Rejecting ga’avah for majesty of Hashem’s geut


The primary focus of our parasha, Tazria, is the illness known as tzaraat. In his commentary on the Torah, the Rashbam presents the unique nature of this disease:

All of the sections dealing with the negayim (afflictions) affecting people, garments, houses, and the manner in which they appear as well as the number of days requiring sequestering, the white, black, and golden identifying hairs — cannot be understood by following the simple and direct meaning of the text.

In the Rashbam’s view, tzaraat can be understood solely from the Torah’s standpoint, rather than from a physiological or medical perspective. This is because its etiology does not follow the normative laws of biology. Instead, it is a spiritually-based ailment that manifests in a physical fashion.

The Torah presents us with three types of tzaraat: “If a man has a se’et, a sapahat, or a baheret on the skin of his flesh, and it forms a lesion of tzaraat on the skin of his flesh, he shall be brought to Aharon the Kohen, or to one of his sons, the Kohanim.”

Midrash Vayikra Rabbah, Tazria 15:9, identifies each of these categories as metaphorically representing one of the ancient nations who either violently injured or sought to harm our people. Thus, se’et (a rising) is Babylonia, sapahat (a scab) is the kingdom of the Medes, and baharet (a bright spot) is Greece.

Our midrash notes that Haman, who attempted to eradicate our people, was the most infamous member of the ancient Medes:

[The kingdom of the] Medes raised Haman the wicked, who crawled like a snake, as it is written, “On your belly you shall go.”

The Rav builds upon our midrash and says Haman “slithered like a snake but was puffed up with arrogance. A fawning personality, he lacked dignity. His sycophantic behavior resulted in his becoming prime minister to King Ahashverosh. Yet, Haman was no leader. A weak and spineless man, he used flattery to get ahead. Thinking that it would save his life, he behaved in a servile manner toward Esther even after she exposed him. Like other haughty people, he did not realize how base he was, that he was actually a form of sapahat.”

In the Rav’s view, the haughty and arrogant Haman emerges as a base and slithering being who lacked all manner of dignity to the extent that “he was actually a form of sapahat.” What does it mean for a person to be “a form of sapahat,” to be a scab on the body of humanity in general, and an enemy of the Jewish people in particular?

The Rav indirectly addresses this question in his analysis of those who demonstrate ga’avah (arrogant pretentiousness) and pursue kavode (false honor):

If, however, one pursues these qualities, then they are false and reprehensible. This is particularly the case if one actively deceives himself and pretends to be someone other than who he really is. …  The greatest falsehood takes place when a person lies to himself.

Haman is the ultimate example of an individual who “actively deceives himself and pretends to be someone other than who he really is.” He convinced himself that he had geut (grandeur), when in fact, he was merely “puffed up with arrogance” born of self-delusion and grandiose visions.

Moreover, the Rav asserts, Haman’s ga’avah was nothing other than “a negative character trait, a form of spiritual tzaraat. … Therefore, we must avoid ga’avah and be careful not to behave like Haman, who thought that only he was worthy of honor.” As such, according to the Rav, Haman epitomized the notion that “the greatest falsehood takes place when a person lies to himself.”

The Rav emphasizes that, in contrast to the spiritual tzaraat of ga’avah demonstrated by Haman and others of his ilk, Hashem has true geut and must therefore be recognized as He Who acts with grandeur.

As the Rav underscores many times, “The principle of imitatio dei [imitating Hashem’s behaviors] demands that we emulate G-d’s attributes.”Therefore, may we always reject ga’avah and the spiritual tzaraat it represents, and embrace the authentic majesty of geut Hashem. V’chane yihi ratzon.