SALT - Tuesday, 4 Nissan 5779 - April 9, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Metzora tells of the sacrifices that a metzora is required to offer in order to complete his process of purification.  Specifically, the metzora must bring two male sheep – one of which is offered as an asham (“guilt offering”), and the other as an ola (sacrifice entirely burnt on the altar) – as well as a female sheep for the chatat (“sin offering”).  Additionally, the metzora brings flour with oil as a mincha offering.  However, the Torah allows an impoverished metzora to bring a less expensive offering – just one male sheep as an asham, and two birds for the ola and chatat (in addition to the mincha).
            In describing the case of a needy individual seeking purification from tzara’at, the Torah writes, “But if he is impoverished, and he cannot afford [the three animal sacrifices]” (14:21).  A number of commentators noted that the Torah here emphasizes that this individual is “dal” (“impoverished”), and that he is unable to afford the complete series of sacrifices (“ve-ein yado maseget”).  Chizkuni explains that the word “dal” can sometimes refer to physical meekness, as in the description of the lean cows in Pharaoh’s dream as “dalot” (Bereishit 41:19), and the description of Amnon, King David’s son, as appearing “dal” due to his overbearing lust for his half-sister (Shemuel II 13:4).  Therefore, the Torah clarified that the “dal” individual of whom it speaks in allowing the option of a less expensive offering is one who is financially “dal” – meaning, he cannot afford to purchase the three large animals for the standard offering.
            Meshekh Chokhma offers a different explanation, based on the Gemara’s comment in Masekhet Nedarim (35b) regarding the possibility of offering a sacrifice on somebody else’s behalf without his consent.  The Gemara there establishes that if somebody is required to bring a sacrifice to atone for a misdeed, his obligation cannot be dispensed by another person without his willful consent.  If another person decides to bring the sacrifice on the sinner’s behalf, but the sinner, for whatever reason, refuses to receive this benefit from that other person, his obligation is not fulfilled through that sacrifice.  This is not the case, however, when it comes to a sacrifice that is required for the purpose of purification.  In four instances – a woman after childbirth, a metzora who has been cured, a zav and a zava (people who have experienced certain types of unusual bodily discharges) – one must offer a sacrifice not to atone for any wrongdoing, but in order to regain his or her status of purity.  This obligation, the Gemara establishes, may be discharged even without the individual’s consent.  The Gemara reaches this conclusion on the basis of a verse later in Parashat Metzora (“Zot torat ha-zav” – 15:32), which implies that the laws of zav apply even to children who experience this type of discharge.  As a child is not allowed to offer sacrifices, necessarily, the sacrifice is offered by his parent, and thus, as a child is considered not to have halakhic da’at (“knowledge” – meaning, willful intent), this proves that consent is not necessary for the offering of this kind of a sacrifice.  Hence, even if somebody requiring such a sacrifice expresses his refusal to allow another person to bring the sacrifice on his behalf, nevertheless, a sacrifice brought on his behalf satisfies his obligation.
            On this basis, Meshekh Chokhma suggests a novel reading of the verse describing an impoverished metzora.  When the Torah says that such a person is a “dal,” it means that he is socially impoverished, in the sense that he has no friends who, seeing his plight, would offer to come to his aid and bring the sacrifice on his behalf.  Not only is he financially underprivileged, but also socially isolated, without a supportive social network to assist him and bring the required sacrifices for him.  In light of his condition of hardship and isolation, the Torah allows this metzora the opportunity to regain his status of purity through the offering of a less expensive sacrifice.