Hagaon Harav Baruch Teumim Frankel, zt”l, known for his classic sefer Baruch Taam, once entered the kitchen and found his daughter and a hired helper enjoying a light moment together.
With deep wonder, the Baruch Taam cried out at them, “Don’t you know that Mordechai the bathhouse attendant is sick?”
Being a bathhouse attendant was at that time the least-respected position in town, yet the Baruch Taam could not fathom how one could smile if another Jew — no matter who — was ill.
This week, the Torah teaches us about the halachos of nega’im, including those that appear on the walls of houses.
“When you arrive in the land of Canaan that I give you as possession, and I will place a tzaraas affliction upon a house in the land of your possessions …” (Vayikra 14:34).
Rashi, quoting Chazal, teaches us a fascinating fact. “These are good tidings for them that afflictions are to come upon them, because the Emorites hid treasures of gold in the walls of their houses all 40 years that Israel were in the desert. As a result of the affliction, [the new owner] breaks down the house and finds them. …”
At first glance, this seems somewhat surprising.
For one thing, Bnei Yisrael weren’t exactly paupers. They had no shortage of gold, silver and other possessions. Between the valuables they received from the Egyptians before they left Mitzrayim, and the immense fortunes they received at Yam Suf from the belongings of the dead Egyptians, even the poorest among Bnei Yisrael had significant wealth. Even more puzzling is the fact that Chazal teach us that this type of affliction is a punishment for a person who fails to use his house to benefit others.
Why should a person who acts in such a manner get rewarded with the “good tidings” of discovering more valuables?
One homiletical approach is that it wasn’t merely the finding of the Emorite treasures that was the good tidings, but rather the very fact that the specific individual was forced to destroy his own home!
The Ribbono shel Olam had told Avraham Avinu that his descendants would spend four centuries in galus. In the end, Bnei Yisrael spent only 210 years in Egypt.
One approach given by the meforshim is that the severity of the persecution Bnei Yisrael experienced at the hands of the Egyptians (which actually lasted less than a century) was so egregious that it was reckoned as if they endured 400 years. One explanation for this approach is that since each member of Bnei Yisrael truly commiserated with and connected to the suffering of his brethren, he experienced not only the pain and persecution of one, but of many. When all the pain was added up, it was equivalent to that of 400 years.
Another approach is that because of their precarious spiritual state — they were at the verge of the 50th level of impurity — Bnei Yisrael were taken out of Mitzrayim before the appointed time, and indeed they were forced to go back into exile in order to make up the remaining years …
Much, in turn, would depend on the conduct of individual members of Bnei Yisrael upon their arrival in Eretz Yisrael. One who genuinely worried about others, empathized with their pain, and opened his heart and home to those in need, was living proof that the first approach is accurate.
On the other hand, he who failed to do so would seem to indicate that Bnei Yisrael didn’t “make up” the equivalent of the 400 years.
Therefore, for a Yid who, regrettably, failed to share his home with others, and whose home was subsequently afflicted with tzaraas, the fact that he was instructed to destroy his home — a structure the Torah describes as “a house in the land of your possessions” — was actually good tidings for him! Hashem had promised Avraham Avinu that his descendants would inherit this land after the 400 years were up, and being told that this is “a house in the land of your possessions” is indicative that despite the actions of this individual, Bnei Yisrael had already “made up” the 400 years — through truly feeling one for the other. (Based on a teaching of the Arugas Habosem.)