Israel The Righteous, Leprosy and Hatikvah

The section of the Torah we read this week deals with the laws of leprosy. A person who develops a white patch on their skin, with white hair in it, Is considered impure, and must wait outside the camp until he is healed. If, however, the whiteness spreads all over their entire body, he is considered ritually pure. The commentaries jump up and down about this strange law! If, they reason, when only part of the leper's body has the white patches, is he considered impure, then when his entire body becomes white he should certainly be considered impure!

The famed Chofetz Chaim offers a powerful explanation. God sends a message to someone who needs to hear it. A person who has only partial leprosy may convince themselves that they are not so spiritually ill. After all, most of their body may be clean. Thus, they will not be motivated to repent. The Torah then requires them to be sent out of the camp pending an improvement. Being sent out of the camp, into solitary existence, forces introspection and repentance.

But when a person has reached the bottom, they don't require such messages to know that they must repent. Therefore, the person who becomes 100% leprous, will be in such a state of mind that they do not need to be sent to solitary. They have hit rock bottom, they know that it is either repent or die.

This helps me understand a very difficult concept in the world: the suffering of the righteous and the prospering of the evil. The rabbis explain that a suffering righteous person is not 100% righteous. (A righteous person who is prospering is, however, 100% righteous). On the other end, a prospering evildoer must be less than 100% evil.

This still seems illogical. Why should a mostly evil person have a far better existence than a mostly righteous person? Rather, our sages explain, this calculation is all in preparation for The World to Come, when all accounts are set straight. The mostly righteous person has some sins to expiate, and so God brings suffering upon him in this world, so that he will arrive unblemished at The World to Come. Conversely, the mostly evil person still has some good deeds to his credit. God rewards him in this world, so that he will pay for his evil actions in the afterlife.

If, however, we are dealing with people in the gray areas, where is the dividing line? I would speculate that it is in the person's heart, and in what contribution they make to humanity. A war criminal who helps his neighbors and is philanthropic should be shunned as a leper and punished for his crimes. A comedian who brings cheer and joy to millions, but cheats on their taxes and on their spouse, should be respected and loved for the good things he does, and censured (and prosecuted, if appropriate) for the crimes he commits.

There are many public figures who have contributed so much to the world, yet have personal flaws that have also hurt people. The laws of Lashon Hara teach us that telling something negative about another, even if it is true, is forbidden. Why? Because the person who hears such talk will judge the entire person based on that one negative aspect, and shun their humanity entirely. I believe that is wrong. Whether it be a political leader, brilliant film director or a legendary entertainer, we do not need to throw them out with their misdeeds. The great Rabbi Moses Feinstein was asked about a certain Rabbi who wrote music, yet behaved in seemingly inappropriate ways at times. Rabbi Feinstein responded that, "a melody does not become impure."

Such a person can, indeed, be considered a righteous person, albeit not 100%. We must be very careful before we throw out some of the wonderful people who have made our world a better place. Yes, some of their personal deeds may be disgusting and evil, and there is no tolerance for such actions. But, as King David says, "The sins shall perish from the earth, and they (the sinners) will be evil no longer."

So Israel is not perfect, but it is most certainly righteous. The incredible amount of goodness that Israel creates and contributes to the world is the proof. Does she occasionally pursue bad policies? Have there not been moments when Israelis have done shameful things? Certainly. You may disagree with our government policy at times, as most of us do, but you must cherish and love Israel, one of the greatest forces for good in the world.

Israel's national anthem, Hatikvah, was a song with plenty of controversy. It remains scrupulously secular, with no mention of God or the Divine Providence that helped bring our nation back to life. The composer was not a legendary poet, famous composer or spiritual leader.

Contrast that with the alternative national anthem, that lost by just one vote in the 1933 Zionist Congress, the Shir HaMaalot made famous by Cantor Yoselle Rosenblatt. Here was a song with words by none other than King David himself! And the melody, composed by a Cantor named Minkowsky and sang by the pious Cantor Rosenblatt, had every element of holiness you could ask for. It was the equivalent of a 100% righteous person.

And yet, Hatikvah won. Perhaps this was also Divine Providence, to encourage us to embrace the very human of us, and strengthen the good within us. Perhaps our focus should not be on worshiping those that are perfect, but helping perfect those that are not. Perhaps we need to stop judging, and start loving.