Life as a mes­sage

A per­son with self­aware­ness is ex­pected to in­ter­pret the phe­nom­e­non he faces to de­ter­mine if it is a warn­ing, a pun­ish­ment or per­haps a re­ward

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - JUDAISM - SHMUEL RABI­NOWITZ The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

This week’s To­rah por­tion, Metzora, de­scribes the pu­rifi­ca­tion process and the re­turn to the com­mu­nity of the per­son who was stricken with tzara’at, which is in­ter­preted as a pun­ish­ment for faulty so­cial be­hav­ior. In ad­di­tion, this parasha de­scribes the pu­rifi­ca­tion process of other rit­u­ally im­pure peo­ple, as well as two other types of tzara’at: on clothes and in homes – stains that ap­pear on clothes or walls which are not mold but some sort of af­flic­tion that is also taken to be a pun­ish­ment for faulty so­cial be­hav­ior.

Mai­monides notes that af­flic­tions of clothes and homes are not a nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non, and ex­plains the var­i­ous forms of tzara’at as an ed­u­ca­tional process aimed at warn­ing against lashon hara, slan­der or un­de­sir­able speech.

“This change that af­fects clothes and houses which the To­rah de­scribed with the gen­eral term of ‘tzara’at’... is not a nat­u­ral oc­cur­rence. In­stead, it is a sign and a won­der preva­lent among the Jewish peo­ple to warn them against lashon hara. When a per­son speaks lashon hara, the walls of his house change color .... If he per­sists in his wicked­ness... the clothes he wears change color. If he [still] per­sists in his wicked­ness... his skin un­der­goes changes and he de­vel­ops tzara’at. This causes him to be iso­lated and for it to be made known that he must re­main alone so that he will not be in­volved in the talk of the wicked, which is folly and lashon hara” (Mishne To­rah, Se­fer Ta­hara, Hil­chot Tum’at Tzara’at, 16:10).

Af­flic­tions of houses, there­fore, are the first stage of a per­son’s ed­u­ca­tional process. We should note that the

af­flic­tion grad­u­ally gets closer to the per­son him­self. First it ap­pears on the walls of the house, then on his clothes, and only then on his skin.

Sur­pris­ingly, when we read in the To­rah about “af­flic­tions of the house,” we no­tice an al­most cel­e­bra­tory tone in­di­cat­ing that it is a rel­a­tively pos­i­tive phe­nom­e­non:

“And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, say­ing, When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giv­ing you as a posses­sion, and I place a le­sion of tzara’at upon a house in the land of your posses­sion .... ” (Leviti­cus 14:33-34).

The sages of the Midrash won­dered, “Is this good news, that they are get­ting th­ese af­flic­tions?”

This question mer­ited a unique answer by Rabbi Shi­mon bar Yo­hai:

“Rabbi Shi­mon bar Yo­hai taught: Since the Canaan­ites heard that [the peo­ple of] Is­rael were com­ing upon them, they got up and they hid their money in their houses and in their fields. The Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘I promised to their fore­fa­thers that I would bring their chil­dren into a land full of good,’ as it is said, ‘and houses full of good’ (Deuteron­omy 6:11). What did God do? He sent plagues in their houses [of Jews who had set­tled in Is­rael], and he [the owner of the house] would break it down and find in it a trea­sure” (Leviti­cus Raba, ch. 17).

Af­ter we learned about af­flic­tions of houses that come as pun­ish­ment for peo­ple, it ap­pears there is another side to this, per­haps com­pletely op­po­site. It is a way to lead a per­son to find a trea­sure hid­den in the walls of his house. It seems, there­fore, that this phe­nom­e­non has two con­trast­ing as­pects: Some­times it is a warn­ing for a per­son whose be­hav­ior has been faulty and who has been speak­ing lashon hara about oth­ers, and some­times it is a way to lead a per­son to wealth. A per­son with self-aware­ness is ex­pected to in­ter­pret the phe­nom­e­non he faces to de­ter­mine if it is a warn­ing, a pun­ish­ment, or per­haps a re­ward.

THERE IS a story of a Jewish wagon driver in Poland whose horse col­lapsed and died. This meant that he lost his abil­ity to make a liv­ing. The naive and sim­ple wagon driver walked into the syn­a­gogue, turned to the holy ark and said: “God, you took my horse. I will yet show you…!” Of course, all the peo­ple present smiled at th­ese ridicu­lous words. Among the peo­ple present was also Rabbi Yis­rael Yaakov Lubchan­sky, the head of the Ohel To­rah Yeshiva in Poland. He turned to the con­gre­ga­tion and stopped their laugh­ter. “Lis­ten to how this Jew speaks,” he said. “This wagon-driver un­der­stands that his horse hasn’t died of a dis­ease or of an ac­ci­dent. The horse died be­cause God took it. That is faith!”

Man has many dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences in his life­time. Some are pos­i­tive, some less so. Some are open to var­i­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tions, as we saw with the af­flic­tions of the house. What they all have in com­mon is that a per­son of faith knows that ev­ery event, ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence – loss, suc­cess, or a chal­lenge – has a mes­sage. Man is the re­cip­i­ent who has to in­ter­pret the events of his life in the light of faith. ■

(brian nz/Flickr)

‘WHEN A per­son speaks lashon hara, the walls of his house change color.’

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