Watch: Reb Yoel On Parshas Tazria

Watch: a short lesson by Reb Yoel Kahn on Parshas Tazria with English subtitles and transcript.

Watch a short lesson by Reb Yoel Kahn on Parshas Tazria with English subtitles and transcript.

Scroll down for the English transcript.


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In the end of Parshas Tazria, the Torah discusses the laws of tzara’as found on a garment. The Torah mentions a number of possibilities, including a case where the garment must be washed and then confined for seven days. At the end of the seven days, various laws apply, depending on the status of the tzara’as, such as if it grew in size or remained the same.

In a case where the tzara’as disappeared as a result of the washing, the Torah says (Vayikra 13:58) that “וכבס שנית וטהר”. Rashi explains that the word וכבס here means to immerse the garment in a mikvah, and he proves this from the translation of Onkelos.

This requires explanation: The simple translation of וכבס is to wash. Especially considering the fact that the Torah writes וכבס שנית, which suggests that the second וכבס is similar to the first one, when the garment was washed, not immersed. As for the question why the garment must be washed again if it has already been washed, one can answer that this is a decree of the Torah, as the Ibn Ezra indeed learns. So why does Rashi introduce a new translation to וכבס, that it means to immerse? The Rebbe explains that to the contrary, Rashi’s proof that וכבס means to immerse is actually from the word שנית itself.

Testing or Cleansing?

There are two ways to understand the effect of the first washing in removing the tzara’as and the need for a second washing:

(1) One way is to view the first washing as not having halachically removed the tzara’as, because if the tzara’as is indeed no longer existent, why must the garment be washed a second time? It’s one thing if the first washing would have been halachically mandated (for the sake of removing the tzara’as); in such a case, the tzara’as would be halachically recognized as having been removed. But if the first washing was done for any other reason, then even if the tzara’as is no longer physically apparent, it is not recognized by halachah as having been removed.  Now, in our case, the garment was washed before being confined to test out if the tzara’as would last or not, and perhaps such a washing does not have the halachic ability to remove the tzara’as. So therefore the garment must be washed again, so that the tzara’as will be halachically recognized as having been removed.

(2) Another way is to view the first washing as having halachically removed the tzara’as. However, the washing was only effective in cleansing the area of the garment which contained the tzara’as. But the tzara’as also brought about impurity to the entire garment, so it must be immersed to be rendered pure.

The “Second”Cleansing

Now let’s try to understand the words וכבס שנית: If the first washing was ineffective in removing the tzara’as, then why is the second washing referred to as “second”? It’s really the first washing, because the previous washing did not accomplish anything! But if the first washing was effective, then the second washing is indeed “second”: The first washing accomplished the removal of the tzara’as from its specific location on the garment, and the second washing (the immersion) purified the entire garment. So it follows that the word שנית itself serves as proof that וכבס means to immerse.

We can now understand an earlier Rashi on this possuk. On the words וסר מהם הנגע, that the tzara’as disappeared as a result of the first washing, Rashi explains that the first washing was performed על פי כהן – as per the directive of the kohen, and that this washing removed the tzara’as לגמרי – completely.

These details seem to be self-understood and superfluous. It’s obvious that the washing was performed as per the kohen’s directive and that the tzara’as was completely removed as a result! But now we can appreciate what Rashi is trying to say. Rashi is emphasizing that the first washing wasn’t merely to test out the tzara’as; it was performed as per the directive of a kohen and is therefore halachically recognized, and consequently, the washing was able to remove the tzara’as effectively and completely. But since the tzara’as had an effect on the rest of the garment as well, a second action, immersion, must be taken to purify it.

Am I Clean?

According to a well-known saying of the Alter Rebbe, Rashi on chumash contains ideas from the concealed and inner aspects of the Torah, and most importantly, it provides lessons in our service of Hashem. The Rebbe explains that we can learn a lesson in avodas Hashem from this Rashi as well, relating to the cleansing of the spiritual blemish created in a person when he transgresses an aveirah, which is accomplished through teshuvah. (The reason why the Torah teaches us this lesson here, in the laws of tzara’as, is because tzara’as is caused by speaking lashon hara, which is a severe aveirah, to the extent that it can lead to kefirah, chas veshalom, as the Rambam writes. So the Torah chooses to teach us a lesson in teshuvah by this specific aveirah.)

When a person does teshuvah, the spiritual blemish brought about by the aveirah is cleansed. This is true even if he has merely performed the most basic form of teshuvah, consisting of a straightforward decision that he will not transgress the aveirah again, as the Alter Rebbe explains in Iggeres HaTeshuvah.

But even after he has done teshuvah, he must still bring a korban. The Gemara, quoted in Iggeres HaTeshuvah, explains this with an analogy of someone who sinned against the king. Even after the king has forgiven him, he is still unfit to see the king face to face. Similarly, even after one has done teshuvah and the sin has been forgiven, the sin causes him to be unfit to greet Hashem’s face until he brings a korban, or nowadays, until he fasts and gives tzedakah, as explained in Iggeres HaTeshuvah at length. Consequently, a yid may believe that his teshuvah has not completely wiped away the aveirah, as evidenced by the fact that he must still bring a korban, fast, and give tzedakah.

But Rashi tells us that this is not true. Since he has performed a basic teshuvah as required by halachah, consisting of a simple resolution to refrain from transgressing the aveirah again (teshuvah tata’ah), the sin has been removed completely and effectively. The fact that he must still bring a korban is not because something was lacking beforehand; rather, the aveirah had a negative effect on the person as a whole, and a higher level of teshuvah is needed to rectify that (teshuvah ila’ah). But as far as the aveirah itself is concerned, it has already been completely removed, and there is no reason for it to prevent a person from serving Hashem with joy.

For further learning see לקו”ש חלק ז’ תזריע ג’.

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