Rav Eliyohu Mann of Bnei Brak would speak with Rav Chaim Kanievsky daily, and people who had questions or sought brachos from Rav Chaim would often call him. One day, a rebbi contacted him.
“I need your help,” he said. “Out of the clear blue, my young son suddenly began to suffer from psychotic episodes. I made a cheshbon hanefesh to try to determine why Hashem would punish us in that way. I suspect that it may be a punishment for me telling my class that Rav Chaim Kanievsky was not especially smart when he was young, but because he dedicated himself to studying Torah, he became wiser and wiser the more he learned, until he became a gaon and the gadol hador.
“My intentions were pure. I meant to inspire my students to be diligent in their learning, even if they didn’t feel that they were smart enough to develop into Torah giants. I totally did not mean to impugn Rav Chaim in any way.
“Please tell him my story and ask him to forgive me so that my son will be well again.”
Rav Mann approached Rav Chaim and told him about the rebbi’s call and request for mechilah. Rav Chaim laughed and said, “I am still not smart.”
In his humility, he didn’t see any offense in what the man had said and saw no need for forgiveness.
When Rav Mann phoned the rebbi to convey to him Rav Chaim’s reaction, the man was upset. “Please ask him again to forgive me. I feel that I need forgiveness for what I said.”
Instead of returning to Rav Chaim to ask him again, Rav Mann approached Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, a leading gadol in his time who had served as a rebbi of Rav Chaim Kanievsky in his younger years. He told him what had happened and asked him what he thought.
Rav Michel Yehudah responded that he remembered Rav Chaim from when he taught him in his youth and said that he was brilliant back then as well. Therefore, the man needs forgiveness. “You must go back to Rav Chaim and ask him again,” he said.
Rav Mann returned to Rav Chaim. When he began telling him that he went to see his rebbi, Rav Michel Yehuda, and had posed the question to him, Rav Chaim immediately said that he was fully mochel the man for what he said and he should consider himself forgiven.
Within a few days, the boy’s mental health was restored.
A fantastic, true story about the great gadol whose loss we are still mourning, as well as about the power of speech and how careful we must all be when we speak about others.
This week’s parsha of Tazria, and Metzora which we will lain next week, deal with the halachos of a person afflicted with tzoraas. Though its laws are quite complex, we are all familiar with the basic concept. A patch of skin, or clothing, or a home becomes infected with pigment changes. A kohein is called to inspect and render a decision regarding the status of the stain. If he deems it tzoraas, the offender is secluded.
While tzoraas is usually described as leprosy or some other disease, in fact it is not a disease. Rather, it is a signal from Hashem to repent and do teshuvah for various sins.
On Shevi’i Shel Pesach, we read Parshas Beshalach and the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim. The posuk (Shemos 15:26) states, “Kol hamachalah asher samti b’Mitzrayim lo osim alecha ki ani Hashem rofecha.” Hashem promises that if we follow His mitzvos, He will not bring upon us any of the diseases He brought upon the Mitzriyim.
The ailments and diseases that befell the Mitzriyim were Divine punishment for their treatment of the Jews. There was no cure for them.
When a person is infected by illness, it is similar to a conventional vaccine. The vaccine works by planting into the body, a strain of the illness that is weak enough for the body to fight off. The process strengthens and inoculates the person from the disease. The sickness itself is what causes good health. We believe that disease and yissurim are for a higher purpose, sometimes perceived and often times not. We trust that our Doctor has our best interests in mind. We therefore say, “Ki Ani Hashem rofecha.” If He wishes it so, then we will be healed.
The Chazon Ish would say that each generation experiences a new class of diseases for which it has no cure. In generations prior, people would die from typhus, smallpox and measles, and desperate people hoped valiantly for the day that medication would be found to cure them. Once the world was rid of those feared maladies, new diseases were diagnosed and spread, without the ability to cure them.
This is to remind us that Hashem is the Rofei cholim. Doctors are His messengers. They do not hold the key to cures unless the Creator wills it so.
This concept is explicit in the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Mikvaos 11:12), in his closing remarks on the topic of purification:
“Impurity is not filth that can be washed away with water, but, rather, a scriptural decree that calls for intent of focus of the heart. Chazal therefore teach that one who immersed but did not intend to purify himself is considered as not having been toiveled.
“Although it is a gezeiras hakosuv, there is an allusion inherent in the act of tevilah. One who focuses his heart on purity is indeed cleansed through immersion, even though there was no noticeable change in his body. Similarly, one who focuses his heart on removing the contamination of the soul – namely, evil thoughts and negative character traits – becomes purified when he resolves within his heart to distance himself from such counsel and immerse his soul in the waters of knowledge.”
Thus, it is the sacred role of the kohein to determine whether a person is a metzora. The task of the kohein is to bring people closer to Hashem through removing sin, which causes separation between man and his Maker. He helps people purify themselves. Tzora’as is not a medical condition. It arises from chet, and thus the kohein intercedes to help the victim repent from his chato’im, which brought about his condition. He then achieves the desired healing.
We are familiar with the pesukim that state, “Mi ha’ish hechofeitz chaim oheiv yomim liros tov. Netzor leshoncha meira usefosecha midabeir mirma” (Tehillim 34:13-14). One who desires life should be careful not to use his mouth for bad purposes and not to speak improperly.
Man causes tzora’as to be brought upon him, for it is a punishment for people who do not follow the admonitions of that posuk and speak ill of others. Those who do not appreciate other people, who are not concerned about the feelings of others, or who cavalierly destroy reputations of fellow Jews are punished and banished from the camp. For seeking to create separation between the people they gossiped about and their communities, they are placed in isolation.
