In 19th century Poland, a businessman was receiving a parting blessing from his Rebbe before embarking on a commercial trip. As they were talking, his Rebbe asked him: “You usually travel with your own horse and wagon, don’t you?”


“Do you pick up way-farers?”

“Of course.”

“Even when you are on a lone and distant road?”


“Even if they look crippled and lame?”

“Of course. If a person is disabled and found on a lonely road, I will go out of my way to help him.”

“I wouldn’t,” said the Rebbe. “When a healthy person is found on a lone and distant road, it is possible that he arrived there on his own. But there is no way a lame person could arrive there on his own. Most probably, he is not lame at all.”

The Rebbe quickly changed the subject and gave the businessman his blessing and he departed on his journey. As his driver was directing the carriage in a distant region, the businessman dozed off. He woke up when he felt the carriage pulling to a halt.

“Why are we stopping?” he asked the driver.

“A man on crutches waved us down. I knew that you wouldn’t mind helping him. Look there he comes.”

Remembering his Rebbe’s words, the businessman told his driver to hurry the horses. When the man on crutches saw the wagon pulling away, he picked up his crutches and began to give chase. Luckily, the horses were able to pull ahead. Frustrated, the “lame” man threw one of the crutches towards the wagon. It was propelled so powerfully that it pierced the walls.

At times, we all encounter people who are plagued by misplaced mercies. Often, not only for one’s own good, but for the good of the other person, one should employ strict discipline.

Parshas Tazria-Metzora

The two Torah portions read this week both focus on the subject of tzaraas. Most texts translate that term as leprosy, but that is a misnomer. Though some of the physical effects of tzaraas are similar — though not entirely alike — to those which accompany leprosy, it is an entirely different affliction. For it affects not only our bodies — but also our clothes and our homes. Instead, as our Sages emphasize, tzaraas is primarily a spiritual hardship. Although it affects our bodies, its source is blemishes within our souls. More specifically, it results from being careless with regard to lashon hara, disparaging gossip.

Our Sages explain that the purification process for tzaraas is a direct result of the undesirable deeds that he performed. Through his gossip, he caused estrangement and distance between people, separating them from each other. Therefore, the impurity that affects him requires that he live alone, outside the camp where others live. Since he caused separation, he is punished by separation.

On the surface, one might think that he should stay among people and learn from the positive conduct of others. The Torah teaches us “No.” First he must taste the bitterness of loneliness and solitude. Only after understanding what isolation is — and realizing that he brought it upon himself through his own conduct — will he be motivated to change. As long as he feels that everything is fine, that “Okay, perhaps he shouldn’t have said this or that, but basically, everything is all right,” he will never sense the need to alter his behavior.

Our Torah revolves around Chesed, kindness. But sometimes, true kindness is not giving in and allowing a person to continue without refinement. Instead, it involves compelling him to stop, break his previous pattern, and sense the hardship he has caused. This will provide the motivation for him to begin anew and develop the inner resources of love which he, like all men, possesses within his heart.

Nevertheless, although the person afflicted with tzaraas is sent to live alone, away from others, he is not left in total isolation. Instead, he is visited by a kohen, a priest, a person whose conduct is characterized by love and kindness. In this way, he gives the afflicted person a model on which to base his redefinition of identity.

Indeed, his visiting the afflicted person is itself an example of the kohen’s kindness. To serve in the Temple, the kohen must be pure and contact with the metzora makes him impure. Nevertheless, he is willing to make this sacrifice and reach out to him so that he will be able to reestablish his bond with the Jewish people.

Looking to the Horizon

The concept of compelling a person to refine himself is also connected to Mashiach’s coming. One of the signs Maimonides gives in order to identify Mashiach is that “he will compel the Jewish people to strengthen [their Torah observance.” Why compulsion? Why not have man serve G‑d out of good will on their own initiative?

Because our perception and understanding of spirituality is limited and Mashiach will lift man to a higher level of connection to G‑d than he could possible achieve on his own. Since this is beyond our own capacity and perception, we will not desire it — for a person does not desire something that he cannot fathom. Indeed, achieving it will run contrary to our nature. So we will be forced — compelled by the power of Mashiach’s inspiration — to go beyond ourselves and attain this deeper level of understanding.