The Torah makes it very clear that the plague of Tzaraas (“Leprosy”) that afflicts one who speaks lashon ha’ra, is not a natural occurrence, but rather a Divine retribution that is meant to punish the sinner. His only recourse is to absolve himself of this disease through repentance and a sincere effort to distance himself from his sin. The sooner he does t’shuvah, the sooner the plague will go away, and no medication, ointment, or healing remedy will have any effect on his ailing body, since this disease is not a natural one. This, says the Alshich HaKadosh zt”l, is the deeper understanding of the pasuk: “And behold, the tzaraas affliction has been healed…from the m’tzora.” In other words, it is up to the m’tzora to rid himself of this plague through t’shuvah – not through medicinal or restorative means.
One of the most influential Orthodox lay leaders of the 20th century was undoubtedly Rabbi Moshe Sherer zt”l. It was he, more than anyone else, who brought Torah thought, ideology, and institutions to the public consciousness. Through Agudath Israel, he championed the cause of Torah and elevated it onto the world stage.
As a young boy, he once fell ill and lay listlessly in bed. His mother called a doctor who diagnosed his illness as a strep throat. In those days, before antibiotics, strep throats were far more worrisome than today. The infection could worsen into rheumatic fever and cause permanent heart damage and even death. The doctor explained all this to Mrs. Sherer.
The doctor prescribed medication, but warned the increasingly anxious mother that it was very expensive. Even after Mrs. Sherer had gathered all the money to be found in the house, she doubted that she had enough to pay for the medicine, but she nevertheless rushed to the pharmacy to plead her son’s case.
The owner was not in the store, so Mrs. Sherer begged his assistant to fill the prescription. The young man was moved by the concern of a frantic mother, and agreed to prepare the medicine in exchange for all the money Mrs. Sherer had.
After filling the prescription, the pharmacist’s assistant handed Mrs. Sherer the precious medicine. In her eagerness to get home and hasten Moshe on his way to recovery, Mrs. Sherer tripped over a curb and watched in horror as the bottle flew from her hand and landed with the distinctive tinkle of breaking glass. Mrs. Sherer burst into tears as she crawled on the pavement to retrieve the paper bag in the hope of still saving some of the precious elixir. But by that time, it had seeped out of the bag and onto the street.
Her money and medicine gone, Mrs. Sherer rushed back to the pharmacy, still carrying the bag with the broken bottle inside, to once again plead for her little Moshe’s life. By that time, the storeowner had returned, and he listened to Mrs. Sherer’s sobs and offers to clean the store after hours if he would just refill the prescription. Unable to resist her pleas, the pharmacist went to the back of the store to refill the prescription. He returned a moment later, ashen faced. “Angels are watching over your son,” he told her in a tone of awe and amazement.
From the smell of the medicine absorbed by the bag, he realized that the original prescription had been incorrectly filled, and instead of the needed medication, Mrs. Sherer had received medicine that could have been life-threatening to young Moshe. Shaken by the near disaster, he provided Mrs. Sherer with the proper medication and even returned the money she had originally paid.
Moshe heard the story of his miraculous salvation many times from his mother. She would tell him, “When I tripped and heard the bottle breaking, I thought my life was over. Little did I know that what I saw as an incomparable disaster was really the greatest blessing from the Ribbono shel Olam. Throughout his life, Rabbi Sherer made frequent references to his mother’s fleshel (bottle) of medicine.
Reprinted with permission from Rabbi Sherer: The Paramount Torah Spokesman of Our Era