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Uncomfortable Musings for Comfortable Jews

Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12-15 )

by Rabbi Boruch Leff

Something is strange. The arrangement throughout the Parshas of Tzaria-Metzora is unusual.

These Parshas describe the laws of tzaarat, a leprous-type disease that afflicts a person primarily as a result of gossip and slanderous speech, lashon hara. There are three locations where this leprosy can be found: on someone's body, clothing or walls of one's home. The Torah first teaches the laws concerning leprosy and its impurity on the body and then instructs regarding clothing. At this point, Parshat Tazria ends.

Parshat Metzora then opens with a description of the procedure of how one who has tzaarat on his body returns to purity through a sacrificial service. After this long service is discussed, only then do we learn about the laws of leprosy in the walls of the home.

Wouldn't a more logical format have been to discuss the laws of the body, clothing, and the home and only then to discuss how a leper reverts back to purity? Another option would have been to explain the laws of purifying body leprosy together with the laws of becoming a leper of the body. Why does the Torah interrupt the logical flow and only mention the house laws as a last topic, isolating the home leprosy laws from the rest? It would appear that the laws of house leprosy are in a separate category, but why?

A second question, which we will answer first, is the following: The law is that household leprosy can only occur in the Land of Israel and not in lands outside Israel, in exile (Tractate Nega'im 12:4). This is due to the language in the verse, "I will place an affliction upon a house in the land of your possession" (Leviticus 14:34). This is not the case regarding the laws of clothing and body where leprosy can appear even outside Israel. What is the reason for this distinction? If the laws of house leprosy exist as a deterrent and purification process for violations of slander and evil speech, why wouldn't they appear outside of Israel as they do for body and clothing leprosy?

The difference is that we have no real habitations or homes outside Israel. We don't own them. We own our clothing and our bodies wherever we are, but not our homes outside of Israel. We are always hoping and planning to return to Israel and we live in our homes in exile on a temporary basis.

Only that which is truly ours forever is afflicted with leprosy.

We must understand that God was not haphazard in designing the laws of leprosy as a punishment for lashon hara, slander. He was also not being arbitrary to apply leprosy only to bodies, clothing, and homes. These laws could have easily occurred to silverware, animals, and books, but they didn't. Obviously, there is a strong relationship between slandering and gossiping about someone and receiving leprosy in general, and in specifically receiving it on body, clothing and home. It is measure-for-measure.

Leprosy is the appropriate consequence for lashon hara because it invades your intimacy and forces you to become humiliated in public - which is what the original gossip did to its victim. Clothing grants a person dignity and the lashon hara invaded the dignity of the one spoken about. Therefore, we strip a gossiper of his clothing.

Similarly, we are driven out of our homes when we speak lashon hara because through our lashon hara we have denied our victim his comfort and privacy in his home. In some cases, he may feel that he must relocate due to the embarrassment that our lashon hara has caused him. At the very least, he does not feel as safe and relaxed in his home as he did before the lashon hara. He may feel somewhat paranoid now that everyone has been talking about him.

So if our lashon hara has removed dignity and privacy from the victim which was truly his own, then the affliction of leprosy can only appear in kind. It will not appear outside Israel in a home that is not truly ours because the consequence does not fit the crime. Even in a case where the subject of the lashon hara also lives in a home outside Israel, leprosy will not come to the gossiper's home. This is because the victim was not stripped of his comfort in his real home. In a sense, he has no actual and real rights to his home outside Israel so he hasn't done much damage within the realm of home. But the damage done to his general dignity and privacy does warrant leprosy appearing on clothes and body since he does truly own his body and clothing no matter which land he lives in.

We derive from all this that the only place where Jews really belong and the only land which we truly own is Israel. Yet, unfortunately most of us who live in the Diaspora don't usually think of our homes as temporary and we rarely contemplate abandoning our comforts in exile in order to fulfill the commandment of living in Israel.

At the very least, we should be hoping and anxiously anticipating returning to Israel when the Mashiach (Messiah) comes. We derive this from Maimonides (Laws of Kings 11:1) "Anyone who does not believe that the Messiah will come or who does not await his coming denies Torah." We must be aware that we are lacking something significant in our lives without Mashiach. There is no greater destruction to the Jewish soul than to lose the awareness of the bitterness of exile and the Diaspora.

There's a story told about a rabbi who was building a yeshiva in America, who appreciated this idea. The contractor offered to use Finnish wood that lasts 150 years, instead of regular wood which usually lasts 90 years before it begins to rot. The rabbi said, "Use the regular wood. We don't want to make our stay outside Israel too permanent."

One of the questions that we will be asked after our 120 years in this world is whether we "yearned for the salvation (of God and Israel)" (Shabbat 31a). What does yearning means? It's when a patient takes a biopsy exam and needs to wait 3 days for the results to see if the growth is benign or not. How he yearns! Those 3 days last forever! And on the 3rd day, every phone ring is met with anticipation - will this finally be the call he's been waiting for?

Do we yearn for Mashiach? Often we ask ourselves why do we even need Mashiach? What are we missing? This is a symptom of our spiritual malady. We no longer recognize the need to relate to God in the holiest place and in the closest manner, which is what Mashiach will bring to the world.

We utilize our comforts and freedom in exile to serve God better but we must never feel too attached to our culture and land.

We should yearn for the time when we will leave the exile forever and unite with our land, our nation, and God once again. Someday we will all be together in Jerusalem. May it be soon.

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