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Metzorah 5765-2005

“And you think that Tzara’at is Weird?”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Metzorah, continues the theme of last week’s parasha, Tazria, regarding the saga of the person who contracts the dermatological disease tzara’at for speaking lashon hara–evil.

In parashat Tazria in 5763-2003, I argued that the spiritual disease tzara’at was not as “way out” as many rationalists and scientific thinkers would assume. To prove my point, I cited the world-famous scientist, the late Dr. Lewis Thomas, President of the prestigious Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. This great scientist wrote in his book The Medusa and the Snail (1979, Viking Press) that the most effective method for treating warts is hypnosis. In his essay entitled On Warts (pp. 76-81), Thomas maintains that, through the power of suggestion, warts can be made to disappear, apparently by cutting off their blood supply which leads to their demise. Obviously, if one can get rid of a skin disease by the power of thought, it is not so preposterous to conclude that a person could contract a skin disease by inappropriate thoughts or speech.

Most rational people and, of course, most scientists find the concept of a spiritual disease like tzara’at difficult to accept. And yet, we live in a world where almost every day we are surprised by revolutionary scientific data that often goes against conventional thinking.

Because of the challenging assumptions of this week’s parasha, I thought it might be intriguing to share with our readers some of the unconventional scientific “facts” that I’ve come across over the years, that have helped me be more accepting of the Torah’s unusual contention that one can contract Tzara’at from speaking evil.

Many years ago, one of my students introduced me to the strange concept of “Pyramid Power.” The proponents of Pyramid Power maintain that the size, shape and proportions of pyramids apparently have extraordinary powers and can impact positively on people’s ability to focus, keep food fresh, cause plants to thrive and even sharpen razor blades. Skeptic that I am, I quickly dismissed this claim until I was shown an article that appeared in the August 29, 1976 issue of the NY Times Magazine written by the famed correspondent/commentator and NBC News broadcaster, Edwin Newman.

Although he remains rather skeptical about the efficacy Pyramid Power, Newman tells of the unusual discovery of Antoine Bovis, a Frenchman, who was walking through the famed Cheops pyramid of Giza overlooking the Nile. Finding the inside of the Cheops terribly humid, he also noticed that discarded in the garbage cans were dead cats and other stray animals who had lost their way and had wandered into the pyramid and died. But there was no smell of decay. Apparently, despite the humidity, the animals had dehydrated and mummified. After many experiments, it was concluded that it was not the inside atmosphere of the pyramid, but rather the shape and proportions of the pyramid that create an atmosphere that stops decay and causes quick dehydration.

There are those who maintain that the pyramids have the ability to focus energy, pushing cellular material together, which keeps things from decomposing. So, for instance, a pencil may be sharpened by inserting it in a hole in a makeshift pyramid. The theory is that the cells at the tip of the pencil are pushed together by the pyramid’s energy forces and become sharp again. In some countries, like Czechoslovakia, where double-edged razors were very expensive, men would insert their dull razor blades in a small cardboard pyramid at night, and the blades would emerge sharpened the next morning.

Other uses of Pyramid Power range from preserving food (like refrigeration) to taking the bitterness out of stale coffee. The coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team surrounded his players with pyramids in order to improve their play during hockey games. Despite the team’s inspired play, they lost in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Of course, all of this sounds preposterous, and had not a distinguished reporter from the New York Times reported it, I would have simply dismissed it as gibberish as well.

My friend, Rabbi Daniel Lapin (head of Toward Tradition), told me many years ago that he had come across a series of extensive scientific experiments conducted by a prestigious Russian institute that set out to find a scientific basis for water divining. Apparently, water divining works so well that the Department of Geology of the United States still retains on its payroll a number of water diviners, men and woman, who go around with “Y” shaped sticks in order to discover underground sources of water. While the Russians were not able to determine a reasonable scientific explanation, they did produce an extensive list of substances that work for water divining and those that do not. Lapin noted to his astonishment that the list exactly parallels the Talmud’s definition of substances that can become ritually impure and those that cannot become ritually impure. Now remember, Jewish law requires that those things that become ritually impure must be brought to a source of “living” water–like a mikveh, in order to be purified.

Who would have imagined 200 years ago that people would one day be able to “speak” over radio waves, let alone speak to and even see one another? Today we regularly transmit live audio and video broadcasts from New York that are immediately received by residents in Sydney, Australia. Who would have believed that music would be transmitted around the world through electrical impulses? But this happens every day.

The Mishnah in Avot 5:7 relates that ten miracles were performed for our ancestors in the Great Temple in Jerusalem. Among the miracles mentioned are that no woman ever miscarried because of the smell of the sacrificial meat, and that the meat never became putrid. In fact, a fly was never seen in the Temple areas where the meat was butchered. Could it be that the structural dimensions of the Temple had powers similar to pyramid power, rendering it capable of focusing energy and keeping cellular material together? Or was it perhaps the Divine Presence that didn’t allow the cellular material to deteriorate, so that there was no spoilage, no flies, and no bad odors?

I humbly report these very strange scientific claims. While I can not verify them, I believe that they certainly serve as powerful ammunition, encouraging us not to summarily dismiss the seemingly strange claims of Tzara’at found in parashiot Tazria and Metzorah. Hypnosis? Warts? Water divining? Pyramid Power? Tzara’at? Sounds incredible. But maybe it’s just another of the many miraculous facets of G-d’s creation.

May you be blessed.