Skin Ohr Light

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Tazriah
“Skin Ohr Light"

Parshas Tazriah deals with the laws of Tzara'as (a plague of spiritual leprosy). A Metzorah (the afflicted person) will find this plague appear on the skin of his flesh (Parshas Tazriah, 13:2). He contracts this disease because of various sins that he has committed (Meseches Eiruchin, chap. 3, “Yesh b’Eiruchin”, pg, 16a, Reb Shmuel bar Nachmeini in the name of Rebbi Yochanan). He is evicted from all three camps (Kehunah, Leviya, and Yisrael; Parshas Tazriah, 13:46, Rashi ibid citing Toras Kohanim, 13:157). Only a Kohen can instruct the Metzorah how to become pure again (Parshas Tazriah, 13:2). This brings us to several questions.

1) Why does God punish this sinner by causing tzara'as to appear specifically on the skin of his flesh?

2) Why must a Metzorah go specifically to a Kohen in order to receive purification?

3) Why must a Metzorah be sent outside of all three camps, whereas other contaminated people are only expelled from just one or two of them?

Moreover, the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Jerusalem-1572 Tzfas; Eitz Chaim 38:7) says that a Metzorah must engage in Torah study to fix the damage that was done to his skin. This idea is supported by the Talmud itself (Eiruchin, chap. 3, "Yesh B'Eiruchin", pg. 15b, Rebbi Yochanan and Rebbi Yosi, based on Mishlei, 15:4; 3:18; and Yirmiya, 9:7). This leads us to another question.

4) How does Torah study repair the spiritually damaged Metzorah?

The Shelah Hakadosh (Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, 1555 Prague-1630 Tzfas; Parshas Tazriah) explains it this way. The verse says that God made "Kasnos Ohr" (garments of skin) for Adam and Eve (Parshas Bereishis, 3:21). The word "Ohr" (skin) in the verse is spelled with an ayin. However, the Arizal (Sefer Halikutim, Parshas Bereishis) says that prior to their sin, Adam and Eve's bodies had the status of "Kasnos Ohr" (the word "Ohr" should be spelled here with an aleph, meaning "light"). In other words, they had garments of light. Their souls' light burst forth and shone through. They were surrounded by light. When Adam and Eve looked at each other, they saw each other's souls.

However, after they sinned, God removed that light, and instead, replaced it with skin. The skin that we have on our bodies is the "garments of skin" that Hashem clothed Adam and Eve with.

Perhaps we could suggest a support to this idea that the skins which God provided to Adam and Eve were the skins of their bodies and not some type of animal skins. One proof could be that the verse also says that Adam and Eve were covered with fig leaves (Parshas Bereishis, 3:7). If they were already covered with animal skins, what need would there be to cover them with fig leaves? It must be that there were no animal skins used to cover them with. There was just the skin of their bodies which substituted the absence of surrounding light. Since they still felt naked in their skins, there was a need for the fig leaves.

In any case, it turns out that after they sinned, their "Kasnos Ohr" (with an aleph - light) was transformed into "Kasnos Ohr" (with an ayin - skin).

Since all our souls were once part of the grand souls of Adam and Eve, we all have a responsibility to rectify our part of that sin with the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. This means that we are all expected to revert our "Kosnos Ohr" with an ayin (skin) back into "Kosnon Ohr" with an aleph (light).

This addresses the answer to question 1, for the reason why Tzara'as attacks specifically the skin. It is because a Metzorah did the antithesis of what our purpose is. We are supposed to transform "Ohr" with an ayin into "Ohr" with an aleph. Not only didn't the Metzorah do that, but he made things worse by turning regular skin into infected skin. The blemish on his skin is supposed to serve as a reminder that he is going in the opposite direction (Chassam Sofer, Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762 Frankfurt-1839 Pressburg).

Perhaps we could add that Moshe successfully fixed his part of the sin with the Eitz Hada'as. Proof of this is that rays of light emanated from his face (Parshas Ki Sisa, 34:30), indicating that his "Ohr" with an ayin was transformed into "Ohr" with an aleph.

Aharon also repaired his participation of the Eitz Hada'as. Proof of this is that he wore the eight Bigdei Kehunah (priestly vestments) of a Kohen Gadol (high priest) on his skin (Parshas Tetzavah, 28:1-2). The reason why he deserved to wear such holy clothing on his skin, was because he turned his "Ohr" with an ayin into "Ohr" with an aleph.

Aharon's sons also fixed their part in the Eitz Hada'as because they too wore the Bigdei Kehunah (four garments) of regular Kohanim (Parshas Tetzaveh, 28:1). This indicated that they also changed their "Ohr" with an ayin into "Ohr" with an aleph.

This answers question number 2 which was, “Why must a Metzorah specifically go to a Kohen to preside over his purification process?” It is because the Metzorah must learn a lesson from the Kohen by comparing himself to the Kohen. Look how the Kohen improved himself, and by contrast, look how the Metzorah damaged himself. The Kohen will teach the Metzorah how to move away from "Ohr" with an ayin, and how to get closer to "Ohr" with an aleph.

But, this brings us to a few more questions.

