Shabbat Parshat Metzora
What is the significance of the laws of tzara’at? Aside from the inherent value of studying Torah laws, what can we learn from these principles, most of which have no contemporary applications? In many instances, universal moral and philosophical lessons can be derived from the details of tzara’at. Additionally there are other ideas that can be gleaned from them. We would like to discuss one of many possible interpretations. First, we will introduce the laws of house-tzara’at: And Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying: When you will come to the land of Canaan which I am giving you for a possession, and I will place a plague of tzara’at in a house of the land of your possession (B’VEIT ERETZ ACHUZATCHEM). And the one whose house it is shall come (U’VA ASHER LO HA’BAYIT), and he shall tell the Kohen (V’HIGGID LA’KOHEN) saying, “Something like a plague has appeared to me in the house” (K’NEGA NIRAH LI BA’BAYIT). Then the Kohen shall command and they shall clear out the house (V’TZIVVA HA’KOHEN U’FINU ET HA’BAYIT) before the Kohen comes to inspect the plague, so that all that is in the house not become tamei. Afterwards the Kohen will come to inspect the house (Vayikra 14:33-36).
Once the house is emptied of all its contents, the Kohen examines the afflicted area. If the house displays possible symptoms of true tzara’at, the house is quarantined and then reexamined. If the plague has spread, the stones of the affected area are removed, and the area is scraped. And they shall take other stones (V’LAKCHU AVANIM ACHEIROT) and bring them in place of the stones (verse 42).
It is possible that the Kohen will order that the stricken house be completely dismantled: And he shall demolish the house (V’NATATZ ET HA’BAYIT), and its stones and its timbers and all the soil of the house shall be brought outside the city to a contaminated place (V’HOTZI EL MICHUTZ LA’IR EL MEKOM TAMEI) (verse 45).
House- tzara’at, say our Sages, is Hashem’s first warning that a person is guilty of sin. If he does not heed that warning, tzara’at will actually affect him more directly, eventually afflicting his clothing and finally his own body. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 17:7) says that the case of tzara’at afflicting a house is symbolic of, and foreshadows, the fate of the Holy Temple: In a house of the land of your possession (B’VEIT ERETZ ACHUZATCHEM) refers to the Temple in Jerusalem, the most important “House” in the Land of Israel. Like a house stricken with tzara’at, the Temple was defiled by the sins of Israel. However, rather than making the people suffer, And the one whose house it is shall come (U’VA ASHER LO HA’BAYIT). Hashem first pours out His wrath against His House, as it is said Because of My House that is laid waste (Chaggai 1:9).
In order to warn His people, Hashem sends His prophets: and he shall tell the Kohen (V’HIGGID LA’KOHEN).
This is Yirmiyahu, the Kohen of Anatot (Yirmiyahu 1:1). Nevertheless, the people’s sins have proliferated, and Hashem proclaims, “Like a plague there has appeared to me in the house” (K’NEGA NIRAH LI BA’BAYIT).
Two views are given in the Midrash for this plague. One says it is “the filth of idolatry” which defiles all, just as tzara’at defiles everything in the house. The other says it refers specifically to the image erected by King Menasheh: And he placed the image of the Asherah which he had made in the House about which Hashem had said to David and to Shlomo his son “In this House and in Jerusalem which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel I shall place My Name forever” (Melachim II 21:7).
The Sages (Sanhedrin 103; Devarim Rabbah 2:13) teach that Menasheh’s idol had four faces, corresponding to the four angelic beings that bear the Divine Throne, as well as the four compass-points. Malbim (R. Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael, 1809-1877) adds that the four faces correspond to the four major shades of white that can characterize tzara’at: snow, whitewash, white wool and the membrane of an egg (Mishnah Nega’im 1:1). The installing of Menasheh’s idol is comparable to a guest ejecting a person from his own house.
Then the Kohen shall command and they shall clear out the house (V’TZIVVA HA’KOHEN U’FINU ET HA’BAYIT). Because of Israel’s sins, enemies will come and ransack the Temple of all its riches. This happened early in the history of the divided kingdom: And it was in the fifth year of king Rechavam that Sheshak king of Egypt ascended upon Jerusale. And he took the treasures of the House of Hashem (Melachim I 14:25-26). And it recurred as a warning, until the destruction: And Nevuchadnetzar king of Babylon attacked the city… and took from there all the treasures of the House of Hashem (Melachim II 24:11, 13).
The Holy Temple is destroyed: And he shall demolish the house (V’NATATZ ET HA’BAYIT).
The people of Israel are carried off into
exile in Babylon:
The Midrash concludes with words of consolation, taken from an earlier step in the housetzara’at process: “Lest you think that [this destruction] is fore ver, the verse says, And they shall take other stones (V’LAKCHU AVANIM ACHEIROT) and bring them in place of the stones.”
A new Temple will be built in the Messianic
era, as it says,