Not In My House: Metzora 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Questions: How much pride do you take on caring for your home? Does its cleanliness, or lack thereof, say something about you? Or is your house merely a place to provide shelter and little else?

Our Torah portion this week discusses what happens when the horrendous affliction of tzara’at enters into a home, and what to do about it.

The Pitch: When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, ‘Something like a plague has appeared upon my house.’” (Leviticus 14:33-34)

Swing #1: “I put the plague of leprosy in the home”: In the same way that leprosy comes [as a consequence] from the sin of narrowness of vision that stems from hatred, so the destruction of the House [the Temple] is caused by baseless hatred, the “plague of leprosy in the home.” – Shufra d’Yaakov

Swing #2: The law applies only in the Land of Israel and to houses owned by Israelites.” – Sifra

Swing #3: It is related that Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Hiya and Rabbi Yitzhak were once traveling along the road. They met a person who was carrying his sick son, tied to his donkey. The sages asked him, ‘Who are you? Where are you bringing your son? Why do you have him tied to your donkey?’ ‘I am a Jew,’ replied the stranger. ‘I live in a Roman city. I lived there three years and nothing bad happened to me. But now my son has returned from yeshiva. As soon as he walked into the house, a malevolent spirit came and twisted his mouth, his ear, and his hands. He can no longer speak. I am now taking him to a cave of magicians to see if they can heal him.’ Rabbi Yehuda asked, ‘Do you know anyone who lived there before you and was harmed?’ ‘I have heard,’ replied the man, ‘that other people lived in that house and were also harmed. Some say they became sick and some say that a malevolent spirit struck them. But after that, other people lived there and they were not harmed.’ The rabbis said, ‘This is what our sages teach us: Woe is to anyone that violates their words and does not believe in them.’ … The man went to the cave he had mentioned [anyway] and placed his son on the ground. He then took his donkey to tie it up. While he was doing this, a flame came out of the cave and burned up the son. … The next day, he met the sages and told them what had happened … They said to him, ‘Did we not tell you that it was forbidden to go to such unclean places? Thank God that He warned us in His holy Torah: “Its ways are pleasant ways and all its paths are peace’ (Proverbs 3:17).”‘” – Yad, Tumat Tzara’at

Late-Inning Questions: While Sifra tries to minimize the impact of this law, both Yad and Shufra d’Yaakov sees the rule as a vitally important indicator of how we treat other people. Is this a fair comparison? Even if we don’t have tzara’at on our homes today, are there ways we can make our homes more hospitable and accessible? What does it say about us if we don’t care about doing so?

On Deck At Emanu-El: As I mentioned in my article in the April Scroll, the Conservative Movement’s recent allowance of eating kitniyot — foods like rice, corn, and beans — on Passover is a potential game-changer for the way that we keep Kosher on the holiday. I will discuss some of the reasons behind the new law at services tomorrow. Please join us and judge for yourself!

The Big Inning At The End: Speaking of the way we understand our homes … Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Daniel Norris lives in a VW Bug van during the offseason. His lifestyle is minimalist, which is particularly surprising for a young man as wealthy as he already is. But he is one of a growing movement of people living in tiny houses for the sake of living a simpler, more fulfilling life.

Shabbat Shalom!