Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana
bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.
parasha series is dedicated
honor of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Rabbi Elchanan
tov to Gedalyah and Rifky Shatz on the birth of a daughter, and mazal tov to
grandparents Dr. David and Chani Shatz. Yehi ratzon she-tizku le-gadlah le-Torah,
le-chuppa u-le-ma'asim tovim!
of the House
Rabbanit Sharon Rimon
14:34) When you come to the land of Canaan, which I give to you as a possession,
and I put the plague of tzara'at upon a house in the land of your
Then he that owns the house shall come and tell the kohen, saying: It
seems to me that there is something like a plague on the
Then the kohen shall instruct, and they shall remove the stones in which
the plague is found, and cast them outside of the city, to an unclean
And if the plague returns and breaks out in the house after he has removed the
stones, and after he has scraped the house, and after it is
Then the kohen shall come and see, and behold: if the plague has spread
in the house, it is a malignant tzara'at in the house; it is
So he shall break down the house, its stones, its wood, and all the mortar of
the house, and remove it outside of the city to an unclean
of Tza'arat of the House
of the house is one of three types of plagues mentioned in the parashiyot
of Tazria-Metzora. There are
plagues of the body (various types of which are listed in Parashat
Tazria), plagues on clothing, and plagues of the
the similarities, the plagues of the house are unique:
a. The plagues that affect the person or
his clothing are covered in Parashat Tazria, and then Parashat
Metzora begins with a discussion of the process of ritual purification for a
person who is a metzora (i.e., someone struck with tzara'at). Only afterwards does the Torah introduce
the plagues that affect houses. In
other words, plagues of houses are separated, in the text, from the other sorts
b. Concerning all other plagues, we read:
"IF THERE BE in the skin of a person's flesh…"; "If THERE BE the plague of
tzara'at in a person…"; "IF THERE BE A PLAGUE in a man or woman…"; "IF
THERE BE upon the garment…" When it
comes to tzara'at of the house, the Torah introduces the law in a unique
fashion: "…AND I PLACE the plague of tzara'at…"
c. It is only in relation to
tzara'at of the house that mention is made of coming to the land: "When
you come to the land of Canaan… and I place the plague of tzara'at upon a
house in the land of your possession."
In the process of purification of the metzora, the Torah addresses
the situation in the desert. We are
told, "Outside of the CAMP"; "He shall dwell outside of his TENT"; "Before God
at the entrance to the OHEL MO'ED."
In the process of purification of the house, we read about a "house"
rather than a "tent," and "outside of the city" instead of "outside of the
portion describing plagues upon houses is introduced with the words, "When you
come to the land of Canaan…"; this teaches us that tzara'at affecting
houses – in contrast to other types of plagues – occurs only in Eretz
Yisrael. (Some commentaries
deduce from the Ramban's words that all of the plagues occur only in Eretz
Yisrael, but this is a minority view.) It may be for this reason that
tzara'at of houses is treated separately and differently from that of the
body and of garments. The Torah
begins with a discussion of tzara'at of the body and of garments, both of
which were relevant already in the desert, and then goes on to describe the
process of purification of the metzora. Only afterwards is mention made of
tzara'at that affects the house, since it is not yet relevant, but may
appear only in the future, when the nation enters the
Why does tzara'at of houses occur only in Eretz
studying the continuation of the parasha, with its description of the
purification process involved in tzara'at of the house, the Sages deduced
that the house must be one that is built from stones, wood and earth, not a
Beraita de-Rabbi Yishmael,
parasha 1, chapter 1:
I place the plague of tzara'at upon a house in the land of your
possession" – this refers to a house that is made of stones, wood and earth,
which are able to contract ritual impurity. Is it possible that a type of house that
is not made of stones, wood and earth could contract impurity? (It is not;) for
this reason it is written, "He shall break apart the house, with its stones, its
wood, and all the earth of the house."
