Why hyssop?

The Torah portion for this week, Metzora, deals with a skin affliction whose pathology was spiritual. The most direct cause was for negative speech: gossip and slander. Our sages taught that the corrupt character trait that fostered this kind of behavior was haughtiness and arrogance.

Therefore, part of the spiritual rehabilitation process involved taking hyssop (Leviticus 14:4). Rashi explains that this plant, growing low to the ground, symbolizes humility.

The Sfas Emes wondered why the Torah directed the Metzora to a symbolic ritual rather than just command him directly to become a more humble person. The Kotzker Rebbe actually suggests that there is nothing more arrogant than a person “trying” to act humble.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski writes, “If a person tries to be humble because he is instructed to do so, he is not likely to achieve anything more than a superficial, affected humility, which is worthless. Sincere humility can be realized only through insight, not preaching. All that one can do in order to help a person achieve humility is to provide a stimulus for introspection, such as a symbolic ritual.”

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