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D’var Torah: Parashat Tazria-Metzora

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In this week’s D’var Torah, the Chief Rabbi reminds us why we should think again before we rush to criticize others…

“Please be careful, I’m impure.” That’s what the Metzorah would declare.

As described in Parashat Tazria, a person afflicted with leprosy was required to go outside of the camp. And when people were approaching, they would shout out, “Tamei, tamei” – “please be aware of the fact that I am impure.” As the Torah says, “V’tamei-tamei, ikra” – that’s what he must call out.

The Gemara in Masechet mo-ed katan (daf hey amud alef) tells us that he shouted out “Tamei tamei” for two reasons: the first was so that people passing by would be aware of his ailment and would pray for him; the second, was that they needed to be aware of the fact that they shouldn’t come too close, so that they themselves would not become ‘Tamei’.

The Kotzke Rebbe brilliantly reads something deeper here. He places the comma in the middle of the statement. You see the Torah says “V’tamei tamei ikra”, he must call out “tamei tamei”. Rather, says the Kotzke Rebbe, we should read “V’tamei”“as for this person who is impure”“Tamei ikra”his problem is that he calls out to others, “you are impure.” You see, he doesn’t attribute any weakness or negativity in character to himself. His problem is that he’s complaining about the deficiencies of character in others all the time. Indeed, that’s why he becomes ‘Tamei’ in the first place.

The Gemara in Masechet kiddushin (daf ayin amud alef) says something that’s really very perceptive. “Kol haposel b’mumo posel” – “there are many people who criticise others regarding weaknesses in their character, but actually, “b’mumo pursail” – they’re talking about themselves. It’s a classic example of projection.

An elderly man once went to his doctor, he said to the doctor, “I think my wife is going deaf.” “So how serious is this?” asked the doctor. He said, “I don’t know, she’s just not hearing me.” The doctor said, “Well, why don’t you call out to her when her back is turned, and see how close you have to get before she hears you.”

So he stood well behind her as she was standing in the living room, and he called out, “What’s for supper tonight?” No answer.

He came a few steps closer, “What’s for supper tonight?” No answer.

A few steps further, no answer.

Until eventually he stood just behind her and called out, “What’s for supper tonight?” This time she turned around and shouted at him, “Fish and chips, as I’ve already told you five times!”

She wasn’t the one who had a problem – it was him.

And so too in life. Let us recognise that in the tense moments of some relationships, (while sure enough there might be weaknesses on the other side) we should ask ourselves, where might we have gone wrong? What mistakes might we have made? What words might we have said out of turn? What could we be doing in order to improve the situation ourselves?

Let’s learn that lesson of the “Tamei tamei ikra”, and if we have this approach to life, I guarantee you that this world will be a much better place.

Shabbat shalom.