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It's Good To Come Home

Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12-15 )

by Rabbi Stephen Baars

Exploring the meaning of tzaraat on homes.

There is something comforting about walking through your own front door that no amount of pampering or luxury anywhere else can simulate.

In other words, if an exact replica of your home were constructed next door, down to the loose door knob and leaky faucet, nevertheless, it would just not feel the same. It would not feel like home.

The implications of this are fascinating, we can imbue bricks and mortar with meaning.

In the same way a rock left in the sun gives off its warmth long after the sun has set, similarly, we can impart values to our four walls and be warmed from its meaning.

But just as we can impart belonging, we can equally impart the opposite - a sort of black hole of spirituality.

How does this work?

God created the world so that incredibly, various physical things have the capacity to be spiritually molded. For example, we can sit in our comfy chair at home and feel a glow of acceptance and belonging that doesn't exist in the same chair at the furniture store.

However, when we impart negative values to our house, it lacks the spiritual oxygen to keep it healthy, and so a hybrid spiritual-physical mold grows. It's called Tzaraat and the actual stones of the house contract it: "The plague in the house of the land of your possession..." (Leviticus 14:34).

Why a house? Why in the land of Israel?

Nothing sums up a person's sense of accomplishment like their house. You can pretty much figure out what you have done with your life by your zip code and how much you paid for those carpets. When you walk through your door at night after a long day at the office, you get an immediate and visceral sense of your life's achievements.

"This is mine and they can't take it away."

But yes they can. Wherever you live, you live by the grace of the government. If they decide they want your particular patch of dirt, house or no house, well, you better start ripping up the carpets. Wherever you live, that is, except Israel.

In the Israel described in Leviticus, the land and the home were given by God, and no one could take it away from you. A person who owned a home in Israel felt a sense of ownership not equaled anywhere on Earth.

Actually, that was true with everywhere in Israel except Jerusalem. Jerusalem didn't belong to anyone and so no home there was infected with Tzaraat.

However, outside Jerusalem, the house was a person's ultimate personal property and sense of self, therefore a person could imbue an immense sense of meaning in it. That's not to say we can't do similar things in our homes here, and in fact do. It's just that deep down we know these homes are temporary and lack a sense of ultimate connectedness to us and our family. We are not going to exert ourselves to imbue the kind of meaning we would in our home in Israel. It's the difference we feel in a home we rent as opposed to own. In truth, all homes outside of Israel are really just rented from the government.

So how do we do it? How do we imbue this meaning?

This week's Torah portion describes the owner of the house afflicted with this malady, "The one who owns the house shall come…" (Leviticus 14:35). Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the great 19th century German leader expounding on the Talmud (Yoma 2b) understands that in these words are the very mistake the owner has made, that his house became his for him.

Exclusively, without regard for the needs of anyone else.

No home in Jerusalem could be afflicted because everyone's home was open to all travelers on their journey to the Holy Temple. In fact, these guests were not charged rent since the "owners" of the homes in Jerusalem didn't really own the homes they lived in. And in this lies the secret.

All we really have in this world is what we offer to others. Nothing is really ours - each of us are a means to make the world a better place. When we view what we have this way, we imbue it with meaning. Stated another way, when we don't view what we have this way, we can't imbue it with any meaning.

You might be thinking this a rather high standard to live. After all, "I'm no saint" and I like my privacy.

And you would be wrong. You don't like your privacy that much.

Let me explain. I am sure you know people who never married - not because they couldn't find the right person, but because they didn't want to share anything they had. As one of my Rabbis once explained, "Selfishness is relative, we view our spouse and children as us. Maybe our town is also us, and maybe even our country. It's just a question who we view as part of us." (Rabbi Sassoon zt"l)

With this in mind, look around your home and notice the things that have meaning to you - the dining table your family had so many guests over for dinner, the carpet your dear and sweet Aunt Mildred spilt coffee, the worn sofa and chairs in the living room all the family and neighborhood children would gather and spend time discussing good times and bad times together....

In other words, the more you live for, and share with others, the more you gain for yourself. That is what imbues true meaning to your home.

You may have grown up with a couch you weren't allowed to sit on, or other forbidden furniture. Maybe it was covered with that really uncomfortable plastic or there was a room reserved for "special occasions." Kids never sat there unless they were clean and sat still. Somewhere between then and the grandchildren, your parents' whole attitude changed. Now, when the grandchildren come over it's free range and nothing is off limits.

What happened?

Your parents got to compare sofas. The one you all sat on, messed with and ruined is a lot more meaningful than the pristine one. In other words, the more your house is available to others, the more you are going to enjoy coming home.

* * *


But it's not only houses that we can imbue with this meaning, countries too. If you get a certain warm feeling of security and "home" when you see the Star Spangled Banner at passport control, this is the reason:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
--  The Statue of Liberty, by Emma Lazarus

* * *


Question 1:  Look around your home, other than pictures, what thing means the most to you and why?

Question 2:  Have a family discussion about which thing means the most.

Question 3:  What thing do you miss the most from your childhood home?

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