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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lepers and the Dead (Part 6: Philosophy)

The last Rambam in ספר טהרה explains that halachik טומאה contains allusions to the philosophical טומאה of the mind (corrupt thoughts and character traits).  In the last Rambam in טומאת צרעת, he gives an example of such allusions in the case of צרעת. We would like to explain how some of the unique laws of the מצורע (that he must leave the camp and that he transmits טומאה via his מושב) are in line with these philosophical allusions.

The Rambam in טומאת צרעת says that צרעת was not a natural affliction.  Rather, it was a miraculous affliction only for the Jewish nation, for the sin of speaking לשון הרע (slander, gossip, etc). 

As a person spoke more and more לשון הרע, the affliction of צרעת would spread.  It would start with the walls of his house.  If he didn't stop speaking לשון הרע, it spread to his furniture.  After that, to his clothes.
אם חזר בו יטהרו ואם עמד ברשעו עד שישרפו משתנה עורו ויצטרע ויהיה מובדל ומפורסם לבדו עד שלא יתעסק בשיחת הרשעים שהוא הליצנות ולשון הרע
Finally, if in spite of all these afflictions he still couldn't stop, it spread to his skin and he became a leper, an outcast from society and was thereby prevented from further evil speech.  He was sent out from מחנה ישראל.  The Rambam explains that the reason he is distanced further than every other person who is טמא is because the leper transmits טומאה when he enters a house.  No other living person who is טמא does that; only a מת.

Why does the leper have this distinction? We suggest that the reason is because the leper, the one who is addicted to לשון הרע, contaminates his environment.  He creates divisiveness and thereby destroys the moral fabric of the society which harbors him.  He must be cast out of מחנה ישראל.  (Rashi on Vayikra 10:14 identifies the very purity of the camp with this law.  He states that holy things can only be eaten in מחנה ישראל which is טהור from having lepers in it.)


The idea that the leper, through his malicious speech, destroys social relations and is therefore sent out of the camp, is expressed in a gemara Eiruchin 16b:
מה נשתנה מצורע שאמרה תורה בדד ישב מחוץ למחנה מושבו הוא הבדיל בין איש לאשתו בין איש לרעהו לפיכך אמרה תורה בדד ישב
We now extend this idea to explain the leper's uniqueness of transmitting טומאה to his מושב, his place of dwelling.  It is not only society as a whole that suffers from those who speak לשון הרע.  The leper morally corrupts those individuals who come into contact with him; philosophically poisoning those who sit down and converse with him.  A person who speaks לשון הרע contaminates those who are in his מושב through social contact.

It is for this reason, the Rambam says, that it is fitting for someone who wants to follow a proper path to distance himself from their מושב and from speaking with them, so that he does not get trapped in their web of  evil and foolishness.
לפיכך ראוי למי שרוצה לכוין אורחותיו להתרחק מישיבתן ומלדבר עמהן כדי שלא יתפס אדם ברשת רשעים וסכלותם
In summation, the halachik טומאה of the leper extends to his מושב.  Likewise, the philosophical טומאה of someone who speaks לשון הרע extends to those who sit down to hang out with him.  Halachikly, a leper must be cast out of our society. Philosophically, the same is true with those who speak לשון הרע.  The only remedy for him is to dwell in isolation,  "בדד ישב מחוץ למחנה מושבו".

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