Rabbi Eli Blum
Former Rosh Kollel in Cleveland (2007)
Parshat Tazria focuses on the issues of tumahv’taharah (ritual impurity and purity) – including tumat hayoledet (a woman who has just given birth) and tumat nega’im (literally, lesions or afflictions). The parsha is part of a broader discussion of separating or distinguishing between the tamei and the tahor, which begins in Parshat Shmini and continues on through Parshat Kedoshim.
Parshat Kedoshim concludes with the following p’sukim:
“And you shall observe all My statutes and all My ordinances and perform them; then the Land, to which I am bringing you to dwell therein, will not disgorge you. You shall not follow the practices of the nation that I expel from before you; for they committed all these, and I was disgusted with them. So I said to you, you shall inherit their land, and I shall give it to you to inherit it, a land flowing with milk and honey; I am Hashem your God, Who has separated you from the peoples.And you shall distinguish between the pure animal and the impure and between the impure bird and the pure; and you shall not make your souls abominable through animals and birds and anything which creeps on the ground, which I have distinguished for you to render impure.And you shall be holy for Me, for I Hashem am holy; and I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine.” (Vayikra 20:22-26)
These p’sukim stress the havdalah (separation or distinguishing) from the impure and from forbidden behaviors which are associated with the nations who surround us as well as the hitkadshut(sanctification) to Hashem. Also, just as in Parshat Shmini, we once again are told to distinguish between forbidden and permitted foods. Thus, in effect, this passage closes the circle which began in Parshat Shmini and pertains to the havdalah between the tamei and the tahor – which is a fundamental of our existence as a nation.
The Gemara (BT Bava Metzia 61b) states:
“Rava said, ‘Why does Rachmana mention Yetziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt) [in connection] with [the laws of] interest; Yetziat Mitzrayim in connection with [the laws of] tzitzit; Yetziat Mitzrayim [in connection] with [the laws of] weights?HaKadosh Baruch Hu said: “I am the One Who differentiated in Egypt between a drop [which brought forth] a firstborn and a drop [which did] not [bring forth] a firstborn. I am the One Who in the future will exact punishment from one who attributes his money to a non-Jew and lends it to a Jew with interest and from one who buries his weights in salt and from one who hangs indigo on his garment and says that it is techeilet.”’
“Ravina came to Sura-on-the-Euphrates. Rav Chanina of Sura-on-the-Euphrates said to Ravina, ‘Why does Rachmana mention Yetziat Mitzrayim in connection with [the laws forbidding] shratzim (literally, creeping things)?’ [Ravina] said to him, ‘HaKadosh Baruch Hu said: “I am the One Who differentiated [in Egypt] between a drop [which brought forth] a firstborn and a drop [which did] not [bring forth] a firstborn. I am the One Who in the future will exact punishment from one who mixes the entrails of non-kosher fish with the entrails of kosher fish and sells them to a Jew…”’”
As we can see from this Gemara, the Torah mentions Yetziat Mitzrayim in conjunction with four mitzvot in order to stress their importance and to teach us that HaKadosh Baruch Hu, “Who differentiated [in Egypt] between a drop [which brought forth] a firstborn and a drop [which did] not [bring forth] a firstborn,” will eventually punish those who transgress these mitzvot.
What does distinguishing “between a drop [which brought forth] a firstborn and a drop [which did] not [bring forth] a firstborn” have to do with exacting punishment? The Maharal explains:
“But I say that these mitzvot are singled out with respect to distinguishing, because with respect to shkatzim (abominations – i.e. non-kosher creatures), it says to distinguish between the tamei and the tahor. Thus, this mitzvah relates to havdalah. And similarly, a weight itself serves to differentiate the item being weighed. And similarly, interest serves to separate the Jew, as it says, ‘You may give interest to a gentile, but to your brother you shall not give interest.’ (Devarim 23:21) And behold, this is a havdalah. And tzitzit are for differentiation, as it says, ‘And you shall see it and you will remember all the commandments of Hashem.’ (Bamidbar 15:39) And the essence of techeilet is differentiation, as it says, ‘From when is the Shema recited in the morning? From when one can distinguish between techeilet and white.’ (BT Brachot 9b) Thus, these four mitzvot pertain to differentiation. And when Yisrael left Egypt, they went out on the highest level where everything is differentiated. Because HashemYitbarach removed Yisrael from Egypt and took them to Him as a people, and in this way, HashemYitbarach separated Yisrael from the nations. And therefore, Yetziat Mitzrayim occurred through differentiation, to the extent that HaKadosh Baruch Hu differentiated between one drop and another drop, because everything was through differentiation.”
In other words, these four mitzvot are based on the significance of differentiation. Hence, the Torah connects them to Yetziat Mitzrayim, which served to differentiate between Am Yisrael and tumat Mitzrayim:
“To take for Himself a nation from the midst of a nation.” (Devarim 4:34)
Furthermore, differentiation played a major role during the makot (the Ten Plagues of Egypt). As the Midrash (Shmot Rabbah 12) states:
“‘Moshe stretched out his staff heavenward,’ (Shmot 9:23) – These makot, three [were initiated] by Aharon and three by Moshe and three by HaKadosh Baruch Hu and one by all of them:
Dam, tz’fardea, kinim – which were on the ground, by Aharon;
Barad, arbeh, choshech – by Moshe, because they were in the air, which is how Moshe ruled the earth and the heavens;
Arov, dever, makat bechorot – by HaKadosh Baruch Hu;
And sh’chin – by all of them.”
Interestingly, the Torah explicitly notes a haflayah (discernment) between Yisrael and Egypt with respect to the three makot executed by HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself:
Makat arov – “And I will set apart (viheeflayti) on that day the land of Goshen, upon which My people stands, that there shall be no swarm there; in order that you know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land.” (Shmot 8:18)
Makat dever – “And Hashem will distinguish (viheeflah) between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt; and nothing of the Children of Israel will die.” (Shmot 9:4)
Makat bechorot – “But to all the Children of Israel, no dog shall whet its tongue against either man or beast; in order that you shall know that Hashem will have distinguished (yafleh) between Egypt and between Israel.” (Shmot 11:7)
The capacity to differentiate and distinguish between the tamei and the tahor; between the holy and the mundane; between truth and falsehood; and between good and evil is one of the abilities by which a person’s humanity is recognized. After all, mankind was given the power to make choices.
Nevertheless, we must recall that – during Yetziat Mitzrayim – the Creator of the Universe chose us in order that we realize our national destiny and gave us our first commandment as a nation. This week, in Parshat HaChodesh, we read about this very commandment:
“This month shall be for you the beginning of the months…” (Shmot 12:2)
By choosing us, Hashem initiated the distinct havdalah between us and Egypt as well as between us and the nations of the world.
Despite himself, Bilaam HaRasha cited this very attribute in his blessing:
“It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and will not be reckoned among the nations.” (Bamidbar 23:9)
This havdalah comprises a basis of supreme importance. Yet, clearly, we must continue to build a holy structure upon this foundation.
This havdalah enables the Divine Presence to dwell among us. As stated in the abovementioned pasuk about makat arov:
“In order that you know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land.” (Shmot 8:18)
Both Parshat Tazria and Parshat Metzora, which deal with tumat nega’im, teach us how to become purified from this type of tumah and how to return to machaneh Yisrael. But we must then use this as a foundation for a structure which incorporates holiness and sanctity and which gives true meaning to life.
Pesach launches this process, and in turn, each and every one of us must internalize it and take it to the next level.