Thus, we learn from the description of its ultimate fate that a house
cannot be struck with this ritual impurity unless it is built of stones, wood
the plague appears only in a house of stone, then it is clear that it was not
relevant in the reality of the tents in which Bnei Yisrael dwelled in the
desert. In other words,
tzara'at of the house appears only after the entry into the land because
there were no permanent houses in the desert. According to this view, there is no
fundamental connection between the plague upon houses and Eretz Yisrael
answer does admittedly solve some of the questions that we posed above, but it
gives rise to two new difficulties. Firstly, why does tzara'at affect
specifically a house of stone, and not a tent? Secondly, the Torah could have
said, "If there be a plague of tzara'at upon a house" – and it would have
been clear that there were no houses in the desert, and hence that the plague
would not appear there. But the
parasha bears a unique introduction. It makes explicit note of the entry
into the land, and the fact that God gave the land to Israel. The first verse sounds like the herald
of some auspicious declaration or promise. After the words, "When you come to
the land of Canaan which I give to you as a possession," we expect some stately
continuation, and are disappointed at the "promise" that follows: "… And I place
the plague of tzara'at upon a house of your possession." In the context of this structure and
style, the expression "and I place" (ve-natati) has the effect of
conveying the sense of something positive that is going to
all the other types of tzara'at, as noted, the introduction is formulated
in conditional terms: "IF THERE BE a plague of tzara'at upon a person…."
Thus we are faced with two questions. Firstly, WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN
TZARA'AT OF THE HOUSE AND THE ENTRY INTO THE LAND? Secondly, WHY DOES THE
INTRODUCTION TO THE DISCUSSION OF TZARA'AT OF THE HOUSE APPEAR TO CONVEY
THE SENSE OF GOOD NEWS, I.E., THAT IT IS A POSITIVE
News for Them"
Midrash raises the same question, and provides a rather surprising
I place the plague of tzara'at" – Rabbi Chiya taught: Is it then good
news for them that they will be stricken with plagues?! Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai
taught: When the Canaanites heard that Israel were coming to their country, they
arose and hid their wealth inside their walls and in their fields. The Holy One said: I did not promise
their forefathers that I would bring their descendants into a land laid waste,
but rather to a land full of all kinds of goodness, as it is written: "And
houses full of all kinds of goodness" (Devarim 6:11). What, then, did the Holy One do? He
caused sores to appear on a person's house, and when he took it apart [as would
be necessary if the plague was confirmed to be tzara'at and then
proceeded to spread], he would find the treasure; likewise he would have to burn
his field and, as he turned it over, he would find the buried treasure.
(Vayikra Rabba, 17,6)
his cue from this Midrash, Rashi explains: "'And I shall place a plague of
tzara'at' – THIS IS GOOD NEWS FOR THEM, THAT THE PLAGUES WOULD COME UPON
THEM, for the Emorites had hidden gold coins in the walls of their houses
throughout the forty years that Israel were in the desert. By means of the plague, the house would
be dismantled, and they would be found."
Midrash and Rashi understand from the introduction to this parasha that
the plague upon the house carries a special, positive message related to the
entry into the land; they explain the law of the plague upon the houses as a
positive promise. The plague leads to the house being demolished, and this in
turn provides the opportunity to discover the hidden
this interpretation raises a difficulty: a plague is not a positive
phenomenon. It involves ritual
impurity; it causes the house to be taken apart. This is not what we would regard as a
positive process, and were it not for the festive introduction, we would never
dream of suggesting that "this is good news for them"; in fact – quite the
(Arakhin 16a) too, explain that all of the plagues come as a result of
sin, of a certain corruption:
Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: plagues come [as
punishment] for seven things: lashon ha-ra' (slander),
bloodshed, a false vow, sexual immorality, vulgarity of spirit, theft, and
Vayikra Rabba 17:3 there is a list of TEN transgressions, while Yalkut
Shimoni Zekharya 247, 572 lists eleven.)
plagues come as punishment for sin, or as warning concerning a situation that
needs correcting. Plagues upon
houses are no exception to this rule.
which sin is a plague upon the house sent as a punishment? The Midrash provides
a graphic description of the character trait that requires
is written, "The produce of his house will disappear, they shall flow away in
the day of His anger" (Iyov 20), they will flow away and be found. When? On the day that the Holy One
arouses His anger against that person.
