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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Metzora

Parashat Metzora

The High Should Look Low, Too

2951
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Our parasha, while not read along with Tazria this year, still shares the topic of tzara’at (roughly, leprosy). We know of central figures, who received tzara’at for speaking lashon hara (negative speech- Moshe about Bnei Yisrael- see Rashi on Shemot 4:6; Miriam about Moshe- Bamidbar 12:10). We find other causes for this affliction. Geichazi received it because of his greediness (see Melachim II, 5: 26-27). Let’s concentrate this week on the case of King Uziyah.

The navi tells us that Uziyah was, for the most part, a righteous king, like his father, Amatzya. Yet, we are told that he was afflicted with tzara’at that lasted until the end of his life (Melachim II, 15: 3-5), unlike Moshe and Miriam’s short-lived cases. What was the root of the tzara’at? To learn more, we have to look in Divrei Hayamim, as Tanach elaborates in one place on that which is cryptic in another place. Yoash, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, defeated Amatzya in Beit Shemesh, leaving him with a weak kingdom- militarily, financially, and internationally, which he inherited to his son (see Divrei Haymim II, 25: 23-24). The young king, Uziyah, decided to go about things differently. Instead of continuing the warfare with the rival Kingdom of Israel, he cooperated with Yerovam II and was thus able to expand the borders of Israel until Eilat in the south and Ashdod in the west. This opened ports in the Mediterranean and Red seas, enabling the country to control important land and water routes of international trade. The Scriptures write also of impressive advances in agriculture and in the production of military supplies (see ibid. 26).

What impressive advances by a wise, righteous and ambitious king! But all of his success collapsed on him for one reason. "As he became strong, his heart became haughty until it brought destruction, and he betrayed Hashem, his G-d, and entered the Sanctuary of Hashem to burn incense on the Altar of Incense ... and the tzara’at shone on his head" (ibid.: 16,19). In this way, Uziyah, who was basically righteous like his father, also failed for the same reason as his father. Indeed, the navi addressed Amatzya with the complaint, "your heart raised you up" to overconfidence and failure (ibid. 25:19).

So we see another root cause of tzara’at. It can remind a person that, as important as he may be and even if he channels his ambitions to ostensibly good causes, he must know his limits. As a human being, he is limited and must conform to Divine commandments and know his place. For this reason, the sacrifices that a leper brings at the conclusion of his period of leprosy include cedar wood (etz erez) and hyssop (eizov). The former, one of the tallest and most proud members of the plant world, is combined with the latter, which is one of the most lowly, to show the importance. This reminds the leper, as he returns to society, that he must temper his ambitions for greatness with the proper measure of humility.

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