1. Today is Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, and consonant with the doctrine of the Baal Shem Tov that everything encountered by a Jew should provide a lesson in his service to G-d, there is certainly a lesson to be learned from Shabbos, from Rosh Chodesh, and from Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh together. However, Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh are regular occurrences: Shabbos every week, and Rosh Chodesh every month. Seemingly then, there is no reason that Shabbos or Rosh Chodesh should produce any new, special effect in a Jew’s service to G-d. On Shabbos a Jew’s service is consonant to the unique status of Shabbos, and on Rosh Chodesh, consonant to its unique status. But since they are regular occurrences, such service is performed coldly and automatically. In other words, after Mattan Torah, the concept of Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh became a natural part of the world; and something that is a natural event does not excite or enthuse a person. If a Jew would see an open miracle on the other hand, then he would be moved and inspired anew in his service to G-d. But Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh are regular occurrences, and a person is not inspired to rise higher in his service.
The answer to such an attitude is that nature itself is also a “miracle.” A miracle is something new that occurs for the first time, superseding nature. If that something is repeated, it too becomes natural. Thus, nature in essence is also a miracle (the first time), but since it repeats itself and people become accustomed to it, it becomes “nature.” A person must endeavor to see nature afresh, in its true essence — as a miracle, as if it were occurring for the first time.
This idea is expressed in the doctrine of the Baal Shem Tov that everything encountered by a Jew should provide a lesson in his service to G-d. Even something seen or heard previously must provide a fresh lesson, for since by Divine Providence a person has encountered it again, it is not coincidence, but must provide a loftier lesson. G-d did not create anything in His world for naught, and since G-d has shown him something yet another time, it is for a purpose — to learn a new lesson in service to G-d. And if a person does not utilize this opportunity, he is wreaking havoc in the concept of creation.
Thus in our case, although Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh are regular occurrences, we must nevertheless learn a new lesson each time. For if we must learn directives from even mundane, secular things, certainly there are lessons to be learned from such holy things as Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh.
A simple example of the above is found in a person’s daily service to G-d: When a Jew wakes up in the morning, he must know that G-d Himself is watching him to see how he wakes up and how he will conduct himself afterwards. Thus, when a Jew says he wants to see a miracle, we tell him: Fool! There is no greater miracle than when G-d Himself, in all His glory, is in your room watching your conduct! G-d created all the worlds: and when a Jew realizes that G-d has left all these different worlds, and, as if to speak, has nothing to do but to watch how a Jew conducts himself — he realizes this is the greatest “miracle”! And although this repeats itself every day, the greatness of it is emphasized every time.
So too in the case of the above doctrine of the Baal Shem Tov. Every Jew believes that G-d created the world. Since G-d Himself in all His glory has shown him a particular occurrence just for him to learn a lesson from it — it is a “miracle.” And this refers to occurrences that he has seen on previous occasions, similar to the above idea that G-d’s appearance in a person’s room is a “miracle” despite it happening every day.
In our case, we are now at the farbrengen of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, and it is demanded that the things said here be translated into action. A person may think: Why make such a “big deal” out of this Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, when there have been other Shabbos Rosh Chodeshes — it’s nothing new?! it has happened before, and according to the calendar, will happen again in a few months.
The answer to such a question is that this attitude is contrary to the above teaching of the Baal Shem Tov. According to that teaching, one must derive a lesson from every occurrence — even if it has occurred before. Certainly then, when it is something pertaining to Torah — Shabbos Rosh Chodesh — we must derive a new lesson from it.
This is a clear halachah in Shulchan Aruch. Every Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, no matter which parshah is read then, the Haftorah is always the special Haftorah of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh. Although the Haftorah is a continuation and conclusion of the Torah reading, on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh the Haftorah is always the same. This indicates that on every Shabbos Rosh Chodesh there is new emphasis on the lessons derived from it.
The lesson derived from Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh is as follows: In general there are two aspects in man’s service: a regular, routine service; and new service. This is the difference between Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh. Shabbos is associated with the days of the week, always following the six weekdays. Days of the week are fixed by the movements of the sun, which shines in the identical fashion each day. In man’s service, this corresponds to a regular, routine service.
Rosh Chodesh is associated with the days of the month, which are fixed by the movements of the moon. The moon varies from day to day, waxing in the first half, and waning in the second half — to the extent that Rosh Chodesh is the renewal and birth of the moon. In man’s service to G-d, this corresponds to new service, transcending all limits.
Incidentally, there are those who question the above, saying that modern science has discovered that the sun does change. How then can it correspond to the type of service that doesn’t change?
However, what is important here is the principal function of the sun, which is to “give light upon the earth.” Although there are changes in other aspects of the sun, in the function of giving light there are no changes.
