Tazria: The True Measure of a Man ~ Tzvi Abrahams
Updated: Nov 4
חוּט הַשַׂעַר: hairsbreadth
וְשֵׂעָר בַּנֶּגַע הָפַךְ לָבָן/And the hair turned white.1One of the telltale signs of a metzorais that the hair of the infection turns white. The roots have to turn white, and not the ends, symbolizing that the infection is more than skin-deep.
הַר שֵׂעִיר: Mount Sei’ir
The Torah first mentions hair with respect to Eisav. Eisav is known as the hairy one from הַר שֵׂעִיר — literally, the hairy mountain — whereas Yaakov is known as the smooth one. If someone has too much hair, people may look at him in a funny way, as if he looks like a gorilla. The more hair a person has, the more he resembles an animal. An abundance of hair is typically animalistic — this was typified by Eisav, the archetypical animalistic man. Eisav, otherwise known as the yetzer hara, is the beast that lies within man.
Yaakov, on the other hand, is called חָלָק/smooth — the less hair, the less of an animal. Smoothness has connotations of eloquence, gliding, an ease of movement. Hairs can be restrictive, becoming knotted and getting in the way. Yaakov was אִישׁ תָּם/simple and uncomplicated. Yaakov the tzaddik, when connected to Hashem, is the one who has a smooth ride, as we see in the pasuk:וַיִשָׂא יַעַקֹב רַגְלָיו/and Yaakov raised his legs, where Rashi says that his heart lifted his legs, which made the way easygoing.
Eisav was also known as the hairy one because he made the hair of men stand on end.2
וְלֹא יִזְבְּחוּ עוֹד אֶת זִבְחֵיהֶם לַשְּׂעִירִם אֲשֶׁר הֵם זֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם And they will not sacrifice further to the goats/demons that they lust after.3
The hairy goat is symbolic of the hairy one, i.e., Eisav, who is symbolic of the Satan. The Egyptians and many other satanic groups would offer up sacrifices to the dark side, where the se’ir/goat was typically the choicest of sacrifices because of its connection to Eisav.
The goat plays a central role in the Yom Kippur service in the guise of the scapegoat — again in connection with the Satan, in order to appease him.
Barley is like hair in that hair-like strands grow out of the head of the barley. Barley also resembles hair in that unlike a bush or a tree, which branches out, each stalk has its own root and grows out of the ground individually. Hair, as we will see later, is very much a sign of individuality. All said and done, we could ask that wheat is no different from barley in that it has hair-like strands and grows individually.
As we are comparing the minchahofferings, which are all brought from wheat except for a select few brought from barley, the defining difference is that barley is specifically assigned to animal fodder, whereas wheat is designated for human consumption. The Torah hints to this idea with regards to the minchahoffering of the Sotahwoman, which specifically is brought from barley and not wheat, symbolizing that she is being accused of behaving like an animal.4
אָמַר ר’יוֹחָנָן הַמַעַבִיר שֵׂעָר בֵּית עֶרְוָה לוֹקֶה מִשׁוּם לֹא יִלְבַּש גֶבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָׁה Rabi Yochanan says that whoever removes the hair of his private areas is lashed for transgressing the sin of a man wearing a woman’s clothing.5
Rabbeinu Bechaya says that the reason women don’t have beards is in order to maintain a separation between men and women.6This is one of the reasons for the transgression of not shaving theפֵּאוֹת/corners of the head and beard, so as not to nullify one of Hashem’s designated signs of manliness. Rabbeinu Bechaya continues to say that in men, there is a connection between the זָקָן הָעֶלְיוֹן וְהַזָקָן הַתַּחְתּוֹן/hair of the head and hair in the private areas, known as the upper and lower beards. A eunuch has no beard, because since the upper and lower areas are connected, once he has lost his manliness down below, he also loses his manliness above.
In this respect the hair represents manliness, while a lack of hair represents femaleness. The mane of the lion very much symbolizes his manliness, compared to the smoother look of the females.
The measure of a man, his entry into adulthood, is not his bar mitzvah, but rather it is the growth of two hairs in his lower beard.7A person who does not show any signs of adulthood is still considered a child, even at the age of twenty.
