August 7, 2018

Errors in Emunah (Tazria)

While Parshat Tazria begins with the laws of childbirth, the major focus of this and the following parsha are the laws of Tzora’at. But while many commentaries highlight the association between Tzora’at and Lashon Hara, others offer a slightly different approach regarding the significance of this condition.

The Torah distinguishes between Tzora’at on the body and Tzora’at on the head, which seems to suggest that the reasons for contracting this spiritual condition differ based on where the Tzora’at appears. This fact leads the Netziv (Haemek Davar on Vayikra 13:44) to suggest that ‘the reasons for contracting Tzora’at on the body are not the same as those associated with Tzora’at on the head. Tzora’at on the body arises from the sins of desire (ie. lust) that leads the body astray, while Tzora’at on the head comes for sins of the mind (ie. heretical ideas).’

However, not only does the Torah distinguish between Tzora’at on the body and Tzora’at on the head, but it makes specific reference to possible cases of Tzora’at that appear on the back of the head, and those that occur on the front of the head (see Vayikra 13:40-43). According to the Netziv, this distinction is important, and it highlights the different ways in which a person comes to errors in their belief. As he explains, there are two ways of reaching heretical conclusions – one way is through confused philosophical analysis which leads to errors in belief (which he believes occurs in the front of the brain), and a second is through the absence of philosophical analysis which leads a person to develop their own faulty ideas about God and Judaism (which he believes occurs in the back of the brain). Given this, the Netziv writes that because the Torah first speaks about Tzora’at on the back of the head, ‘errors in emuna are much more common, and much worse, than mistakes that result from intellectual analysis’. Based on my many years teaching teenagers and adult, I could not agree more.

Sadly, far too many of us are prepared to explore hard questions about our faith, and far too many educators are unable – and occasionally unwilling – to address matters of faith in coherent and satisfactory ways. For Jewish education to be meaningful we need to celebrate discussions of not only halakha but hashkafa, and failing to encourage such questions to be asked – in addition to the failure in asking such questions – leads to the likely outcome of Jews maintaining faulty beliefs. As we get ready for Seder night whose modus operandi is all about asking questions, now is the time to think about the questions we’ve always wanted to ask, and now is the time to begin our search for answers.

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