How does this come about?
person says to his neighbor, "Lend me a kav of
neighbor replies: "I have none."
a kav of barley?"
woman says to her neighbor: "Lend me a sifter."
replies, "I have none."
me a sieve?"
replies, "I have none."
does the Holy One do? He brings a plague on the house, and when the man is
forced to take out all of his belongings, everyone sees and they say, "Didn't he
say that he had nothing? Look how much wheat he has! How much barley! How many
dates there are here!" (Vayikra Rabba 17)
to this Midrash, tzara'at comes upon a house because of miserliness. (Other sources suggesting the same idea
include Arakhin 16a, Yoma 11, Tanchuma 4, Bamidbar
Rabba 7:5, Devarim Rabba 6:4.)
IS NOT A SIN. A person has the
right to do as he pleases with his own property. There is no obligation to lend to
others. But miserliness is a
NEGATIVE TRAIT that must be corrected.
From this point of view, tzara'at of the house is not really a
punishment, but rather a catalyst for change, causing the person to mend his
ways. Through the experience of
tzara'at upon his house, he comes to understand that it is not proper
that he hoard his property to himself; he must also share with
tzara'at of the house comes as a SIGN TO THE PERSON THAT HE MUST CHANGE
Gives as a Possession" or "Your Possession"?
tzara'at of the house is not meant to be "good news," but rather a signal
to the person to mend his ways, how are we to explain the special introduction
to this subject?
his discussion of this parasha, the Keli Yakar raises a number of
a. "When you come to the land of Canaan,
which I give to you as a possession" – we must clarify why, when it comes to
plagues upon houses, the Torah specifies "When you come to the land of Canaan,"
which is omitted from the description of all other sorts of
b. Likewise, the expression "Which I GIVE
to you as a possession" is entirely redundant, for it is
c. Furthermore, the verse "… and I give a
plague of tzara'at upon a house IN THE LAND OF YOUR POSSESSION" should
read, "upon your houses."
d. … The language is somewhat
contradictory: when it says, "which I GIVE to you as a possession," the
possession is attributed to God [it is His to give], but when it says ["in the
land of] YOUR POSSESSION," the possession is attributed to Israel, as though it
is they who take the inheritance by their own hand….
then, is the purpose of the special introduction? The Keli Yakar describes how
the introduction addresses the mistake of the miserly person, who is struck with
tzara'at upon his house:
seems to me in this regard THAT THE MAIN REASON IS BECAUSE OF MISERLINESS, as
our Sages deduced (Arakhin 16a) from the verse, "And he to whom the house
belongs shall come" to mean "He who made his house belong only to himself, and
did not share of it with others," for IT IS FOR THIS REASON THAT GOD GAVE HIM
FOR A POSSESSION A HOUSE FULL OF ALL KINDS OF GOODNESS – IN ORDER TO TEST HIM
AND SEE WHETHER HE WOULD ALSO SHARE OF HIS HOUSE WITH OTHERS, "For the silver
and gold is Mine, says God" (Chaggai 2:8), AND ALL THAT A PERSON GIVES TO
OTHERS IS NOT FROM HIS OWN PROPERTY, BUT RATHER FROM GOD'S TABLE HE MERITS IT."
