings is the verse: So that sing to You my soul and not be silenced, Hashem, my G-d, forever will I thank You. (יג)

I was recently at a l’chaim, where the grandfather of the Chosson, Rabbi Shmuel Bloom — an old and dear family friend, a man twelve years my senior, who was one of the older ‘yeshiva boys’, who impacted us youngsters to strive to become enthusiastic ‘Bnai Torah’ like them, in the early days of the burgeoning yeshiva movement — was in attendance.

He is a father of eleven children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I asked him how many grandchildren he had and where the Chosson numbered on that totem pole. He answered on the spot.

I recalled to him an article I had read some time ago about a Yiddeshe Bubbeh who had survived the Holocaust, who when asked how many living descendants she merited, refused to reveal the number out of concern of casting an עין הרע — ‘evil-eye’. 

Allegedly, the great Gadol, Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky was present and with his inimitable warmth, respectfully took to differ with her fear, stating that one should rather express publicly with genuine and joyous gratitude to Hashem, for each gift of a child one has been blessed with.

The father of the Chosson piped in and asked, “But what about Ayin Hora?”

The wise and learned grandfather explained that the power of an evil eye to inflict damage is only when a taint of jealousy might be present among those that hear it. That dangerous jealousy can unleash a prosecutorial sentiment, questioning the worthiness of the recipient of that gift, in Heaven. The power, however, he so rightly affirmed, of an absolute and sincere gratitude and true appreciation of Hashem’s constant benevolence, will overpower and quash the ability of anyone’s negativity to cause any ill effect whatsoever.

May we ‘swallow’ our negative attitudes and ‘sing’ a marvelous song of thanks to Hashem, every living moment, for the privilege to serve Him and to always be in His loving embrace.

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