Volume 3 Issue 29
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Parshas Metzora deals with the purification process of the person afflicted
with tzora'as. After the disease healed, the formerly afflicted person is
instructed to bring a sacrifice that includes two very diametrical items.
"And he shall take two birds, cedar wood, crimson thread and hyssop
(Leviticus 14:4)." The Torah details the offering and all of its
intricacies, leaving the commentaries to ponder the symbolism of the wood of
the tallest of trees bound together with the lowly moss of the hyssop.
Rashi explains that, "the hyssop symbolizes the humility that the metzora
should have," and the cedar," he explains, "is a symbolic reminder that he
who holds himself as high as the cedar tree should learn to lower himself
like the hyssop."
However, wouldn't hyssop alone teach us this characteristic or at least
symbolize humility? What point is there in bringing cedar? And, in fact,
if bringing moss represents the need for humility couldn't the offering of
cedar represent the need for pride? Perhaps there is another explanation
for the two attributes to be joined.
A few years after Rabbi Shneur Kotler succeeded his late father Reb Ahron as
the Rosh Yeshiva of the Lakewood Yeshiva, the Yeshiva's enrollment began to
expand. No longer was Reb Shneur able to sit and study in the large Yeshiva
all day. He was suddenly forced to raise funds day in and day out often
leaving early in the morning and returning home way past midnight.
A brief respite was the annual convention of Agudath Israel at which nearly
1000 laymen and rabbinical leaders would gather for a long weekend to
discuss the state of Torah affairs.
My grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, the oldest member of the Council of
Torah Sages would often highlight the keynote session on Saturday night. As
the eldest of the world's Torah sages, Reb Yaakov would find a way to sneak
up to the dais, usually through a back door, to avoid having the entire
crowd arise upon seeing his presence as is required by Jewish Law. Yet this
year things were different. Reb Yaakov engaged the much younger, Reb Shneur
in conversation outside the large ballroom and waited until everyone took
his or her seats. Then he took Reb Shneur by the hand and said, "I think
it is time we took our seats." He proudly held Reb Shneur by the arm and
escorted him to the dais as the throng of people rose in awe.
Reb Shneur, stunned by Reb Yaakov's departure from his trademark humility
asked him why he did not go through the back as was his usual custom.
"Reb Shneur," he explained, "your Rebbitzen (rabbi's wife) is sitting in
the auditorium . The entire year she sees you in a much-dishonored light.
You run from donor to donor in order to keep the Yeshiva open, you have
hardly any time to prepare your lectures, and all she sees are people
knocking on your door with their problems. Yet she stands beside you
faithful and unwavering. It is time that she sees that you get a little
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Gur (1799-1866) explains that sometimes people become
so humbled to the point of forgetting that they can actually achieve
wonderful accomplishments. Often, humility breeds self-effacement that may
lead to despair. Of course Rashi is correct in explaining that those who
are haughty as the cedar must humble themselves as mass, but one must also
bear in mind an equally important fact - that at times after one has been
humiliated as low as the hyssop he must rise in his own eyes to the height
of a cedar and proudly exclaim that he can and will accomplish the lofty and
far reaching goal to which he or she aspires. And those are goals that only
the cedar's limbs can touch.
So, perhaps the lowly hyssop must be bound with a seemingly mismatched and
more supercilious counterpart, the cedar. Because when they are offered
hand-in-hand, they may have a lot to learn from each other.
Soon to be available: Parsha Parables -- A collection of the best of Drasha!
This will be available at a special pre-publication price for subscribers of
Project Genesis - see details in this week's Lifeline mailing!
Text Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.