Therefore it is written, "When you come to the land of Canaan which I give to
you as a possession" – for it is not by their sword that they inherit the land,
nor did their arm deliver them (Tehillim 44:4), but rather the right hand
of God that is uplifted, to give them the portion of the nations. There is no room for the miserly to say,
"My strength and the power of my hand have achieved all this valor for me," for
it is God Who gives you strength and possession; therefore some of what is His
should rightfully be given to the poor of His nation. And if you do not listen to His voice,
and you are among the miserly who attribute the possession to themselves, then
"I shall place a plague of tzara'at upon a house in the land of your
Keli Yakar regards the introduction to the parasha not as good news, but
rather as a description of the state and feelings of a person which cause him to
be struck with the plague. The
opening verse describes the good land which God has given. A person who understands that God has
given him the land as a possession – "which I give to you as a possession" – is
conscious of the fact that the land really belongs to God, he himself has merely
received a gift from God, and therefore he does not treat his property as
belonging only to himself. He knows
that he must share with others the good that God has granted
contrast, a person who treats his house as "A HOUSE OF YOUR POSSESSION" feels
that his house belongs solely to himself, and therefore it not interested in
giving of his own possession to others.
is the person's mistake: the property and the house are not his; they are a gift
from God. If his sense of ownership
of his property expands to the point where he is not prepared to give any of it
to others, then "I SHALL PLACE the plague of tzara'at upon the house of
YOUR POSSESSION. The plague will
come, reminding him that the house is not really his own possession, but rather
something granted to him by God.
to the Midrash in Vayikra Rabba, tzara'at that appears on a house
leads to a correction of the trait of miserliness through the procedure of the
house-owner being forced to reveal his property publicly; then he is ASHAMED at
not having shared with others, and this leads him to mend his ways. The Keli Yakar adds a further dimension
to our understanding of the correction that is effected by means of
tzara'at on the house: the plague on his house leads the person not only
to feel shame before his friends and neighbors, but also causes him to feel that
HIS OWNERSHIP OF THOSE POSSESSIONS IS UNDERMINED. This person has forgotten that God is
the true owner of the property, that He has given him everything. His hold on his property has been so
tight that he was not prepared to share anything of it with anyone
plague that appears on his house is not regular mold, and it cannot be treated
in natural ways. It is a special
plague sent by God. This plague is
meant to remind the person Who the true Owner of the house is. Only if the person mends his ways will
his house be healed. The healing
process may be relatively short: the objects are removed from it, it is sealed
up for seven days, the specific stones that are affected are removed, and new
stones are put in their place. But
if the person has not repented, and the plague once again erupts on his house,
the entire house must be taken apart.
removal of the objects from the house teaches the person that his property is
not entirely in his own possession.
If this step does not have the effect of causing him to repent, and the
plague attacks his house once again, then it is dismantled. Taking the house apart is a more drastic
step; it teaches him that this type of house is not worthy of being
inhabited. Only when a person
recognizes the true House owner, is his house worthy of being lived
we understand why tzara'at appears specifically on a house of stone. The reason would appear to be that in
this type of house there is a greater chance of a person having a sense of
absolute ownership and forgetting that that the house was given to him as a
possession by God, as the Torah describes:
yourself lest you forget the Lord your God… lest you eat and be satisfied, AND
BUILD GOOD HOUSES, AND DWELL IN THEM.
And your cattle and sheep multiply, and you have much silver and gold,
and all that you have is abundant.
And your heart becomes haughty, and you forget the Lord your God….
explanation (following the Midrash), according to which the Torah is giving good
news about finding treasure, is surprising because a plague is not something
positive; why would God choose to reveal the place of the treasure by means of a
plague? Perhaps we may connect Rashi's interpretation with that of the Keli
Yakar: finding the treasure is the end of the process. The person has erred in having forgotten
that his house actually belongs to God.
