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Parashat Metzora 5757
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.
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.
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 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.
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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