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Torah Attitude: Parashas Metzora: Take note and repent
G'd brings afflictions to property so that the owners should take note and repent. These afflictions give him the opportunity to change his ways. Only after the kohein has proclaimed that this is in fact an affliction will the house be considered impure. The words one utters can afflict and can heal, they can build and they can break down. The special character trait of the Kohanim is lovingkindness (chesed). Any item left in the house once the house was declared impure would automatically also become impure. Even if G'd has to inflict punishment on the belongings of a person, G'd will do it in a way that causes as little damage as possible. The selfish miser has to be taught that whatever G'd blessed him with is not meant just for his personal use, but rather to share with others. It is up to the individual to take note as early as possible and repent to minimize the damage and harm. The quicker we analyze our situation to discover our shortcomings, the quicker we can assume that G'd will stop afflicting us and instead shower us with His blessings.
Afflict assets and belongings
In this week's portion, the Torah instructs us regarding the affliction of tzaraas upon houses. The Midrash Tanchuma (paragraph 4) asks, why would a house be afflicted, the house did not sin? Says the Midrash, G'd brings these afflictions so that the owner should take note and repent. If a person spoke evil about his fellow human beings, G'd, in His great mercy, would rather bring afflictions and damages to a person's property than to his body. The Midrash Rabbah (17:3) explains that sometimes the inflictions on the house would specifically come as a punishment for the owner's miserly conduct and not being ready to lend others any of their belongings. The Chofetz Chaim (Ahavas Chesed 2:10) adds that the same applies nowadays. Although G'd does not afflict us with tzaraas neither on our bodies, nor on our clothes or houses, G'd will first afflict our assets and belongings in different ways before afflicting our bodies.
When a person finds an affliction on his house, the Torah (Vayikra 14:35) describes what he as to do. It says, "And the owner of the house shall come and tell the kohein and say, 'Something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house.' And the kohein shall instruct that they shall clear out the house before the kohein shall come to see the affliction, so that everything in the house shall not become impure. After that shall the kohein come to see the house." Rashi quotes the Mishnah in Negaim (12:5) that points out that even if the owner of the house is a learned person, he has to go and request that the kohein should come to his house. Only after the kohein has proclaimed that this is in fact an affliction will the house be considered impure. That is why the owner of the house would say to the kohein that "something like an affliction has appeared in the house". The obvious question is why is the house not impure as soon as the affliction appears? And why does the Torah instruct that this decision can only be made by a kohein, and not by a rabbi or other learned person?
Power of speech
As mentioned above, the affliction of tzaraas would often appear because of evil talk. It is not uncommon that people, who are otherwise kind and Torah observant, have difficulty controlling their speech. They will say whatever comes to their mind and gossip freely with their family and friends. These people clearly do not understand the power of speech and the damage they can cause with their gossip. The Torah wants to educate such a person and therefore instructs him to go to the kohein and ask him to come and look at the affliction. Only when the kohein proclaims that this is an affliction would the house become impure. Similarly, if the affliction appears on a person's body or his garments, everything would depend on the proclamation of the kohein. The same would apply when it has to be established if the person is ready for purification. He has to go back to the kohein and only when the kohein proclaims that he is pure will his state of impurity cease. This sends a strong message to the afflicted person regarding the power of speech. The words one utters can afflict and can heal, they can build and they can break down. One has to guard one's tongue and make sure to use it only in a positive way.
Epitome of lovingkindness
But why does it specifically have to be a kohein who has to make this proclamation? The Kabbalists explain that the special character trait of the Kohanim is lovingkindness (chesed). When they performed the service in the Temple they brought about the flow of Divine blessings to come down from above. Even nowadays they are instrumental in bringing G'd's blessing when they bless the congregation with the priestly blessing. Someone afflicted with tzaraas in one way or another was lacking in this character trait of lovingkindness. Such a person may have gossiped about others without too much care about the outcome of his evil talk, or has been a selfish miser who was not ready to share with others. G'd wants such a person to associate with the Kohanim, who are the epitome of lovingkindness and learn to emulate them.
Rashi continues to explain why the kohein had to instruct that all items should be cleared from the house before he would come. Since the impurity of the house would depend on the proclamation of the kohein, it would be in the interest of the owner to remove everything before the kohein comes, for any item left in the house once the house was declared impure would automatically also become impure.
As little damage as possible
Rashi quotes the Toras Kohanim that asks why it was so significant to empty the house. What would happen if the items in the house would become impure? Most items could be purified though immersion in a mikvah. Food and drinks would also not go to waste, as a person who is impure may consume these items. The Toras Kohanim answers that the Torah shows G'd's concern with the owner's earthenware that would be in the house, for these would not have any way of purification and could not be used anymore. Even if G'd has to inflict punishment on the belongings of a person, G'd will do it in a way that causes as little damage as possible. Even a cheap pot or vessel of clay should not go to waste if it could be avoided.
The Midrash Rabbah (17:2) teaches an additional insight why the Torah brought about that all the items of the house would have to be brought outside. The master of the house had been approached by his neighbours to lend them various items. Being such a miser, he always claimed that he did not possess that particular item. Now when the house was afflicted with tzaraas, he would be forced to display all these items that he claimed he did not own. What an embarrassment the owner would experience at this point. Obviously, G'd is not looking to embarrass anyone. But this selfish miser has to be taught that whatever G'd blesses him with is not meant just for his personal use, but rather to share with others.
Minimize damage and harm
If the person would learn his lesson and become more loving and caring, and be more careful how he talks, the affliction would stop and disappear. If this did not happen, the affliction would reappear and spread, and eventually the house would be knocked down. If this person still had not learned his lesson, G'd would bring about that his garments would be afflicted, and as a last resort the affliction of tzaraas would show up on his body. G'd does not lack means how to afflict a person. It is up to the individual to take note as early as possible and repent, in order to minimize the damage and harm.
Discover our shortcomings
Nowadays, we do not experience open miracles, and therefore do not see the afflictions of tzaraas. Nevertheless, we have to discern G'd's messages, when we experience different kinds of afflictions on our assets and belongings. The quicker we analyze our situation to discover our shortcomings, the quicker we can assume that G'd will stop afflicting us and instead shower us with His blessings.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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