By means of the tzara'at and the process of purification of the
house, the person undergoes a significant process of inner change. The dismantling of one's house is a
significant psychological experience; everything that the person has is broken
up. The thing that was so secure in
his eyes, and over which he felt such secure ownership, is taken apart. When he is left with nothing of his own,
he understands that the true Owner of the house is God.
he lives with the sense that everything belongs to God, then he may receive
additional gifts from God: the treasure buried and hidden under his
His Fury Upon Wood and Stones
idea is to be found in Midrash Tanchuma (Tazria siman 10):
"'If there be in the skin of a person's flesh' (Vayikra 13) – the Holy
One does not wish to harm this person.
What does He do? First He gives him warning, and only afterwards does He
strike him, as it is written (Ibid.
Vayikra 14), 'AND I PLACE A PLAGUE OF TZARA'AT UPON A HOUSE IN THE
LAND OF YOUR POSSESSION.' FIRST HE
STRIKES THE HOUSE. If the person
repents – fine; if not – He strikes his clothes, as it is written (13), 'If
there be the plague of tzara'at upon a garment.' If he repents – fine; if not, it comes
upon his body, as it is written, 'If there be in the skin of a person's
Tanchuma (Warsaw) Parashat Metzora, siman
are the wood and stones and walls struck (with tzara'at)? So that their
owners will see, and will engage in teshuva….
to this Midrash, the plague upon the house is the initial warning, with the aim
of avoiding the need to strike the person himself with a plague. According to this understanding, the
good news here is that GOD DOES NOT IMMEDIATELY STRIKE THE PERSON HIMSELF, but
first WARNS him by placing a plague upon his house.
17 (quoted in Torah Sheleima):
does the Torah not begin with the parasha concerning [tzara'at of]
the house? Because God told them the parasha about tzara'at in the
desert, where they did not yet have houses. The Holy One said: BECAUSE YOU DO NOT
HAVE HOUSES, I AM STARTING [THE DISCUSSION] WITH YOUR BODIES, BUT AFTER YOU
ENTER THE LAND, I WILL START WITH YOUR HOUSES.
good news is unique to Eretz Yisrael: only in Eretz Yisrael
does the plague appear upon the house before it strikes the person himself, and
therefore this is good news that is connected to the entry into the
to this interpretation, we are still left with the question: why is it
specifically in Eretz Yisrael that God first strikes the houses, rather
than sending a punishment directly to the person's body? Why is there no warning
to a person in the desert, in the form of a plague upon his tent, before his
body is struck with tzara'at?
Land that God Keeps His Eye Upon"
is the special connection between tzara'at of the house and Eretz
the Mishna Nega'im, chapter 12:4 we learn:
of the land, they are not struck with plagues.
to this Mishna, we understand that the connection between the plagues and
Eretz Yisrael is a fundamental, inherent one. The Ibn Ezra explains as follows
(commenting on Vayikra 14:34):
reason why the Torah says, "When you come to the land of Canaan" is because this
[discussion] applies exclusively in the land, BECAUSE OF THE UNIQUE GREATNESS OF
THE LAND, for the Sanctuary is in their midst, with God's glory within the
other words, because of the unique character of Eretz Yisrael,
plagues may occur on the houses in the land. Eretz Yisrael possesses a
unique degree of holiness, and therefore IT DOES NOT TOLERATE SIN. It is for this reason that the land
"expels" from its midst the nations that have been sinful:
not defile yourselves with all of these, for with all of these the nations which
I drive out from before you, were defiled.
And the land became defiled, so I visit its iniquity upon it, AND THE
LAND EXPELS ITS INHABITANTS. But
you yourselves shall observe My statutes and My judgments, and you shall not do
any of these abominations – neither the native born among you nor the stranger
who dwells in your midst…
THE LAND NOT EXPEL YOU WHEN YOU DEFILE IT AS IT EXPELLED THE NATION THAT WAS
BEFORE YOU. (Vayikra 24-28)
special land does not tolerate spiritual and moral corruption; it expels such
phenomena from its midst. If there
are houses that suffer some spiritual defect, the land will not tolerate it, and
therefore the plague will appear upon them.
