Friday, April 12, 2019

“If These Walls Could Talk”

The cryptic spiritual dermatological disease of tza’ra’at differs from a medical malady in that Jewish tradition teaches that one becomes infected via sin, not pathogens, and one goes to the priest, the spiritual leader, for diagnosis and palliation, not a doctor. This week’s parasha, Metzorah, and that of last week, Tazriya, focus almost exclusively on diagnosing and curing tza’ra’at.

Yet the Torah describes two additional forms of tza’ra’at: clothing infected with tza’ra’at (Leviticus 13:47-59) and tza’ra’at in one’s home (Leviticus 14:33-57). The Torah describes how these forms of tza’ra’at are identified and removed. House tza’ra’at may even cause the walls of one’s home to be razed. While these two additional forms of the spiritual malady clearly demonstrate that tza’ra’at is not a physiological phenomenon, what purpose can there be for infected clothing or a contagious domicile?

Rashi (Leviticus 14:34), based on the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 17:6) suggests that the purpose of tza’ra’at in one’s house actually, in his words, is “good news” for the owner. If one’s walls need to be knocked down, they will find the golden treasures the Amorites (Canaanite inhabitants of homes prior to the Children of Israel’s conquering the land) hid in the walls of their homes. Maimonides, however, lists the three paradigms of tza’ra’at as a purposeful sequence. His coda to “The Laws of the Ritual Impurity of tza’ra’at (16:10)” states that diseased clothing and homes clearly point to supernatural phenomena. Maimonides advances that when one transgresses the laws of proper speech, the consequences of which are tza’ra’at, first experiences tza’ra’at on the walls of his home. If the illicit speaker does not resolve to improve his speech, tza’ra’at afflicts their furniture, then their clothing, and only as a last resort, their bodies, which leads to their expulsion from the Jewish camp, forcibly separating them from the gossip and socialization that caused the tza’ra’at in the first place.

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