Parshas Tzaria Metzora: Lively Tehillim
אדם כי יהיה בעור בשרו שאת או ספחת או בהרת והיה בעור בשרו לנגע צרעת והובא אל אהרן הכהן או אל אחד מבניו הכהנים
When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration, and it develops into a scaly affection on the skin of his body, it shall be reported to Aharon the Kohen or to one of his sons, the Kohanim. (13:2)
The parsha discusses the halachos of how to determine what exactly is to be considered the nega of tzoraas; what is tamei and what is tahor. After going through all of the details, identifying it would seem to be a pretty much black and white exercise.
The Torah shares with us one extra detail in this process. The final determining factor of if it is in fact pure or impure is the declaration of the Kohen. It is only the Kohen that wields the power to make this declaration. This power is so absolute that even if it is clear to all beyond a shadow of a doubt that the nega is tamei, it does not obtain that status until the Kohen says so. Furthermore, if the Kohen is unlearned in the halachos, a learned person comes and teaches the unlearned Kohen to render it impure.
The Mishna (Negaim 3:1) elaborates that all are fit to inspect the nega, but it is only the Kohen that has the authority to declare it. He has the exclusive licence in these matters.
The Midrash in Tehillim describes how Dovid Hamelech requested of Hakadosh Boruch Hu that one who merely recites Tehillim be given the same credit as one that has studied the Laws of Negaim and Ohalos. At face value, this seems to be a most unreasonable request. These laws require a level of toiling and digger deeper and deeper just to arrive at an elementary level, let alone mastery of it. How can it be that Dovid was making such a request if the two cannot be equated on any level?
I heard once from Rav Binyomin Eisenberger in the name of the Tolner Rebbe, Reb Duvid, the following idea.
The Kohen may not be able to tell the difference between pure and impure, and yet, his mere utterance of the words will change this person’s life. Dovid was asking that the recital of Tehillim be granted the same potency as the Kohen’s words. By reciting these holy words, even when not knowing their meanings, they will have the ability to change lives and even worlds.
A person may be in a dire situation and randomly open up a tehillim and start reading. The person may not even know what is being recited, and there may even be better parts of Tehillim to read from. Dovid Hamelech requested that it will work, and HaShem acquiesced. A recital of these words, even in a manner of lip service, will be as if the person offered up the most hallowed and holy of prayers.
The possuk in Hallel (Tehillim 115:17) says:לא המתים יהללו י-ה ולא כל ירדי דומה “Neither will the dead praise HaShem, nor all those who descend into silence (the grave).” What was Dovid trying to say with these words? Obviously a dead person lacks the ability to praise HaShem. According to what we explained above, we can understand these words. It is only a physically dead person that does not have the ability to praise HaShem. However, there are times when a tefillah is offered, and unfortunately it is uttered in a dead manner, lacking the fire that should really accompany our words. There are times that for whatever reason, we just cannot summon the passion that we want. At times, we just aren’t “feeling it”. The Satan wants us to say, “I won’t daven to HaShem right now; what’s the point”. In such a time, the response of yidden for all generations has been to pick up a Tehillim and allow these hayligeh verteh to do their own work.
We still need some clarification here, because this goes against a well-known rule that Rachmana liba ba’i- HaShem wants our hearts to be invested in our words. Tefilla b’li kavana kiguf b’li neshama- a prayer without intent is like a body without a soul. Words themselves are just empty vessels waiting to be filled with the proper intent, and lacking such kavanna, they will seemingly go nowhere. This is the rule of all davening, and yet, it seems that for Tehillim, Dovid managed to receive an exception.
The Zohar (I:168) records that Dovid was destined to be a stillborn, but due to the generosity of others (Adam Harishon, and according to some, the Avos), the lifeless Dovid Hamelech was born healthy and brimming with life. His entire existence was that of a lifeless body infused with supernatural life, contrary to the natural order of the world.
Rav Tzadok (Pri Tzaddik, Shavuos 22) tells us that due to this background, Dovid hamelech had a special koach/power in which he would go through life looking for “dead” things to bring into existence.
Dovid was able to make this request of HaShem, that uninspiring utterances of Tehillim be infused with passion and fire, because he was a living and breathing version of this reality- the lifeless being invigorated with life.
We now understand the great parallel, why Dovid asked that his Tehillim be compared to the Kohen that does not know what he is saying and merely recites the words.
May we be zoche to always daven from the depths of our hearts, always using our lips to express ourselves to HaShem. Of course, we should all strive to learn the words of Tehillim and appreciate its meanings and messages. This is better for the sake of the person and the tefillah. But during those times when we just “aren’t feeling it”, we should still push ourselves to say the words of Tehillim, because nothing can stop these powerful words.
Good Shabbos, מרדכי אפפעל
לע"נ האשה החשובה מרת אבריאל בת ר'יצחק גרשון ע"ה
שמעולם לא הניחה את ספר התהילים שלה בעד משפחתה ובעד כלל ישראל, הלכה לעולמה ג' אייר תשפ"א