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Judaism: Metzora: The Jewish House

It was important to G-d that we know the value of a Jewish house.
Published: Thursday, April 03, 2014 9:06 AM


On the Walls

Tzaraat was a prevalent disease in Biblical times that presented in the form of lesions on skin, hair, clothing and even the walls of a Jewish house. Tzaraat wasn’t an ordinary condition produced by heat or humidity. Tzaraat was a Divinely ordained affliction in punishment for various sins.

When lesions appeared on the walls of a Jewish house, the owner informed the Kohen, (priest) who instructed that the house be emptied of its contents. He then inspected the house and if he found that it was condemned, he would instruct that it be demolished. The stones and mortar were carted from the city and fresh stone and mortar were brought into the city to build a new house.[1]

Talmudic sages offered two reasons for the appearance of lesions on the walls of a Jewish house.[2] The first reason: Canaanites worshipped idols in these homes before the Jews arrived to Israel. Since it is improper for a Jew to live in a house of abomination, G-d ordained that lesions appear on the walls to facilitate its destruction and subsequent rebuilding as a Jewish house.

The second reason: It was popular among the Emorites, a Canaanite tribe, to bury fortune in the walls of their homes. When G-d wanted to reward the Jew with the fortune buried by the home’s previous occupants, He ordained the appearance of lesions on the walls of the now Jewish house. The Jew would destroy the house and in the process discover the fortune.[3]

The Temple

On this basis the Midrash offers a parallel between the condemned house and the Holy Temple.

“And the man to whom the house belonged” refers to G-d to whom the Holy Temple belongs. “Said to the Kohen” refers to prophet Jeremiah, a Kohen from Anatot. “A lesion has appeared in the house,” refers to the idol placed in the temple by the evil king Menashe. “And the Kohen instructed that the house be emptied of its contents” refers to the looting of the Temple’s treasures by Babylon. “And the house was destroyed,” refers to the destruction of the Temple. “And [the stones and mortar] were removed from the city,” refers to the Jewish exile to Babylon.

Lest you suppose that its destruction would be everlasting, the Torah instructs us to “take new stones and rebuild the home.” [4]

The Midrashic sages perceived an allegorical message in the Torah’s instructions. G-d wanted to impress upon us the objectionable nature of idol worship and thus instructed that we destroy the houses used for this purpose. G-d could have destroyed them Himself. They could have been lost to fire, erosion or flood. Yet the houses survived, only to have Jews move in and destroy them.

The Jewish House

It was important to G-d that we know the value of a Jewish house. A Jewish house must be permeated by the sweet singsong of Torah and the tender melodies of prayer. A Jewish house should be filled with Mitzvah and joy, holiness and love. It is a place to worship G-d, not a place of sin. When a Jewish house is permeated by holiness it is fitting that a Jew live in it. When it is used for sin, especially idol worship, which today can be translated as worship of self or of the Almighty Dollar, it is fit for destruction.

Such is the abominable nature of sin. It stains not only the sinner, but the house in which it is performed. Indeed, a person who sins also deserves to be destroyed. Yet, G-d in His infinite kindness pours his wrath into the stones and mortar while giving His children a chance to repent. He preserves the lives of His people and grants them the opportunity to start again.

It was G-d’s earnest wish that we would learn this lesson, but sadly we didn’t. With the passage of time, the wicked grew brazen and violated the sanctity of the Temple with idol worship. G-d appeared to the prophet, who was also a Kohen, and informed him of the lesion in the Jewish house. The prophet admonished and encouraged, but to no avail. As foretold in the Torah, G-d destroyed His Holy Temple.

Yet, in His wrath, His love was discerned. As the book of Lamentations points out, G-d poured His wrath into the stones and mortars, but allowed His people to survive.[5] We were given another opportunity. Not only to rectify our past, but to grow from it. To discover our spiritual treasure.

The Treasure

The Temple was destroyed for two reasons, to erase all vestige of idol worship and to discover treasure. In our exile, in our suffering, there is a treasure to be found. The diaspora Jew is much holier and much closer to G-d than the Jew, who basked in G-d’s Holy Temple. The tried and tested Jew will never take the Temple for granted. The Diaspora Jew will forever cherish the Temple and never violate its sanctity.

Unlike our redemption from Egypt, Babylon or from the Syrian Greeks, the coming redemption will last. The earlier redemptions were granted us from above. They were gifts that we cherished for a time, but they were given to us, they remained somewhat foreign to us. With the passage of time we stopped cherishing the gifts, took them for granted and even corrupted them.

The messianic redemption, which we await speedily in our times, will result from two-thousand years of strenuous effort, prayer and yearning. By the time this redemption arrives, our desire and yearning will be so keenly honed and so deeply imprinted that it will be a part of us. We will discover the priceless treasure of Divine connectivity that wasn’t prevalent in previous generations.

This is why the Midrash finishes on a note that heralds the rebuilding of the Temple. Through the tears, suffering, angst and fear, we forge an unbreakable bond with G-d. From those tears we will form the bricks, stones and mortars from which the third Temple will be built. It will be constructed through our pain and suffering. It will be ours and ours alone. We will identify with it and it will be part of us. This is the treasure. The priceless treasure that can be found only in destruction.

And this is also why the third Temple will be the charm. This will be a keeper. It won’t go away. It will be here to stay.[6]

Sources:

[1] Leviticus 14: 34 - 45.

[2] The first reason appears in Zohar 50a. The second reason appears in Vayikrah Rabbah 17:6.

[3] Yet, the lesions often appear many years after the Jews arrived to Israel because G-d waited for an occupant either worthy of meriting fortune or holy enough that living in a home of impurity would be harmful. The hollier one is the more objectionable it becomes to live in the vicinity of impurity.

[4] Yalkut Shimoni: 563.

[5] Eichah 4:11.

[6] This essay is based on Kli Yakar, Leviticus 14: 34. See Likutei Sichos v. 27 p. 108 for a Kabbalistic approach.