Biblical chapter Lv13
discusses the ritual impurity of leprosy.
The atonement procedure for this ritual
impurity is discussed in Biblical Chapter
A full discussion of the rich and beautiful
symbolism of leprosy would require
applying the objective methods presented in
my article on symbolism. In this weekly
digest we simply sketch a few important ideas.
The atonement procedure for the lepor
is presented in Lv14 which begins
Then shall the priest command to take for him
who is to be cleansed two
birds alive and clean, and
cedar wood, and
Rashi explains the symbolism of each
of the underlined items.
We could justify each of these symbolic
associations by citing verses where these symbolisms
are present. Instead we lightly sketch how Rashi
applies these symbolisms.
- birds symbolize bird-like chatterers
- cedars symbolize lofty mighty people
- hyssops symbolize the lower classes
Rashi states: Leprosy is a punishment
for chattering like a bird which leads
to slander, the core of Jewish sins. The atonement
and remedy for slander is an awareness of the rich
spectrum of human personality from the lower hyssop-like
classes to the mighty cedar like upper classes.
Awareness of the full spectrum of human personality
prevents a person from slandering people since he understands
each individual's behavior based on where they are.
Sermonic points:Rashi does not actually
state the symbolic interpretation presented above. Rather
If a person feels high and mighty like a cedar
then let him lower himself till he feels like a hyssop.
However I believe that Rashi interpreted the symbolic
items as we have indicated above: There is a full
spectrum of human personality. Rashi then gives an
example of this very general idea: If you think you belong
on the upper class, the cedar part of the human spectrum,
then see those aspects of you that belong to the
lower class, the hyssop part of the human spectrum.
However Rashi would be fully comfortable to apply the cedar-hyssop
spectrum in other ways also. In other words we see the Rashi text
as an example of a more general symbolic interpretation.
In summary the full solution to slander and sinful
idle chatter is awareness of the rich spectrum of human
personality. There are many ways to apply this awareness
to avoid slander. For example if you see a person who
behaves like a rif-raf (like a hyssop) then do not
slander him - then find his strong positive attributes, praise
him for them until he reclassifies himself among the cedars.
The following story of the Jewish expert on slander, the Chafetz
The Chafetz Chayim saw a certain person
cursing and abusing people. In other words he saw the hyssop
in the person. Everyone slandered the person and described him
as no-good. They committed the sin of bird chatter.
The Chafetz Chaim inquired: This person had been in the
Russian Army for 25 years since he was a child. The Chafetz
Chaim immediately saw the cedar like loftiness of the person.
The Chafetz Chaim approached the person and said: They tell me you were
in the Russian Army for 25 years and the only effect it had on you is that
you drink and curse a little more than most people. You must be some
type of saint that it affected you this little. Here the Chafetz
Chaim performed the atonement procedure for slander by taking/seeing
together in one person the cedar/hyssop the lofty and
low. The person of course repented symbolized by the ritual
purity conferred by the leprosy purification procedure.
Praise be Him who chose them and their learning.