Our double parsha deals with the phenomena of Tzaraat in all of its different forms. Parshat Tazria details all of the various forms of tzaraat, what they look like and what to do about them. Parshat Metzora opens with the description of the procedure needed to purify the individual after he has been cured.
Tzaarat is the most severe type of impurity, even greater than coming in contact with a dead body. An individual who has tzaraat is banished from all “camps” in the desert. In other words, not only may he not enter the Mishkan and its surrounding areas but he is actually banished from his very home and the homes of the rest of the nation. By contrast the individual who has contacted a dead body is restricted from the Mishkan only and may enter his own private home without worry.
The purification process for the Metzora is, as well, the most complicated of all forms of impurity. The parsha explains that the person must first have one ceremony performed outside of the camp, shave all of his hair, immerse in a mikve, and only then can he enter the camp. Even at this stage he is prohibited from going home and he waits for seven days.
At the end of the week he undergoes stage II – he once again shaves all of his hair and immerses in a mikve.
The next day (the 8th day) he does stage III – he must bring a series of korbanot which are also exceptional in nature (including placing the blood on the Metzora himself).
I would like to focus on the Mishna in Mesechet Negaim 14:8 that records a debate about an additional stage between stage II and stage III. According to the Rabbis, the Metzora was obligated to undergo an additional immersion in a mikve on the 8th day itself, right before bringing his korbanot. As a matter of fact, the mikve was in the Bet Hamikdash itself in a special chamber labeled “The Chamber of the Metzoraim”. Rebbi Yehuda disagrees and argues that this seems to be unnecessary as he immersed the previous day.
The Gemara in Yoma (30b) offers a few explanations as to the logic of the position of the Rabbis, two of them teach us important lessons beyond the application of the metzora himself.
The first point of the Gemara is that indeed the person immersed the day before and therefore we have no real reason to suspect that he is actually impure. The problem is his intent. The immersion of the previous day was done, possibly, with the intent of becoming pure and not necessarily for the purpose of entering the Mikdash, hence he requires another immersion.
This interpretation of the Gemara cues us in to a very important principle when it comes to Kedusha. Kedusha (holiness) cannot happen by accident, Tahara (purity) can. The example that illustrates this, which is given in the mishna in Chagiga, is that if one were to fall into a mikve accidentally he would actually be considered pure, however despite the state of ritual purity, one would not be allowed to enter the Mikdash after such an event. While being pure or impure is simply a fact, the quest for getting to the next level of Kedusha is a very different challenge. In the world of Kedusha we are called upon to be active, conscious participants and if we lack that element we do not qualify.
During this time of year, as we count each and every day of the Omer we must realize that we are presented with a challenge each and every day. If we just let the time slip by (even while counting the days, as we should) we run the risk of losing the opportunities afforded us by this special time. We have the ability and challenge to make each and every day a new rung in the climbing ladder of Kedusha.
The Gemara offers another answer to the problem. The reason that the metzora must immerse an additional time on the 8th day is that we are actually concerned that he was in contact with an item that would render him impure since his immersion on the 7th day. The Gemara immediately challenges this answer, noting that we have no such requirement for anyone else; we generally have people immerse the previous day and we rely on their own diligence to make sure that they have not become impure again. Why here the special stringency?
The response in the Gemara is that the metzora is exceptional in that he is “accustomed to impurity”, as opposed to the standard individual who may be impure but is not an “expert” in the field. The assumption in this statement is that the metzora, by virtue of the fact that he was banished from the camp, living a life of the religious and social outcast, lost all sensitivity to the issues of purity. Even after having properly immersed he is still suspect for having become re-contaminated without even realizing it.
The message of this piece is extremely important. If we become used to living in a certain manner it becomes “second nature” to continue in the same way. Any deviation from the well-traveled path works against our “natural” grain and we cannot be confident that our improved ways will indeed stick with us. It is entirely possible that, despite our good intentions, we may inadvertently lapse back to the familiar habits.
The implications of such an idea are that each and every thing that we do is important for the here and now and, maybe even more critically, sets the tone for the future. We are not only doing good things but we are creating good habits.
If we take both of these messages together we see the full picture. On the one hand, the first answer of the Gemara stresses the need to be an active participant, not allowing oneself to be pulled by the unseen forces of life and chance meetings. On the other hand, it is the second part of the Gemara that shows us that, to a certain extent, we are always influenced by such environmental habits (of our own and those around us), and as such we need to create an atmosphere of “doing the right thing”. Trying to be the lone star in a very dark night may prove to be too difficult even if we have the best of intentions.
We need to train ourselves to integrate both messages; be exact in our actions while surrounding ourselves with positive role models and personal habits.