we may add a further stage, on the basis of the principles that we have
discussed thus far. Plagues appear
upon a house when a person is miserly and is not prepared to share what he has
with others. Such a person lives
with a misguided consciousness concerning his home. The house is given to him by God; he
fails to understand this and believes that the house is his own possession. THE LAND – GOD'S LAND – IS UNABLE TO
BEAR SUCH A HOUSE, WHICH DENIES ITS OWNERSHIP BY GOD, AS IT WERE. Therefore it is specifically in
Eretz Yisrael that plagues appear upon such a
SHALL PLACE a plague of tzara'at…" – this expresses God's SPECIAL
PROVIDENCE that exists only in Eretz Yisrael: "A land that the
Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from
the beginning of the year until the end of the year" (Devarim
being so, A PLAGUE UPON A HOUSE IS A PHENOMENON THAT APPEARS ONLY IN ERETZ
YISRAEL, BECAUSE OF THE ELEVATED SPIRITUAL LEVEL OF THE
is the good news about these plagues?
good news is that THE LAND IS OF SUCH UNIQUE SANCTITY that even its houses are
affected by plagues as a result of a defective spiritual
there is more: a person whose character traits are flawed and corrupted – even
if has not transgressed any explicit prohibition – receives Divine signals to
change his ways. Thus, the plague
leads to THE MAINTENANCE OF THE HIGH SPIRITUAL LEVEL that is needed specifically
in Eretz Yisrael.
summary, in the Torah's discussion of tzara'at upon houses, the emphasis
is on the fact that this plague happens specifically in Eretz
affects only a house or permanent structure, not a tent. The parasha discussing
tzara'at of a house is presented in a positive style, we may perhaps even
say in the language of good news - "I shall place the plague of tzara'at"
–as opposed to the parallel formulation where it comes to tzara'at of the
body or clothing. We examined
several approaches to this parasha and attempted to elaborate on
a. "When you come to the land…" –
Tzara'at affects only a house made of stone and wood, not a tent. Therefore there was no tzara'at
affecting houses in the desert; the phenomenon would begin only after they
entered the land.
good news here: unclear.
b. (Rashi) "When you come to the land" –
the Canaanites hid treasure in their houses; the good news: you will find the
c. (Vayikra Rabba) "When you come
into the land: this is a punishment for miserliness. Taking apart the house signals to the
person that he must "leave his house," figuratively, and share his property with
others. Good news:
d. (Keli Yakar) "When you come to the
land…" – God brought us into the land and gave us all of the houses ready and
built; from this we must learn that all property is a gift from God. Accordingly, we explained above that it
is specifically a stone (permanent) house that is struck by tzara'at, for
it is there that the danger of a person having a sense of absolute ownership is
news: no good news here. We did,
however, propose the possibility of combining this view with that of Rashi, such
that the process of tzara'at upon the house represents a correction and
repair through which the person comes to understand that his property comes from
God, hence ultimately, at the end of the process, the person may become worthy
of indeed possessing property and finding the treasure.
e. (Tanchuma) "When you come to the
land…" – it is only in Eretz Yisrael that God strikes the house before
striking the person bodily. But why
is this the case specifically in Eretz Yisrael? The good news: there is
warning in the form of a plague upon the house, before the plague appears upon
the person's flesh.
f. (Based on a principle arising from the
Ibn Ezra) "When you come into the land" – this plague happens specifically in
Eretz Yisrael for two reasons. Firstly, because of the lofty spiritual
level of the land, a plague appears as a result of a spiritual decline. Secondly, since the land belongs to God,
there is a special plague that is sent upon a house when its owner denies
(through his behavior) the fact that it belongs to God.
good news: it is the lofty level of Eretz Yisrael that causes
tzara'at; this brings about a correction of a person's traits, thereby
leading us to a higher and more worthy spiritual level.
by Kaeren Fish