Hair, along with the nails, is the only part of the body that continues to grow throughout one’s lifetime, as opposed to the rest of the body that stops growing after a person reaches full maturity. The hair, so to speak, has a mind of its own. In this respect, the hair is symbolic of untamed wildness, and is a statement of freedom. The hippy generation of the 1960s typified this rebellious tendency to pull away from restrictive living — to just go with the flow. Like the wildness of the hair in stormy weather, being tossed and blown in all directions, this was very much their way of living, “any way the wind blows.”8
Regarding the מְצוֹרָע, the Gemara in Mo’ed Katanquotes the pasuk:וְרֹאשׁוֹ יִהְיֶה פָרוּעַ,9and says וְאֵין פְּרִיעָה אֶלָא גִידוּל שֵׂעָר, saying that when the head is exposed, it is referring to the growing of the hair.10Therefore, the growing of the metzora’s hair signifies the exposing of his sin, i.e., of rebelling against Hashem.
The shaving of one’s hair symbolizes conforming to the rules, like soldiers who are no longer independent and relinquish control to a higher authority.
Part of the purification process of the metzorais the shaving of the hair of his entire body. As the hair is very much symbolic of one’s individuality, the shaving of one’s hair represents the stripping away and nullification of the ego, that now he is ready to reenter the כְּלַל/society.11The growing of one’s hair in the case of the אָבֵל,מְצוֹרָע,נָזִיר/mourner,metzora, or naziris in order to help a person reflect on his individual situation without having to worry about his appearance.
TheSotahwoman’s hair is also exposed, exposing her sin of secluding herself with another man. Here, the covering of a married woman’s hair symbolizes her subjugation to her husband.
Many people mistakenly think that the reason women have to cover their hair is to make them look less beautiful, and because of this faulty view they see it as hypocritical that some women look even more beautiful when wearing a sheitel, seemingly defeating the objective of covering the hair. However, a more accurate reason for the coving of the hair is to show subservience to her husband. The hair, which symbolizes freedom, is now covered up, signifying to her husband that she is no longer free. She is now tied down to her husband, as the brachahof the kiddushinsays: וְאָסַר לָנוּ אֶת הָאַרוּסוֹת/a betrothed woman is off-limits.12All of her individuality is nullified as she allows herself to merge into the oneness of being with her husband. A woman who remains attached to her hair and her individuality causes a separation from her husband that could lead to marital disharmony.13
For a similar reason men also cover their hair to a degree by wearing a yarmulke and hat, showing fear of the King and subservience to a Higher Force.
חוּט הַשַׂעַרָה: Hairsbreadth
The Gemara says that the wicked, when facing their final judgment, will be shown the yetzer hara, which will be compared to the thickness of a חוּט הַשַׂעַרָה/hairsbreadth, and they will wonder why they were unable to overcome such a fine line.
As we reach our final destination, our hair loses its color, begins to thin, and eventually falls out. All of this is to humble us and to help us lose our individuality. For only when we lose our individuality are we able to enter the כְּלַל/the oneness of being with Hashem.
In conclusion, hair is a defining quality. It is the measure of a man, both in terms of the dividing line between childhood and adulthood and the dividing lines between male and female. Hair is very much an expression of one’s individuality. The growing of one’s hair can symbolize rebellion, or it can symbolize a time to focus on one’s individuality. Hashem has set clear guidelines to define who we are. In order to be victorious over the hairsbreadth of the yetzer hara, one must conform to these guidelines. Whoever crosses over these lines is considered a misfit in the sense that he does not identify himself with the regimental rules of belonging to Hashem’s army. Like with any army, one has rules that absolutely must be obeyed. Each regiment has its own identifying marks, where there is no place for misfits, and therefore this rebellious individual, like themetzora, is banished to the outside of the camp.
The guidelines are ultimately there for our benefit, to help us lose our individuality — to lose our hair, so to speak — and becomeחָלָק/smooth like Yaakov, so that we can smoothly enter into the oneness and take our חֵלֶק/portion in Olam HaBa. This is the true measure of a man.
2Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishis 130.
7So too entry into adulthood for a woman is measured by two hairs.
8Heard from a shiurgiven by Rabbi Ephraim Kahana.
10Mo’ed Katan 15a.
11Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch to Vayikra 14:8.
12Where the root אסר has the dual meaning of both forbidden and tied.
13Rabbi Ephraim Kahana.