“A plague on your house” may be a great curse, especially in Yiddish, but not if you’re on the receiving end of it. The two Torah portions we read this week, Tazria and Metzora, deal with various forms of tzara’at, including tzara’at habayit, some kind of eruption in the walls of the house. In our day, we’d call an expert in mold remediation; in Biblical times, we’d call a kohen for diagnosis.
But a kohen isn’t your average contractor, because tzara’at habayit isn’t understood to be just another issue of excessive moisture in the walls. Indeed, there’s a different problem with the foundation of the afflicted house. Traditional Jewish interpreters of this passage saw all forms of tzara’at as punishment for various ethical shortcomings. For example, the Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, Prague, 1550-1619) attributed tzara’at habayit to an overgrown sense of self for having such a big house. Here’s what he wrote:
“It seems to me in this regard that the main reason is because of miserliness, as Sages deduced from the verse, ‘And he to whom the house belongs shall come’ to mean ‘He who made his house belong only to himself, and did not share of it with others,’ for it is for this reason that God gave him for a possession a house full of all kinds of goodness–in order to test him and see whether he would also share of his house with others…”
On Shabbat morning, we’ll hear more about this from Rabbanit Sharon Rimon, who teaches Bible at the Women’s Beit Midrash of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Efrat. It’s fitting to learn this Shabbat from her, one of the many disciples of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, who led that yeshiva for many years and who died this week. We’ll also learn how Rav Lichtenstein spoke out about a modern instance of tzara’at habayit in Israel, serving as a voice of moral strength in the religious Zionist community.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise