Candle Lighting 4/27/12 7:30 PM NYC DST
Rabbi Chaim Lobel - Young ISrael of Aberdeen, NJ
Elixir of Life Part II - In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harav Yosef Z'L)
“This shall be the law of the Metzora..." (Leviticus 14:2) A Metzora is an individual who is stricken with Tzoraas, a spiritual affliction that manifests itself as a skin ailment similar to leprosy.
Many commentaries explain that Tzoraas is usually brought upon an individual for speaking Loshon Hara – derogatory speech that, true or not, is forbidden by the Torah. (Tankhuma, Metzora 1; Aggadaic Midrash – Jewish Homiletics, 400 CE – 600 CE)
The Midrash Rabba (Vayikra Rabba 16:2; Aggadaic Midrash – Jewish Homiletics, 400 CE – 600 CE) records an incident when Rebbe Yanai (Third Century, Northern Israel) was sitting in his house and heard a peddler announcing throughout the streets of Tzippori, ''Those who want the elixir of life come and I will sell it to them.'' Rebbe Yanai approached and asked if he may purchase it. The peddler refused Rebbe Yanai and told him that he does not need it. Rather, the peddler opened the book of Psalms (34:13-15; King David, Israel 1040 BCE – 970 BCE) and quoted:
''Which man desires life and loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.''
Rebbe Yanai exclaimed, ''All the days of my life I have been reading these verses and I did not know how the question of 'Which man desires life?' is answered, until a peddler explained it to me.''
Sometimes, it suffices to simply get the gist of a story. Other times, every tiny detail is important. This is one of those other times.
Following the Kli Yakar (Leviticus 14:2; Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, Prague, 1550 -1619) we read the story as follows:
The person advertising the elixir of life is a peddler. This is the peddler from the Torah verse “You shall not go as a peddler [of gossip] among your people.” (Leviticus 19:16) But this peddler, having once peddled gossip, has atoned for his sins and now seeks to peddle the elixir of life.
The peddler is walking the streets of Tzippori, a place whose name is derived from “tzipor”, bird. The people in town were like chirping birds.
“Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi (Third Century, Southern Israel) said: Why was the Metzora singled out to bring two pigeons for his purification? Said the Holy One, Blessed is He: ‘His sin was one of chatter, therefore, let him bring an offering of chirping birds’ ” (Talmud Erachin 16b; 200 CE – 500 CE)
Finally, of all the people in town, the only person to heed the peddler’s call for the elixir of life was the one person who needed it least, Rebbe Yannai. While all the other people ignored the call, Rebbe Yanai left the comforts of his home to pursue the elixir of life.
The story describes three types of people. The peddler who once spoke loshon hora but discovered the “elixir of life” – guard your tongue from evil – sought to “seek peace” among the Jewish people by doing his utmost to stop loshon hara. The peddler saw it his duty to carry out the latter part of King David’s solution to life – peace, and loshon hara is the leading cause of strife between people. Rebbe Yannai, the man who truly valued life left his home to pursue the elixir of life. And the chattering masses who heard the peddler’s call but chose to ignore it.
Of the three, it is certainly easiest to join the masses. But why, when King David has revealed in Psalms the secret to the “elixir of life”, would someone choose to be like a chirping bird?
And, if we lack the brazenness of the peddler to call through the streets or the vigor of a Rebbe Yannai to pursue life wherever it may be, let’s at least understand that the elixir of life – avoiding slander, will allow us to “seek peace” among ourselves and our brethren. Shabbat Shalom
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