April 3, 2014
A Lesson in Modesty
The Torah discusses various kinds of afflictions which can befall man, his clothing and his home. The whole section is difficult for us to understand because the Torah speaks of “tzora’as,” which is a phenomenon with which we are not personally.
In addition to teaching us the finer points of the laws, the Sages, as always, were acutely sensitive to any moral or ethical lesson that can be learned from them.
Following is a verse which describes a step in the procedure, once a sign of “tzora’as” is found on the walls of a house.
Chapter 14 Verse 35.
And the one to whom the house belongs comes and tells the kohen, saying, “Something like a lesion has appeared to me in the house.”
לה וּבָא אֲשֶׁר לוֹ הַבַּיִת וְהִגִּיד לַכֹּהֵן לֵאמֹר כְּנֶגַע נִרְאָה לִי בַּבָּיִת
Rashi: Something like a lesion has appeared to me in the house: Even a Torah scholar, who knows that it is definitely a lesion [of tzara’ath], shall not make his statement using a decisive expression, saying, “A lesion has appeared to me,” but, “Something like an lesion has appeared to me” [out of respect for the kohen, who is to make the decision]. — [Nega’im 12:5]
כנגע נראה לי בבית: אפילו תלמיד חכם שיודע שהוא נגע ודאי לא יפסוק דבר ברור לומר נגע נראה לי, אלא כנגע נראה לי
Rashi offers us a moral lesson in modesty. What is the basis for this lesson?
The verse uses strange wording – “LIKE an eruption…” Why not say simply “an eruption has appeared …”? The word “like” teaches us that the homeowner, no matter who he may be, must present the situation to the Priest in an uncertain way. He may think he knows for certain that this mark on his wall is a clear indication of tzora’as, nevertheless he must be hesitant and say only “it looks LIKE tzora’as.”
How fitting that Rashi should teach us this lesson. He himself followed it often, as we know from his commentary. Over seventy times in his commentary on Tanach, Rashi admits “I do not know what this comes to teach us.” He could have remained silent. Yet he made the point so that the student would realize there is a problem with the verse, though Rashi himself could not figure out the answer. And in the process he taught us a lesson in modesty.
Rabbi Meir Wise