Likewise, it is asked how we can say the moon changes, when of itself it never changes, always receiving the full light of the sun. Again, the point here is that in the principal function of the moon — “to give light upon the earth” — there are changes. In other words, although the moon receives the same amount of light from the sun, there are changes in how it gives that light to the earth.
But all is not clear: If the principal function of the moon is “to give light upon the earth,” why does its light continually diminish in the latter half of the month, to the extent that on Erev Rosh Chodesh, it gives no light at all?
However, the function of the moon “to give light upon the earth” is expressed in two aspects. The physical light, wherewith man can see at night; and the spiritual aspect — the lesson in man’s service to G-d learned from the moon. That lesson is derived from the moon in both the first and second halves of the month.
The lesson learned from how the moon shines in the latter half of the month is that even when one’s service is perfect (similar to when the moon is full), a person must not be satisfied. For when one sees that the light of the moon in the world is constantly waning, he must increase in his service of sanctity and light to fill the deficiency of light in the world.
The lesson from how the moon shines in the first half of the month is that, just as the moon is constantly waxing then, so too a person’s service must always be in the manner of “increasing in holiness.”
In the light of the above, we see that the general lesson from Shabbos is the idea of service in a constant, regular manner; and the lesson from Rosh Chodesh is the idea of service in a new manner. After appropriate contemplation of these concepts, one must translate them into action, for “deed is the essential thing.”
2. Besides the individual lessons learned from Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh, we must also derive a lesson from Rosh Chodesh falling out on Shabbos. Firstly, how Rosh Chodesh affects Shabbos: Shabbos, we explained, corresponds to service in a regular, constant manner. Shabbos is loftier than the six weekdays, as our Sages explain, that the preciousness of Shabbos compared to weekday is as the preciousness of Jews compared to the gentile nations, of which it is said “You have chosen us from all the nations.” Nevertheless, despite its loftiness, Shabbos is included in the type of service which is constant and unvarying.
The lesson learned from Rosh Chodesh coinciding with Shabbos therefore is that the idea of newness (Rosh Chodesh) must be brought into regular, constant service (Shabbos). In other words, Rosh Chodesh effects an elevation in the service of Shabbos.
The above is said everyday in the recital of the Shema. The verse “You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” refers to too general types of service. “With all your heart” and “with all your soul” is service bound by limitations; “with all your might” is service that transcends limitations. And since, whenever the Shema is recited, the entire verse is said (and not divided into two), it is clear that one’s service must simultaneously be “with all your heart, with all your soul” and “with all your might.” That is, the service of “with all your might” must penetrate the service of “with all your heart, with all your soul,” similar to the idea that newness (service transcending limitations) must penetrate regular, routine service.
The distinction of Shabbos also affects Rosh Chodesh. When learning of Rosh Chodesh and its idea of transcending limitations (“newness”), it is possible that a person may go completely out of the bounds of Shulchan Aruch. The coincidence of Rosh Chodesh and Shabbos teaches that together with the service of transcending limitations, every single detail in Shulchan Aruch must still apply. In other words, one’s service cannot be allowed to change (from the bounds of Shulchan Aruch), similar to the constant service of Shabbos.
This is similar to the service of Aharon in lighting the menorah, on which Rashi says that “it teaches us the praise of Aharon that he did not change.” Aharon’s lighting of the menorah was on the loftiest level. Simultaneously however, Torah stresses that Aharon’s praise was that “he did not change”: despite knowing and feeling the loftiness of his service (which was beyond limitations), he did “not change” one iota from all the particular details involved in actually lighting the Menorah. So too in our case: Simultaneously with infusing newness in one’s service, all the details of actual service must be scrupulously adhered to.
A simple example. It was previously mentioned that when a Jew wakes up in the morning, he must reflect upon the fact that G-d, the King of kings, is standing over him, and watching his conduct. This, we explained, is one of the greatest “miracles.”
For a person to have proper reflection and meditation upon the greatness of G-d Who is standing over him, he must learn Chassidus, the way to fulfill the command “Know the G-d of your father.” A Jew therefore may think that immediately upon awakening he should learn Chassidus. However, despite the greatness of learning Chassidus (which transcends limits), a person’s service must conform to all the details of Shulchan Aruch. Hence, upon awakening, a Jew must first say “Modeh Ani,” wash his hands, say the morning blessings, the blessings on the Torah, then learn something from the written Torah, then something from the Oral Torah — and then learn Chassidus.
All the above is relevant to each and every Jew, men and women. Women too are obligated in the mitzvos of fearing G-d, and therefore they also must learn Chassidus. May it be G-d’s will that all that spoken above be translated into action, and very soon, in the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach, we will not need contemplation to understand G-d’s greatness, for “the glory of the L-rd will be revealed, and all flesh will perceive it, for the mouth of the L-rd has spoken it.
