Friday, April 24, 2020

“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 the infection is caused by sin, not pathogens. Furthermore, the infected person goes to the priest, the spiritual leader, for diagnosis and palliation, not a doctor. This week's parashiot, Tazria-Metzorah focus almost exclusively on diagnosing and curing tza'ra'at.

Yet the Torah describes two additional forms of tza'ra'at: infections that appear on clothing (Leviticus 13:47-59) and infections that appear on walls of a home (Leviticus 14:33-57). The Torah describes how these forms of tza'ra'at are identified and removed. Tza'ra'at found on the walls of a house may even require the walls of the 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 to infect a person's clothing or domicile?

Rashi (Leviticus 14:34), based on the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 17:6) suggests that the purpose of tza'ra'at that infects a house actually, in his words, is "good news" for the owner. When the house is declared "impure" and the walls are knocked down, the owners will find the golden treasures that the Amorites (Canaanite inhabitants of homes prior to the Israelite conquest of the land) had hidden in the walls of their homes.

Maimonides, however, in his coda to "The Laws of the Ritual Impurity of Tza'ra'at" (16:10)" states that diseased clothing and homes infected with tza'ra'at clearly point to supernatural phenomena. Maimonides advances that when a person transgresses the laws of proper speech, the consequences appear in a purposeful sequence, to serve as a warning. Tza'ra'at, first appears as an infection on the walls of the home of the illicit speaker. If the person does not resolve to improve his speech, tza'ra'at afflicts their furniture, then his clothing, and only as a last resort, the sinner's body. The infected person is then expelled from the Jewish camp, forcibly separating him from any opportunity to gossip and the socialization that caused the tza'ra'at in the first place.

This Treat was originally posted on April 12, 2019.

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