5) How did the sin of the Eitz Hada'as transform Adam and Eve's "Ohr" with an aleph into "Ohr" with an ayin?

6) What is it that we can do to repair our own skins, converting them back into light?

The Arvei Nachal (Rabbi Shalom Dovid Eibeshitz, b. 1755, Ukraine, d. 1813, Safed) cites the Bechor Shor (Rabbenu Yosef ben Yitzchak, 12th cent. Tosafist from France, a disciple of Rabbenu Tam) who teaches us that there are three parts to a soul. In ascending order, they are: Nefesh (soul), Ruach (spirit), and Neshamah (soul).

A Tzaddik has all three parts of his soul within him. However, when a person begins to sin, the Neshamah leaves his body. If he continues to sin, his Ruach also leaves his body. If he continues to sin, even the Nefesh which remains in his body becomes contaminated. Therefore, he is compared to an impure animal which only has a Nefesh.

When each part of the soul leaves his body, it is tantamount to a death. Therefore, the wicked are considered dead even when they are alive (Berachos, chap. 3, "Mi Shemeisu", pg. 18b). This is because they are spiritually dead.

The Panim Yafos (Rabbi Pinchas Halevi Horowitz, b. 1731, Galicia, d. 1805, Frankfurt, the younger brother of Reb Shmuel Shmelka of Nickelsberg, who were disciples of the Maggid of Mezrich) adds that these three parts of the soul correspond to the three frequencies that we operate on: action, speech, and thought.

The Nefesh, which is found in the blood, gives people the ability to do. The Ruach enables the person to speak. The Neshamah gives man the capability of thinking and choosing. Making a choice is a Divine ability. Only man can choose. Neither animal, vegetable, or mineral can. Choice stems from the Neshamah which is called God's lamp (Mishlei 20:27). Therefore, the Neshamah carries Divine light.

Besides the three parts of the soul, there is also a body that man possesses. Therefore, there are four parts to man altogether.

There are also four parts to the Torah. They are: cantillations, vowels, crowns, and letters. The four parts of man parallel the four parts of the Torah.


1) The Neshamah corresponds to the musical notes.
2) The Ruach is connected to the vowels.
3) The Nefesh parallels the crowns.
4) The body links to the letters (Arizal, chap. 5).

Although our Torah scrolls only have letters and crowns written into them, the vowels and cantillations are accessed during Kriyas HaTorah (Torah reading), because the Ba'al Korei (Torah reader) sees the letters and crowns, but he also pronounces the vowels and articulates the cantillations. Therefore, all four parts of man are united during Torah reading.

Our Torah scrolls on Earth only have letters and crowns to teach us that all men are created equally. Meaning, every living person has a body and a soul. Actually, all men START OFF equally. In the beginning, we are all on the same page. However, what becomes of each individual afterwards is dependent on his behavior.

Just like we have a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) below, God has His personal Sefer Torah above. In Hashem's Sefer Torah, not only are there letters and crowns, but even the vowels and musical notes are visible, because Hashem's Sefer Torah represents God's ultimate vision for man, which is that man should possess, and be in control of, all four parts of himself living together harmoniously.

Moreover, each person has his own Sefer Torah above. Each and every person is an author, writing his own Sefer Torah. Each person's Sefer Torah is the story of his life. Even the word "sefer" (book) hints to this because when the vowels of the Hebrew word (sefer) are rearranged, it can be pronounced "sippur" (story). This teaches us that every person has his own Sefer Torah which tells his own story.

What gets written into each person's Sefer Torah is dependent on his behavior. Righteous people who are in control of their actions, speech, and thoughts, possess a Sefer Torah with letters, crowns, vowels, and cantillations, matching Hashem's Torah scroll.

Wicked people who have corrupted their actions, ruined their speech, and defiled their thoughts possess a Sefer Torah without musical notes and vowels. Even the crowns and letters that are present are blemished.

Average people may not be in control of their thoughts which is the most difficult human experience to control. However, they can be in control of their speech and actions. Therefore, their Torah scrolls are missing the cantillations, but still possess vowels, crowns, and letters.

All this information will help us understand the answer to question 5 which was, “How did the sin of the Eitz Hada'as cause Adam and Eve to lose their "Ohr" with an aleph, light? It is because they sinned on all three frequencies.

THOUGHT: The serpent said that on the day they eat from the tree, they will be like God (Parshas Bereishis, 3:5). Since they ate from the tree, it showed that they wanted to be gods. That thought itself is idolatry because there can be only One God. Any belief in any other god would be a belief in a divine partnership which is heresy. Thus, they sinned with their thoughts.

SPEECH: The whole conversation that Eve had with the snake was sinful because one should not even begin talking with tricksters since it will probably lead to no good, as it did in Eve's case.

ACTION: They also sinned with action by taking the fruit and eating it.

Therefore, Adam and Eve were missing their Neshamos and their Ruachs. Even their Nefashos were contaminated.

