Chazal use negaim to illustrate a truism about Hashem’s manner of
dealing with His creatures. When He finds it necessary to afflict us, say
Chazal,2 He first visits those
afflictions upon property somewhat distant from us, like our homes. If He
must continue, He then strikes at closer property, like the clothing upon
us. Only if those measures fail to achieve their intended effect does He
turn to our bodies. In His compassion, He avoids striking us as the first
The lesson may be valuable, but the illustration is puzzling.
Negaim in our parshah are presented in the text in the
reverse order than Chazal depict them! Negaim upon our bodies are
We will arrive at a solution to this problem by way of a detour. The
gemara3 points out that the mitzvah
system is so full and rich, that it literally surrounds us with Divine
instruction and expectation. The gemara sees evidence of our preciousness
to Hashem in His asking us to don tefillin on our heads,
tefillin on our arms, tzitzis on our garments and
mezuzos on our dwellings. All parts of our existence, it seems,
are surrounded by mitzvos, channeling and elevating all aspects of our
lives. Tefillin direct our minds and our hearts to serve Him.
Tzitzis on the garments that cover our bodies provide protection to
the rest of our anatomies against the allure of sin, safeguarding us from
moving beyond the norms and limits that contain kedushah within.
Mezuzos protect the kedushah we try to contain inside the
small area that is ours to manage, and that we call home.
This thought of Chazal parallels the sectional division of our
parshah, which deals with negaim of person, clothing and
dwelling. We can readily appreciate the overlap. Negaim can be
viewed as evidence of our preciousness and specialness, just as the
mitzvos that He commands us. The Opter Rav expands upon words of the
Rambam, and provides an overview of the entire system of negaim. When the
Jews lived in their own land, when the Shechinah as it were rested
among them in that land, when our nation was sufficiently endowed
spiritually to merit the gift of prophecy – when all those elements
contributed to an elevated level of ruchniyus, then the slipping of
a single individual was met with immediate visible manifestations of
tumah in the form of negaim. You will find nothing similar
to this in G-d’s providence towards the rest of the world. He offers
these warning signals only to Klal Yisrael, and only when they
generally behave on the highest plane.
The most significant of these warnings comes as a nega to the body
itself, because it alerts us to the most potentially serious of failings,
concerning a person’s mind, emotions, or other parts of his being.
Negaim affect clothing when a person’s surroundings are deficient;
his house is afflicted when there are shortcomings in his household. The
prescription is the same in all cases. He is brought to the Kohen. By
connecting to a person of kedushah and taharah, some of that
taharah redounds to the afflicted person. The Kohen becomes his
lodestar, showing him the way out of his confusion. The Kohen examines
him, to see if the mark upon him is “deeper than the skin of the
flesh.”4 In other words, the Kohen
determines that it is no ordinary, superficial blemish that he sees, but
something deep and outside the natural order – a bona fide sign from
Heaven, warning of the afflicted person’s shortcomings. In that case, what
he requires is an extra dose of kedushah. For this reason, he is
sequestered for seven days, and if need be, for a second period of seven
Seen this way, we ought not to wince at the thought of negaim, but
wistfully regret their absence from our lives today. They are powerful
indicators of Hashem’s love for us when we are at an elevated plane of
spiritual performance, and living in our holy land. They serve as an
invaluable early warning system before small failings grow into larger
Our description of the protective function of negaim has a parallel
in a teaching of the Bais Avrohom. “Do not cast me away from
before You, and do not remove Your holy spirit from me.”5 The two halves of the verse are linked, and form a
single catastrophe. The petitioner asks G-d not to cast him away. He
recognizes, however, that should it be so ordained from Heaven that he
need be distanced from his Creator, that His holy spirit will in fact be
taken from him as well. This is better than the alternative, because the
removal of that holy spirit will signal to him that he has been cast away!
Without that signal, he might not even realize it, making the change in
his condition unproductive and ineffective.
We now understand the inversion that we inquired about at the beginning of
this piece. It is certainly true that when Hashem needs to punish, He
initially chooses His targets distally from Man. Negaim, however,
are not always a form of punishment. Sometimes, they are sent to warn us
of our failings. When that happens, pride of position belongs to the
afflictions upon the body, because they most pointedly show Hashem’s love
for His people, and how He quickly rescues them before they become mired
and trapped in sin.
The first pasuk of the current Chumash hints at the role of
Hashem’s rebuke. “And He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him….”6 Calling and speaking are very different.
The latter is direct, open and revealed. The former, on the other hand, is
distant, indirect and mysterious. The Bais Avrohom explains the
point. Hashem sometimes seems distant, remote, and unapproachable. He
calls from the murky distance. We need to realize that in every call from
afar, in every unanticipated set of circumstances, Hashem is also speaking
We do not today have the privilege of individually receiving the jolt of a
nega. The spirit of this parshah, however, is timeless. “Hashem
rebukes the one He loves.”7 A Jew must
realize that everything that befalls him is a call from Heaven. Through
this realization, Hashem’s judgment is tempered and moderated. Through
this, comes rachamim.