We no longer merit this precise Divine message. We speak lashon hora at will and think that we won’t suffer consequences. In fact, while we don’t come down with tzora’as, we are beset by other punishments, whose cause is not as obvious.
The loving Rofei sends us hints of disapproval. We are afflicted with various aches, pains, and ailments. We go to the doctor, fill prescriptions, and seek to be healed. We are lulled into thinking that the sickness or pain is caused and cured by something physical.
How wrong we are.
Sometimes, we go about dealing with life’s serious issues in a superficial manner. Life is a long learning process. As we grow and learn and go through the experiences that make up life, we gain the tools we need to be able to contend with and hopefully overcome many of the challenges we face. When we conduct ourselves and think maturely and intelligently, we are better able to remain healthy, strong and vibrant. To merit recovery from illness and pain, we need to know that every limb and part of the body receives its sustenance from a specific mitzvah. Every ailment is caused by a specific aveirah.
The Gemara in Maseches Avodah Zarah (55a) quotes the words of a posuk that we recite in the tefillah of Nishmas each Shabbos as we say that Hashem saved us from “chola’im ra’im vene’emonim – harsh and faithful diseases.” How can illness be referred to as faithful?
The Gemara explains that they are faithful to keep the promise they make. They have a mission, they are sent from Heaven for a reason, for a specific amount of time. Once that time elapses, they are directed to leave a person’s body. They are faithful to that oath.
There is no longer tzora’as. But that is not necessarily a blessing. Were that so-called disease still in existence, we would be very careful about speaking lashon hora. It would disappear from our midst. The cause and effect would be plainly evident.
And it’s not only tzora’as. It’s all diseases. It’s not only lashon hora. It’s all the aveiros. The Medrash teaches that there are ten parshiyos of negoim, just as there are ten cardinal mitzvos. If Am Yisroel observes the Aseres Hadibros, then Hashem protects them from negoim. However, if they disobey the Aseres Hadibros, they are plagued.
We have to recognize that our tumah, taharah and welfare depend on our actions. The Gemara in Maseches Sotah (21a) teaches, “Torah magna umatzla,” Torah fortifies and protects. We know that “tzedakah tatzil mimovess,” charity saves one from death (Mishlei 10:2).
Just as tzedakah has the power to save a person from death, tefillah has the power to bring about salvation. Torah surrounds us with armor in the face of punishment. Every act we perform, including the way we think and speak, has the ability to determine the quality of our lives.
The posuk (Vayikra 18:5) states, “Ushemartem es chukosai v’es mishpotai asher yaaseh osam ha’adam vochai bohem.” If you will observe My mitzvos, they will give you life. From this posuk, we derive that pikuach nefesh is doche Shabbos. That means that the posuk is speaking not only in an allegorical sense – that mitzvah observance enhances life – but in a very literal sense as well. Observance of the Torah’s chukim and mishpotim is life-inducing.
Dovid Hamelech sang, “Shivtecha umishantecha heima yenachamuni – Your rod and staff comfort me.” Baalei mussar teach that the comfort Dovid Hamelech derived from Hashem’s “rod and staff” was similar to the comfort a stray sheep receives from the prodding tap of its master. The wayward sheep had veered from the path and group. It was lost, alone and afraid. Finally, it was found by the shepherd, who hit it with his staff. Along with the blow came a sense of belonging, of being watched once again, and of being cared for. The stick striking its back stung, but it was comforting nonetheless.
At the shivah for Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, his children recounted that their father never raised his voice to rebuke them and never slapped them. One of the children asked him how he understood a posuk that seems to indicate that slapping children is a sign of love: “Choseich shivto sonei beno – One who withholds the stick hates his son” (Mishlei 13:24).
Rav Wosner explained, “The lesson of the posuk is not that a father should hit his son. Rather, the explanation is that a wise father learns to keep a stick nearby to remind his son of its existence. The stick is a tool, but the loving father finds a way not to have to use it.”
He uses it by not using it. The threat is ever-present, and when the child thinks of misbehaving, he controls himself because he doesn’t want that stick on his back.
We have seen and experienced the Divine staff all too often. Like frightened sheep, we have been prodded back to the flock, influenced to stay on the correct path. We see through the darkness and appreciate the message that after making many mistakes, Hashem still hopes for our return. He hasn’t forgotten us, even for a moment.
Ki anu tzonecha, ve’Atah Roeinu.
May everyone suffering from disease be cured, and may we be free of all plagues and speedily merit the ultimate healing.
Dovid Hamelech says in the 15th chapter of Tehillim, “Hashem, who merits to inhabit your tent, to live on Your holy mountain? He who walks purely, does justice and speaks truth from his heart. Slander doesn’t appear on his tongue; he doesn’t wrong his friend and doesn’t slur those close to him. He despises contemptible people and honors those who fear Hashem. He keeps his word and oath even when it hurts him. He doesn’t take interest for lending people money and never accepts bribes. Whoever possesses these characteristics will never falter.”
As we study the parshiyos of tzora’as, let us begin our return to good health by reforming how we deal with each other, giving attention to our middos and observance of the mitzvos, chukim and mishpotim.
May all those who suffer find relief, may all the ill be healed, may all the lonely be comforted, and may we all merit the geulah sheleimah bemeheirah. “B’Nissan nigalu ub’Nissan asidin ligoel” (Rosh Hashanah 11b). May it be this month.