Don’t Judge What You Can’t SeeMarch 31, 2014 - 5:00 am
“The priest is to go outside the camp and examine them. If they have been healed of their defiling skin disease . . . ” — Leviticus 14:3
The Torah portion for this week is Metzora, which means “diseased,” from Leviticus 14:1–15:33, and the Haftorah is from 2 Kings 7:3–20.
Professor David Weiss Halivni was raised in Romania and eventually came to Israel after the Holocaust. From the time he was a young child, it was apparent that Halivni was gifted. He was known as a child prodigy who had mastered the Bible and Judaism’s oral teachings at a very young age. When World War II broke out, Halivni was sent to Auschwitz, one of the harshest Nazi work camps. Halivni describes how he was endlessly hungry and bitterly cold. His dream was to work in the kitchen where it was warm and a worker could eat the potato peels, but his dream never materialized.
More than the Jews hated the Nazis, they hated the kapos – the Jews who were in charge of the other Jews. They could be even more harsh and cruel than the Nazis they served. Halivni hated his kapo, who repeatedly dismissed his request to work for even an hour in the kitchen.
One day a different kapo was in charge, and he granted Halivni permission to work in the kitchen. But much to his dismay, not long after Halivni arrived to work in the kitchen, the old kapo showed up and took him away, and he was back to digging in the snow.
One day, Halivni heard that this cruel kapo had been killed and he cheered for joy. Upon hearing his glee, one of the inmates turned to Halivni and said, “You fool! That man saved your life! Anyone who works in the kitchen gets a meal – but it is his last meal. He is taken to be gassed shortly after. That kapo knew that you were a child prodigy. He wanted to protect you and your holy knowledge!”
In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the individual who contracted the skin-defiling disease known as tzara’at. The word tzara’at is related to the Hebrew word tzar, which means “narrow.” This is because the sin of those afflicted with this disease was usually gossip – a sin that stems from a narrow view of another person, one in which we judge other people superficially. The skin disease teaches us that our understanding of another human being is often only skin deep. Since the diseased judged someone by their “skin,” that person’s skin was appropriately afflicted.
The Sages teach, “Do not judge your friend until you have stood in his place.” In other words, don’t pass judgment on anyone unless you have walked in his or her shoes – and, of course, we can never really walk in anyone else’s shoes, which means we should never judge anyone either. There is so much more to people than meets the eye, and we cannot pass judgment on what we do not know and cannot see.