3. A large part of parshas Tazria talks of the laws of leprosy. Chapter 13 verse 9 states: “When a person has the plague of leprosy, he shall go to the Kohen.” Then the Torah continues to state: “The kohen shall look, and if there is a white blotch on the skin, and it has turned the hair white, and there is an area of healthy skin in the blotch ... he is unclean.” The succeeding verses go on to clarify all the particulars involved, until the conclusion of this passage (13:17): “If the plague has turned completely white, the kohen shall pronounce the afflicted person clean; he is clean.”
There is a perplexing question in this passage, on which Rashi makes no comment. Verse 9 begins with the words “When a person has the plague of leprosy.” This phrase seems like the beginning of a new passage. That is, it sounds like an introductory phrase to telling us the laws concerning leprosy — “when a person (is suspected of) having the plague of leprosy” the laws are such and such.
However, the laws of leprosy begin several verses earlier, at the beginning of this chapter (13:1-2): “G-d spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying: When a person has a blotch, or scab or spot ... he shall be brought to Aharon the kohen ...” If so, why does verse 9 begin again with an introductory verse “When a person has the plague of leprosy.” It should have omitted this verse altogether and simply stated “If there is a white blotch on the skin, and it has turned the hair white
Another question. Later on in this passage, it states (12;13): “If the leprosy spreads in the skin, and the leprosy covers all the skin of the afflicted person from his head to his feet ... the kohen shall look, and if the leprosy has covered all his skin, he shall pronounce the afflicted person clean; it has turned completely white, he is clean.” Likewise, verse 17 states “The kohen shall look at him: If the plague has turned (completely) white, the kohen shall pronounce the afflicted person clean; he is clean.”
This is difficult to understand. Rashi explained at the beginning of the laws of leprosy (13:3) that “white hair is a sign of uncleanness.” we have also learned that the spreading of the plague is a sign of uncleanness (verse 7: “If the scab spreads on the skin ... the kohen shall pronounce him unclean; it is leprosy”). Why, then, in the above cases (verses 12-13, 17) is the spreading of the leprosy over the entire body, to the extent that “it has turned completely white,” a sign of cleanness? If whiteness is a sign of uncleanness, and spreading is a sign of uncleanness, surely the spreading of the whiteness over the entire body should render the person unclean!
Some commentators explain that it is a Divine decree — that although according to the above logic it should certainly be unclean, nevertheless it is a Divine decree that when “it has turned completely white” he is clean. Rashi however, does not say that it is a Divine decree; and nowhere in the places where Rashi enumerates those mitzvos which are Divine decrees does he include this.
The explanation of both these points is as follows. Rashi does not explain why the Torah uses the introductory phrase “When a person has the plague of leprosy,” for although the laws of leprosy begin several verses earlier, this phrase is nevertheless necessary to introduce a new category of plague. The previous laws dealt with the various signs and marks which indicate leprosy. Our passage (verses 9-17) deals with “healthy skin in the blotch,” which, as Rashi explained, means that “this wound appears healthy above, but underneath it is filled with pus.” Although outwardly it appears healthy, and one might think that “since healthy flesh has come over it, I will declare it clean,” the Torah tells us “it is an old leprosy” and the person is unclean. Since this is a new category of plague (leprosy under healthy skin), the Torah introduces this passage with the words “When a person has the plague of leprosy” — a new category of leprosy — then the laws are such and such.
Likewise, Rashi need not explain why, when a person has turned completely white, he is clean, for it is understood of itself. “White hair” is indeed a sign of uncleanness. But this applies only when the white hair is found on the plague only (which covers only a small part of the body). When, however, we see that the person is “completely white,” from head to feet, this is a clear indication that the whiteness has nothing to do with uncleanness, but is associated with the nature of his body. Therefore, “he is clean” — he is a clean person who merely has white hair on all his body.
This explains why the verse (13) states at length “He shall pronounce the afflicted person clean; it has turned completely white, he is clean.” Since the verse already states “He shall pronounce the afflicted person clean,” why does it add the words “it has turned completely white, he is clean?” Likewise, in verse 17, since it already states “if the plague has turned (completely) white, the kohen shall pronounce the afflicted person clean,” why does it add the words “he is clean?”
However, these words are added as an explanation for the halachah that “he shall pronounce the afflicted person clean.” Since, in verse 13, “it has completely turned white,” this is an indication that we are dealing with a clean person — who naturally happens to have “white hair.” That is, the verse first states the law that “he shall pronounce the afflicted person clean;” then it continues to explain the reason for it: since “it has completely turned white,” it shows that he, the man, is a clean person. Likewise, in verse 17, it first states the law “the kohen shall pronounce the afflicted person clean,” and then gives the reason for it: “he — the person — is clean” (since he is white from his nature, not the plague).