Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg
Tzora'as, Chodesh Nisan and the Importance of Preparation
In Parshas Metzora the Torah concludes its discussion of the rules of tzora'as by talking about nigei batim - tzora'as that is found on the walls of a house. The initial procedure for dealing with all types of tzora'as is the same. If a nega is found - whether on a person's body or a garment or a house - and it does not have any clear signs of tumah, the Kohen quarantines the person, the garment or the house for one week. At the end of the week, the Kohen looks at the nega again to see if any signs of tumah have developed.
What is interesting is that even if in the middle of the week the nega has gotten lighter in appearance, which is a sign of taharah, the person still has to wait until the end of the week before he can show his nega to the Kohen and be declared tahor. Why is that? If the nega has become tahor, why does the metzora have to wait until the end of the week before he can be declared tahor? Why does the owner of the garment or the house have to wait before he can show his nega to the Kohen?
The Sefer HaChinuch (169) explains that the purpose of hesger - having the metzora quarantined for a week - is to cause the metzora to do teshuva. Chazal say that tzora'as comes as a punishment for improper behavior. The Gemara (Arachin 16a) identifies seven different aveiros which are associated with tzora'as. A metzora has to be quarantined for a full week to give him the opportunity to think about what he has done wrong and to analyze his actions carefully so that he can figure out what needs to be corrected. He can't become tahor as soon as his nega looks tahor, rather he must undergo a complete process of teshuva which requires a complete week because thoughts of teshuva do not come instantaneously. The metzora needs ample time to work on himself and prepare himself for real change. Only then will his teshuva be lasting.
This halacha teaches a profound lesson: if we want a spiritual experience like teshuva to make a lasting impression on us, we have to invest time and effort in it and prepare ourselves properly. Only then will we be transformed by the experience.
In Parshas HaChodesh (Shemos 12:2) the Torah says, "HaChodesh Hazeh Lachem Rosh Chodoshim" - the month of Nisan is the first of the months of the year. At first glance, this statement seems puzzling. After all, we assume that the world was created in Tishrei, not Nisan, and that is why we say in the tefillos of Rosh Hashana "hayom haras olam - today is the birthday of the world" and, "zeh hayom techilas ma'asecha - this is the first day of creation." What's more, Nisan is not the month of kabbolas haTorah either; that privilege is reserved for Sivan. So why is Nisan considered the "rishon"? What special significance does Nisan have over the other months of the year?
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Darash Moshe, Parshas Bo) answers that the importance of Nisan stems from the fact that it is the beginning of the process of preparation for kabbolas haTorah, and without preparation there can be no kabbolas haTorah. Since the existence of the world is dependent on Torah, as Chazal say that the world was created bishvil haTorah shenikreis reishis, and kabbolas haTorah is dependent on a person preparing himself to receive the Torah, then the rishon, the first and most important month of the year, must be Nisan because that is the month when we begin the process of preparation for kabbolas haTorah.
Preparation is a crucial prerequisite for kabbolas haTorah, teshuva, and every mitzvah. In fact, the idea of preparation is central to the Torah's outlook on life in general. Chazal say, "This world is compared to an antechamber before the world to come; prepare yourself in this world so that you may enter the banquet hall of the world to come (Avos 4:16)." This world is the place to prepare oneself spiritually for the world to come by engaging in mitzvos and ma'asim tovim. "One who toils on erev Shabbos will eat on Shabbos (Avodah Zara 3a)." Only by preparing oneself properly in this world will a person be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor in the next world - the yom shekulo Shabbos.
If we internalize the lesson of Nisan and the metzora and invest time and effort in perfecting our character and serving Hashem, we will lead ourselves on a path to a more meaningful life and reap the benefits for all eternity.