The Most Effective and Most Overlooked Cure in Life
By: Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber
The beginning of this week’s Torah reading discusses the procedure of purifying one who was contaminated by Tzaras (a kind of skin disease that causes one to be impure). Three of the items amongst those which the afflicted person must bring for this procedure are: A cedar tree branch, a particular type of weed and a “Shni Tola’as”. A “Tola’as,” literally, means is a worm, but a “Shni Tola’as” is a tongue of wool. Rashi explains that these items signify an important lesson. What brought about this affliction in the first place was the person’s arrogance, by holding himself tall and proud like a cedar tree. His prescription to get healed, is to humble himself and lay low like a worm and weeds. This statement gives us an incredible insight into the inner workings of the world. The proper way for one to rid himself of the Tzara’as, is not to find the best doctors and medicines, but to amend his own character. Furthermore, this is not an abstract way to achieve the desired health, but rather this is the way to rectify the cause of the illness.
This concept is not limited to Tzara’as. Our sages have advised us (Brachos 5a), that anytime we experiences afflictions, we should investigate our deeds. When we experience any kind of ailment, we are driven to obtain the proper treatment to cure the problem. Certainly God’s desire is that we should seek the best solution possible to restore our health and take care of whatever the problem may be, in accordance with the laws of nature in our world. However, we must realize that doing so alone is just a “Band-Aid” kind of solution. When we are struck with a problem, it is not a mere coincidence or “bad luck” which brought about the unpleasant situation. All pain and difficulties which we experience in our lives, only happen because it was decreed in Heaven to be so. When Heaven has decreed suffering upon someone, it is often a consequence of one’s wrongdoings. Therefore, the true reason for any kind of misfortune, lies in one’s own actions. By going to a doctor or by engaging in any other endeavor to take care of the problem, we have only attacked the superficial cause or our problem. In order to tackle the root of the problem, we must rectify the source, which is our actions. If we want to obtain a full, long lasting recovery, from the true problem, and insure that it doesn’t come back to haunt us in another form, we must do some introspection and correct our ways.
The Talmud relates a fascinating story which demonstrates this concept (ibid 5b). Rav Hunah had four hundred barrels of wine which went sour and turned into vinegar – a tremendous financial loss. The news of his loss spread, and a group of rabbis came to visit him. These rabbis suspected that this punishment from heaven could be attributed to a specific misconduct on Rav Hunah’s part, and proceeded to advise him to do some introspection. Upon hearing this, Rav Hunah asked them, “Am I a suspect in your eyes for not conducting myself properly?” To which the rabbis responded, “Could God be suspected of doing injustice?” And so, Rav Hunah responded, “Anyone who has heard something about me [which I should correct] should let me know.” When the rabbis heard that he was ready to accept their criticism, they told him, “We heard that you do not grant your sharecropper his share in the vine branches.” Rav Hunah then responded and said, “Does he leave me any? This sharecropper steals from me way more than his share!” The rabbis did not accept his defense and said, that nevertheless, “One who steals from a thief, also tastes a taste of theft.” Rav Hunah immediately accepted their rebuke and resolved to give the sharecropper that which they agreed on. There are two versions in the Talmud as to what followed. Either a miracle happened and the vinegar turned back into wine, or the price of vinegar rose to equal the price of wine.
We may not always understand what the true factor in heaven is which caused the problem we are experiencing, and we may not always succeed in alleviating that which we are suffering from. However, if we listen to the call and improve our ways, we surely will greatly increase the chances of our situation being improved. When we take the matter to heart and utilize it as a vehicle to come closer to God, then regardless of how much we succeed in improving our physical situation, we most certainly have succeeded in attending to a more substantial problem, a spiritual ailment. We can always find in ourselves something to improve. By diverting our pain to become a springboard for spiritual growth, we are sure to improve our quality of life, one way or another.