V’nasati nega tzaraas b’veis eretz achuzaschem (Vayikra 14:34)
Parashas Tazria introduced us to the laws governing the different types of tzaraas that can afflict a person’s body. Parashas Metzora begins by teaching the elaborate procedure that a stricken person must go through to purify himself. Afterward, we are introduced to a new type of tzaraas, one that afflicts a person’s home.
Curiously, Rashi comments that in warning the people about the possibility of tzaraas striking their homes, Hashem was actually conveying good news. Because the previous Canaanite inhabitants hid their treasures in the walls of their houses, the process of scraping a house with tzaraas would actually reveal to them valuable items. This concept seems difficult to understand. Although discovering the hidden treasures would certainly lessen their pain, why did Hashem choose to give them reward in this peculiar manner?
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky offers an inspiring answer to our question based on the following story. After the conclusion of World War II, Harav Eliezer Silver was active in visiting DP camps to give physical and emotional support to the survivors of the Holocaust. One day Rav Silver was organizing a minyan for Minchah, but one man refused to join.
The man explained that when he was in a concentration camp, there was a religious Jew who managed to smuggle in a siddur. He “rented out” his siddur in exchange for a person’s food rations. When this man saw how a religious Jew could take advantage of his siddur at such a time, he resolved that he would never pray again. Rav Silver gently suggested that instead of focusing on the actions of the man with the siddur, perhaps it would be more appropriate to recognize how many Jews were willing to give up their precious food rations in order to be able to pour out their hearts to Hashem in prayer.
Rav Kamenetzky notes that one of the primary causes of tzaraas is lashon hara, which comes from focusing on the shortcomings of others. To the gossiper whose house is afflicted with tzaraas, the Torah hints to the importance of digging beneath the surface and not focusing on superficial deficiencies. Although the house may appear at first glance to be stricken with tzaraas, a deeper look will uncover the presence of valuable gems waiting to be discovered just beneath the surface. Upon contemplating this, he will come to understand that his fellow Jews are just the same. If he only takes the time to adjust his perspective, he will be able to dig deeper and discover the beauty that lies beneath the surface.
Rashi writes (Shemos 1:1) that the Jewish people are compared to stars. The Baal Shem Tov explains that to a person looking up into the night sky, each star appears very small. However, if a person could approach a star, he would find that the closer he gets to it, the larger it appears. Similarly, when viewed from a distance, it is easy to dismiss another Jew as invaluable and worthless. At times when we are tempted to do so, we should remember the lesson of Parashas Metzora and the stars: if we allow ourselves to get a little closer and look under the surface, there are valuable treasures waiting to be discovered.
Q: Can a Kohen who is presently a metzora assist in the purification process of another metzora? (Toras Kohanim, Minchas Chinuch 173:12, Ayeles HaShachar 14:3)
Q: The Torah mentions that part of the process of purifying the metzora involves cedar wood, crimson thread and hyssop (14:4). Rashi explains that because one of the causes of tzaraas is a haughty spirit, the Torah is hinting that the cure for a person who has made himself arrogant like the mighty cedar is to lower himself and become humble. Why are cedar wood, crimson thread, and hyssop used when purifying a house that was stricken with tzaraas (14:49) when it is impossible for a house to be arrogant or humble?
A: The Toras Kohanim and Rambam rule that although a Kohen who is spiritually impure due to a different type of impurity may participate in the purification process of another metzora, a Kohen who is himself a metzora may not do so. Although a Kohen who is a metzora is not supposed to be involved in the process, if he transgressed and participated, the Minchas Chinuch maintains that his actions are completely invalid, while the Afikei Yam argues that post-facto they do take effect.
The Minchas Chinuch is unsure whether this restriction is limited to purifying afflictions on people’s bodies, or whether it also applies to afflictions on homes and garments. Harav Aharon Leib Steinman questions whether such a Kohen is only excluded from the purification process, or whether he is also ineligible to rule on afflictions and render them impure, but he does not give a definitive opinion.
A: The Terumas Hadeshen quotes Rashi, who writes that the previous inhabitants hid their treasures in the walls of their homes. When a house was afflicted with tzaraas, the process of scraping the house would reveal these valuable items. Because wealth can make a person arrogant, Hashem required the use of cedar wood, crimson thread and hyssop to warn the person in advance of the need to remain humble.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.