Once, a youth from an observant home strayed from Jewish practice. His family tried everything, but nothing they did was able to influence him to return to observance.

After several years, this youth encountered a Lubavitch mitzvah mobile. Although he refused at first, the polite persistence of the rabbinical student manning the mitzvah mobile finally convinced him to put on tefillin. And that changed everything. After having been away from Jewish observance for so long, fulfilling this one mitzvah whetted his appetite for more. He underwent a transformation, and with the help of the Lubavitchers, returned to his Jewish roots.

His father, overjoyed at this sequence of events, went to the Rebbe to thank him for the efforts of his chassidim. He explained that previously he had not understood the Lubavitch outreach campaign, but now he appreciated the validity of that approach.

The Rebbe accepted his thanks gracefully, telling him: “You have now experienced the pain a father feels when his son departs from the Torah’s ways, and the joy he senses when he returns. I feel such pangs whenever a Jew strays from Jewish observance, and similar satisfaction whenever one returns.”

Parshas Metzora

This week’s Torah reading begins with the description of the purification process for a person who became impure because of tzaraas, a skin condition resembling leprosy. Only it is not leprosy. Indeed, it is an ailment that has no biological cause whatsoever, but instead comes about because of a person’s conduct. Because he spread lashon hara, malicious gossip about another person, his own body is affected and his skin begins to decay.

How can he correct himself? After the kohen (priest) determines him to be impure, he is told to go outside the city limits and live alone, distant from others. As our Sages explain: “Since he created separation among others, he is forced to live alone.” As he lives his solitary existence, he hopefully learns the severity of his transgression and in this way, expiates his sin.

How does he become pure? A kohen comes out beyond the city limits and inspects his body to see if his skin ailment is healed or not. Now usually a kohen is not allowed to become impure himself; he must take utmost care in this regard. This is of essential importance to him. For if a kohen becomes impure, he may not serve in the Temple for the duration of his impurity, and that is his primary mission in life. It is highly likely that impure objects will be located in the place where the person afflicted with tzaraas stays. And yet, the kohen makes an exception and goes out to help this person.

His conduct is an example for us in our present-day lives. It is obvious that our relationships with our fellow men should not be negative, spreading discord and strife, but should instead lead to harmony and love. The kohen, however, teaches the extent of the commitment we must make, showing that these efforts are necessary even when there is a risk to our own personal selves — and not only a risk to our material position, but also to our spiritual welfare. Even though we may be prevented from entering G‑d’s Temple as a result, we have to do what we can to enable another person to attain purity and resume normal social relations with his fellow men.

Looking to the Horizon

The theme of brotherly outreach mentioned above is intrinsically related to our shared life mission of bringing the Redemption. For the path to that Redemption must be trodden by mankind together. It is not enough that a person seek out refinement himself and endeavor to reach spiritual heights. What is necessary is that he motivate others — his fellow Jews and in a larger sense, all mankind — to join him in his strivings and share these aspirations.

If a person will say: “I want to serve in the Temple in a spirit of purity; I don’t care about others,” he will never see his wishes fulfilled. For the Temple will not be rebuilt because one — or a small group of individuals — attains lofty spiritual peaks. Instead, it will be when Mashiach motivates the entire nation — and all mankind — to devote themselves to G‑d’s purpose, that this milestone will be reached. To achieve that goal, we must reach out to our brethren wherever they are, even in places of impurity, and motivate them to join us in our efforts.