Torah reading:      Leviticus 12:1-15:33   Parasha: Metzorah, Tazria

Prophets reading: 2 Kings 7:3-20

Gospel reading:     Luke 10-13


The Haughty Spirit

Hyssop grows in tufts of stems no larger than a foot and a half. The Bible contrasts the hyssop against the cedar when it says, "[Solomon] spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that grows on the wall" - 1 Kings 4:33.


That puts the hyssop on the opposite end of the spectrum from the cedar. Rashi (a medieval French Rabbi famed as the author of the first comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, as well as a comprehensive  commentary on the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) explains that the hyssop plant was used in the purification from leprosy because it is a lowly, humble plant and therefore  reminds the penitent gossip that he should have a lowly, humble spirit.  A person should try to be a hyssop and not a cedar.



Then the priest shall give orders to take two live clean birds and cedar wood and a scarlet string and hyssop for the one who is to be cleansed. (Leviticus 14:4)


Why did the cleansing of the leper require cedar wood? The sages believed that biblical leprosy resulted from evil speech. Rashi suggested that the purification ceremony employed cedar wood because the cedar, as a tall and lofty tree, represents the haughty spirit. The metaphor of a cedar as a haughty person comes from the words of the prophet Isaiah.


The LORD of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased. And it will be against all the cedars of Lebanon that are lofty and lifted up. - Isaiah 2:12-13


A haughty spirit finds it difficult to tolerate other people's character flaws. The haughty person fails to recognize his own shortcomings. Instead, he focuses on the shortcomings of others. Most often, when we speak ill of others, it is because we are defending our own pride. People elevate themselves by ping on other people. By putting someone else down, we think we are lifting

ourselves up.


The Proverbs contrast two kinds of people: a person who guards his words and a person with a haughty spirit: He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles. "Proud," "Haughty," "Scoffer," are his names, who acts with insolent pride. - Proverbs 21:23-24


The Psalms also equate haughtiness with evil speech. Psalm 101 warns that God punishes the slanderer and does not endure haughtiness: Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; no one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure. (Psalm 101:5)

The big, tall, haughty cedar is the most likely tree in the forest to be cut down. As the saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling" - Proverbs 16:18. The Bible says that God's "eyes are on the haughty to bring them low" - 1 Samuel 22:28.


In our attempts to elevate ourselves by stepping on others, we inevitably lower ourselves. This is part of what Jesus meant when He taught that if a man lifts himself up he will be humbled, but if he humbles himself he will be lifted up.


Imagine yourself at a fellowship with friends from your community when your friends raise the topic of a person known to be an adversary of yours. Your friends begin to criticize your adversary's faults. How do you respond? It feels good to have your friends on your side, and the temptation is

to join them in pointing out your adversary's flaws. It makes you look better. Or does it? The higher path is to come to the defense of the person and quiet the criticisms. When you show that kind of integrity and humility, it not only makes you look better; it makes you better.


Cutting to the Core


"Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me." Whoever made that one up is either naive or deaf. While we might tell our children not to be bothered, the reality is that words hurt a great deal more than sticks and stones. The pain caused by sticks and stones is temporary; the pain caused by words can be eternal.

When someone hits you, it is a very crude and superficial expression of contempt for your humanity. What he is saying, in effect, is that you are an object, not a person. There is a sense of violation. Words, however, can express that contempt infinitely more eloquently and thus penetrate much deeper. When you talk badly about another person, it can be much more personal and biting, and cut to the core of his individuality. Ouch.