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by Mordecai Kornfeld
of Har Nof, Jerusalem
Founder of the Dafyomi Advancement Forum

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Parashat Metzora 5757

At the beginning of this week's Parasha, the Torah describes the manner in which a Metzora (one suffering from the affliction of Tzara'at, sometimes translated as a "leper") can become ritually pure, enabling him to enter the grounds of the Beit Hamikdash or bring Korbanot.

The Kohen shall take the guilt-offering sheep and the measure of oil.... He shall slaughter the guilt-offering sheep and take some of its blood and place it on (the one who is being purified).... The Kohen shall then place some of the oil... on the place where he applied the blood of the guilt-offering. (Vayikra 14:24, 25, 28.)

Let us attempt to reveal some of the symbolic meaning of this unique purification ritual, in which blood and then oil are applied to the skin of the healed Metzora.


Before we return to the Metzora, we must analyze the primeval sin of the first man. When Hashem created the first man and his wife, they perceived His presence clearly. It was not possible then, as it is today, to be fooled by the seemingly natural progression of events in the world. They had experienced dialogue with the Creator Himself. They saw how He had created the entire world and how everything in the world was His, just as plainly as one man can see another man today.

By violating the command of Hashem not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam chose to distance himself from Hashem. Hashem complied with Adam's will and "hid" Himself from His creations, to a certain extent, behind a veil of nature. Thus, the sin of Adam created a translucent "film" which separates between Hashem and us, clouding our perspective.

This is nowhere more clear than in the verse in which the Torah describes the events which occurred immediately after Adam's sin (Bereishit 3:8). When Adam ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, he attempted to *hide* from Hashem among the trees of the Garden. Hide from Hashem?!

After seeing that Hashem had created him, after seeing that Hashem's presence fills the entire universe, how is he going to hide from Hashem? What the verse is telling us is that Adam now experienced a new life in which Hashem's presence is not crystal-clear, a life in which a person can be deluded into thinking that he can hide his actions from Hashem, and in which he can hide the existence of Hashem from himself. This marked the introduction of falsehood, of misperception.


The verse tells us (Bereishit 3:21) that after Hashem meted out to the sinners their respective punishments, He made for Adam and his wife Katnot Or -- "cloaks of skin" -- and dressed them in these. Rashi explains that according to some, this "cloak" was actually a layer of thick skin which covered their bodies. Skin is a membrane which separates between a person and the outside world. This membrane symbolizes the fact that Adam caused a membrane, or a film, to separate between himself and Hashem. Adam created for himself a Katnot Or, a cloaking membrane.

Rashi offers as a second translation of Katnot Or, "a cloak of hide." This reflects a second aspect of the partition which Adam created between man and his Creator. A cloak is an external ornament, which hides (not meant as a pun, just as a reflection) within it a man's true appearance. Similarly, a man's eyes may perceive the world one way, whereas the truth is very different. His eyes see a world running according to the processes of nature, rather than a world guided by the hand of Hashem. Hashem's guidance is hidden behind a disguising cloak.

Just as in his perception of the world Adam saw an outside which is cloaking an inside hidden within it so, too, in the way he presented himself to the world Adam would now be "two-faaced" wearing an outer garment which would give him a certain appearance while concealing what was under it. The sin of Adam made it possible for a person to be "one at heart and another with mouth," disguising his true intentions.

According to the Midrash (Bereishit Raba 63:13), Esav, brother of Yakov, inherited Adam's garments. This statement, taken symbolically, means that Esav is the commander of the forces of evil, which are constantly trying to destroy the Jewish people and prevent them from fulfilling their mission. He represents the force which cloaks the presence of Hashem from the inhabitants of the world, so that He cannot be perceived. He tries to reinforce the partition which Adam had created.

When Yakov was forced to lie to his father in order to claim Yitzchak's blessings (Bereishit 27:15, 19), he could only do so after donning Esav's coveted garments (Bereishit 27:15). According to the Midrash (ibid.), these garments were Adam's cloak, the garments which brought deception into the world.


The word "Or" (as in "Katnot Or") means "skin." The same letters--Ayin, Vav, Reish--can be read as "Iver," which means blind. The skin represents the forces that blind a person, as we mentioned above. If a person raises himself to a spiritual level from which he has a clear perception of Hashem, he has changing that Or into a different "Or" --the Or that is spelled *Alef*, Vav, Reish, meaning "light." He has allowed the light of Hashem's presence to penetrate the dimming film that normally cuts it off from this world. The Torah tells us (Shmot 34:29,30) that when Moshe came down from Mt. Sinai after spending forty days on the mountain receiving the Tablets of the Law, the skin on his face shone. The Or/skin of his face had turned into Or/light through his removal of the partition which separates between man and his Creator.

The Midrash tells us that in Rebbi Meir's notes on the Torah, the word "Or," of Katnot Or, was written with an Alef instead of an Ayin (meaning "light" instead of "skin"). To a certain extent, Rebbi Meir (Meir = giver of light) was able to shine a light through the film that prevents us from realizing Hashem's presence. Through his study of Torah, he gained a true perception of the world and its Creator.

Adam himself, although he had now created a partition that separated between himself and his Creator, still had a vastly greater perception of Hashem than anyone could possibly have after him. For this reason, the Gemara tells us (Bava Batra 58a) that when one of the scholar of the Talmud entered the cave in which Adam is buried, he found Adam's heels -- the lowest, most mundane part of the body -- shining with a brightness greater than that of the sun.


The Gemara (Sota 5a) points out that when the Torah discusses a person who is afflicted with Tzara'at, it repeatedly refers to him as "Adam" (Vayikra 13:2,9). The verse which discusses a person who is *healed* from his Tzara'at (Vayikra 13:18), on the other hand, refers to the person as Basar (flesh). In the context of what we have discussed here, this means to say that a person who follows the path of *Adam*, by reinforcing the partition which divides between Man and his Creator, is punished with Tzara'at -- an affliction of the *Or* (skin) -- in order to teach him that he is living behind a film of "Katnot Or," like his forbear Adam. He is healed when he symbolically removes that layer of skin, revealing the *Basar* (flesh) which lies underneath.

Let us return now to the rite of the blood and the oil. The Kohen first sprinkles blood on the Metzora, symbolizing that the root of his personal sin lies in the sin of the first man, Adam (whose name is related to the word Dam/blood, according to Gemara Sota 5a). Afterwards, the Kohen sprinkles oil on the same limbs of the Metzora on which blood was sprinkled. Oil, according to Gemara Yoma 18b is sometimes referred to as Orot (lights -- II Melachim 4:39) because "it lights up a person's eyes." Similarly, it is referred to as "Yitzhar," (from the root Zohar, meaning "light") because it is a source of light for the world (Bamidbar Raba 9:13). The oil which the Kohen sprinkles on top of the blood symbolizes the enlightenment of the Metzora. It shows that he has transformed the Katnot Or (with an Ayin, meaning skin) with which he was punished, into Katnot Or (with an Alef, meaning light), by obtaining a clearer perception of his Creator.

(NOTE: Much of the material presented in this essay is based on thoughts outlined by Harav Moshe Shapiro, may he be blessed with long years.)

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