With Rabbi Alex Chapper
‘When a man shall have on the skin of his flesh…he shall be brought to Aharon the Cohen, or to one of his sons, the Cohanim.’ (Vayikra 13:2)
What message can be conveyed to a barmitzvah boy from parshat Tazria? Bearing in mind that its subject matter is predominately that of the metzorah – the person afflicted with a spiritual disease and the process of tumah and taharah – spiritual impurity and purification – it does not lend itself to being inspiring to a young man at the onset of his religious adulthood.
Perhaps the best place to discover some meaning is the Sefer HaChinuch, believed to be a 13th Century work written by an unknown author as a barmitzvah gift to his son. In it he makes sense of the mitzvot relating to the impurity of a metzorah.
First we learn that since the afflicted person must present himself to a Cohen in order for him to be declared pure or impure, he should not treat tzara’at like any other illness that just happens by chance. Rather he should contemplate the fact that something precipitated its occurrence.
This powerfully demonstrates our belief in cause and effect. Our actions have consequences and we must take responsibility for both.
Second, and here the Chinuch delves into the root of this mitzvah, the purpose of all of this particular legislation is to establish the concept of hashgacha pratit – Divine providence. In this context, it means that God did not just create the world and leave it to its own devices, but He watches over everything we do. This in turn explains why the metzorah is required to be confined for a period of time if the Cohen determines it to be necessary. This imposed ‘time-out’, where he is excluded from normal interaction with the rest of society, provides him with an opportunity to reflect on these truths while he is free from the distractions that have blurred his focus on the way the world operates.
Finally, the close involvement of the Cohen in the metzorah’s rehabilitation highlights the need for continued guidance for the benefit of his long term well-being.
Says the Chinuch, let him associate with the one who effects atonement, namely the Cohen, who heals the injury of the sin, and let him show him his affliction. Through his advice and by his own examination of his actions, the affliction will be removed from him, for God, who constantly watches over him, will see his teshuvah and will heal him.
So we see, through the brilliance of the Sefer HaChinuch, this seemingly opaque set of legislation contains depths of meaning and relevance even for a barmitzvah. We are presented with three potent messages that should shape every person’s life: remember, you are responsible for your actions; know that God is interested in you and ensure you are surrounded by good people.
• Mazeltov to Aharon Chaim Chapper on the occasion of his barmitzvah!