Once their Neshamos were missing, they no longer had that inner light, God's lamp, to illuminate the Ruach, which in turn would illuminate the Nefesh which would then go on to illuminate the body. This answers question number 5 which was, “How did the Eitz Hada'as cause their garments of light to be extinguished?” The answer is, when they lost their Neshamos, they lost their "Ohr" with an aleph, and instead, were given an "Ohr" with an ayin (Shvilei Pinchas).

This also addresses question number 1 which was, “Why does God punish a Metzorah by specifically attacking his skin?” It is because a Metzorah also sinned on all three frequencies.

THOUGHT: A Metzorah suffers from arrogance. His speaking Lashon Hara (derogatory speech about others) is because he THINKS that he is better than everyone else. Therefore, in his purification process, he must bring Cedar wood which is from a very tall tree, representing the high opinion that he has of himself. He must also bring a crimson thread which is called "Tola'as" (worm) and a low plant called a Hyssop, teaching him that he must lower himself with humility (Rashi, Parshas Metzorah 14:4, citing Tanchuma 3).

SPEECH: A Metzorah speaks Lashon Hara. Therefore, he must also bring two birds for his purification, because birds babble constantly with their chirping. This is meant to atone for his constant talking (Rashi, Parshas Metzorah, 14:4, based on Eiruchin ibid 16b).

ACTION: One who speaks Lashon Hara murders three
people: the one spoken about, the listener, and the talker. By literally ruining somebody else's life through Lashon Hara, it is considered actual murder (Eiruchin, chap. 3, "Yesh B'Eiruchin", pg. 15b).

Therefore, a Metzorah loses his Neshama and Ruach. His Nefesh and body have become defiled. Without a Neshama, he no longer possesses a Divine light. Therefore, he loses his "Ohr" with an aleph, and is left with an "Ohr" with an ayin (Shvilei Pinchas).

This also explains the answer to question number 3 which was, “Why is a Metzorah evicted from all three camps?” The answer is as follows. The Zohar (Tzav, pg. 29b; Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun Ayin, pg. 131a) says that the three classes of Jews: Kohen, Levi, and Yisrael, correspond to Neshama, Ruach, and Nefesh. The Kohen connects to Neshama, the Levi links to Ruach, and a Yisrael parallels the Nefesh.

Since a Metzorah already distanced himself from all three parts of the soul by sinning on all three levels, it is not surprising that he is expelled from all three camps. It is measure for measure (Shvilei Pinchas).

This adds to the answer of question number 2 which was, “Why must a Metzorah be purified specifically by a Kohen?” It is because a Kohen, who corresponds to the Neshama, can help a Metzorah obtain a holy Nefesh and retrieve his Ruach, and he can even assist in helping him get his Neshama back (Shvilei Pinchas).

Now we can understand the answer to question number 4 with respect to the connection between Torah study and Lashon Hara. With a Metzorah's Lashon Hara, he sinned on all three frequencies, ruining all three parts of his soul which also defiles his body. Therefore, to correct his situation, he must engage in a type of Torah study that touches upon all four aspects of Torah. Kriyas HaTorah, with its four parts, will help him think holy thoughts, speak holy words, and motivate holy action, resulting in bringing all four parts of man back together again in holiness (Shvilei Pinchas).

This is the answer to question number 6 which was, “What can we do to transform our "Ohr" with an ayin back into "Ohr" with an aleph?” The answer is, it is the study of Torah in its totality, with all four of its parts, that does the trick. Once our thoughts, speech, and actions have become holy from such Torah study, will we once again have a Neshama to illuminate the Ruach, which in turn sheds light upon the Nefesh which will brighten the body (Shvilei Pinchas).

This could be our practical application of this teaching. Let us try to study Torah in its totality. This would mean to try attending services to listen to Kriyas HaTorah which touches upon all four components of Torah and our souls. Although it might be difficult for some to attend services, there is also another way.

There is a Mitzvah of reviewing the verses of the parsha of the week twice with a translation, which could either be Onkelos or Rashi, and preferably both. This Mitzvah is found in chapter 285 of the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim (Code of Jewish Law). Chapter 285 is not an arbitrary number. It is the numerical value of the Hebrew word "Rafeh" (weak), teaching us that this Mitzvah is somewhat weak by the Jewish people. It is time consuming and demands commitment. But the benefits are astronomical! Besides granting us longevity (Meseches Berachos, chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 8a-b, Rav Huna bar Yehuda in the name of Rav Ami) there are other benefits as well.

By opening a Chumash and looking at the letters and crowns, and by pronouncing the vowels and cantillations, we are activating all four parts of the Torah. During this learning, let us be conscious to absorb the Torah's lessons of improving our thoughts, speech, and actions. In so doing, we will benefit by possessing all four parts of man living together in holy harmony. Encouraging others to do this Mitzvah benefits both parties.

So, may we all be blessed with the strength to learn so much Torah, with all its four components, that there is no time for Lashon Hara, and thus illuminate all four parts of man, in order that we be inscribed in the Sefer Torah of the righteous, and go back to the level of Adam Harishon before the sin, bearing "Kosnos Ohr" with an aleph on our bodies, and subsequently return to the Machaneh Kehunah, with the building of the Third Beis Hamikdash, speedily in our days.