GrowTorah Core Value: Incubating Emunah

When a person recovers from tzaraat, the kohen purifies them with two birds, cedar wood and hyssop. Each of these natural elements carry different symbolism, as the Rabbis explain. What do they symbolize? How does natural symbolism help us connect with the Earth, each other and Hashem? What might the plants in our garden symbolize?


Lesson Title: Humble as the Hyssop

(מז) וְהַבֶּ֕גֶד כִּֽי־יִהְיֶ֥ה ב֖וֹ נֶ֣גַע צָרָ֑עַת בְּבֶ֣גֶד צֶ֔מֶר א֖וֹ בְּבֶ֥גֶד פִּשְׁתִּֽים׃ (מח) א֤וֹ בִֽשְׁתִי֙ א֣וֹ בְעֵ֔רֶב לַפִּשְׁתִּ֖ים וְלַצָּ֑מֶר א֣וֹ בְע֔וֹר א֖וֹ בְּכָל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֽוֹר׃ (מט) וְהָיָ֨ה הַנֶּ֜גַע יְרַקְרַ֣ק ׀ א֣וֹ אֲדַמְדָּ֗ם בַּבֶּגֶד֩ א֨וֹ בָע֜וֹר אֽוֹ־בַשְּׁתִ֤י אוֹ־בָעֵ֙רֶב֙ א֣וֹ בְכָל־כְּלִי־ע֔וֹר נֶ֥גַע צָרַ֖עַת ה֑וּא וְהָרְאָ֖ה אֶת־הַכֹּהֵֽן׃ (נ) וְרָאָ֥ה הַכֹּהֵ֖ן אֶת־הַנָּ֑גַע וְהִסְגִּ֥יר אֶת־הַנֶּ֖גַע שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים׃

(47) When an eruptive affection occurs in a cloth of wool or linen fabric, (48) in the warp or in the woof of the linen or the wool, or in a skin or in anything made of skin; (49) if the affection in the cloth or the skin, in the warp or the woof, or in any article of skin, is streaky green or red, it is an eruptive affection. It shall be shown to the priest; (50) and the priest, after examining the affection, shall isolate the affected article for seven days.

(ג) וְיָצָא֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן אֶל־מִח֖וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֑ה וְרָאָה֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְהִנֵּ֛ה נִרְפָּ֥א נֶֽגַע־הַצָּרַ֖עַת מִן־הַצָּרֽוּעַ׃ (ד) וְצִוָּה֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְלָקַ֧ח לַמִּטַּהֵ֛ר שְׁתֵּֽי־צִפֳּרִ֥ים חַיּ֖וֹת טְהֹר֑וֹת וְעֵ֣ץ אֶ֔רֶז וּשְׁנִ֥י תוֹלַ֖עַת וְאֵזֹֽב׃
(3) the priest shall go outside the camp. If the priest sees that the leper has been healed of his scaly affection, (4) the priest shall order two live clean birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop to be brought for him who is to be cleansed.
טהרות. פְּרָט לְעוֹף טָמֵא, לְפִי שֶׁהַנְּגָעִים בָּאִין עַל לָשׁוֹן הָרַע שֶׁהוּא מַעֲשֵׂה פִטְפּוּטֵי דְבָרִים, לְפִיכָךְ הֻזְקְקוּ לְטָהֳרָתוֹ צִפֳּרִים שֶׁמְּפַטְפְּטִין תָּמִיד בְּצִפְצוּף קוֹל (ערכין ט"ז):
הרות‎ט CLEAN — This term excludes an unclean bird (of a species that may not be eaten) (cf. Chullin 140a). Because the plagues of leprosy come as a punishment for slander, which is done by chattering, therefore birds are compulsory for his (the leper’s) purification, because these chatter, as it were, continuously with a twittering sound (Arakhin 16b).
ועץ ארז. לְפִי שֶׁהַנְּגָעִים בָּאִין עַל גַּסּוּת הָרוּחַ (שם):
ועץ ארז AND CEDAR WOOD — This lofty tree was used because plagues come also as a punishment for haughtiness (cf. Arakhin 16a).
ושני תולעת ואזב. מַה תַּקָּנָתוֹ וְיִתְרַפֵּא? יַשְׁפִּיל עַצְמוֹ מִגַּאֲוָתוֹ כְּתוֹלַעַת וּכְאֵזוֹב:
ושני תולעת ואזוב AND CRIMSON AND HYSSOP — What is the remedy he should use, that he may be healed? Let him, abandoning pride, regard himself lowly as a worm (תולעת) and as hyssop (cf. Midrash Tanchuma, Metzora 3).


What do the creatures and plants used for the purification process symbolize?

  • Birds symbolize the chatter, cedar symbolizes haughtiness, and hyssop is humble.

Why do you think using symbolic organisms are helpful for the teshuva process?

  • Natural symbolism is powerful because you can see your own teshuva reflected in the natural world

Do you see anything in our garden that could be used for similar reasons?

Living the Lesson

אל יאמר בלבו שהוא גדול מחבירו, שהוא עובד בדבקות יותר, שהוא כשאר הנבראים שנבראו לצורך עבודתו יתברך, והשם יתברך נתן לחבירו שכל כמו שנתן לו שכל, ובמה הוא חשוב יותר מתולעת, שהתולעת עובד להבורא יתברך שמו בכל שכלו וכחו, והאדם גם כן רימה ותולעה, כמו שכתוב (תהילים כ״ב:ז׳) ואנכי תולעת ולא איש, ואם לא נתן לו השם יתברך שכל לא היה יכול לעבדו רק כמו תולעת, ואם כן אפילו מתולעת אינו חשוב למעלה, כל שכן מבני אדם, ויחשוב שהוא ותולעת ושאר בריות קטנים הם חשובים כמו חברים בעולם, שכולם נבראים, ואין להם יכולת רק מה שנתן להם הבורא יתברך, ודבר זה יהיה תמיד במחשבתו:
(צוואת הריב"ש ד"ב ע"ב, הנהגות ישרות די"ד ע"ב).

Do not say in your heart that you are greater than your friend, that you are more devoted, because he is among the creations that were created for the necessity of blessed work, and Hashem, who should be blessed, gave his friend intelligence just like He had given him intelligence, and how he is more important than a worm, that the worm works with all his intelligence and strength to serve the blessed creator, and man is also low and a worm, as it is written: "And I am a worm and not a man," and if Hashem had not given him intelligence, he would not be able to serve Him except like a worm, and if so, he is not more important than a worm, and this is true for people, and he should think that he and the worm and all other small creatures are important like peers in the world, that they were all created, and they do not have the ability except what the creator blessed them with, and this matter must always be in his thoughts.


Though we no longer carry out the purification rituals described in the parsha, how can we still use nature to improve our characters?

How does working in the garden help you think about the symbolism of certain plants more seriously?

  • Working with the plants directly helps to understand them, helps to make them come alive with distinct personalities, which makes it so much easier and deeper to connect with the symbolism