The Faculty of Jewish Studies
The Office of the Campus Rabbi
Parashat Metzora 5757
Department of Jewish Studies
Parashat Metzora, like Tazria before it, continues to list the various laws pertaining to the impurity of leprosy.
Several types of leprosy are mentioned : A. leprosy
in the human body; B. leprosy in clothing; C. leprosy in a house.
Our subject here is the third leprosy which appears
in the walls of a house. The Torah says: "When you enter
the Land of Canaan which I give you as a possession, and I will
inflict an eruptive plague (literally: "put the affliction
of leprosy") upon a house in the Land which you possess"
(Leviticus 14:34). The Torah further states that sometimes it
is necessary to remove the infected building blocks from the wall
of the house, and sometimes to destroy the entire house. The implication
is that leprosy in the walls of the house can occur only in the
Land of Israel ("when you enter the Land of Canaan")
and several explanations for this have been suggested.
Some commentators, like Hizkuni, attribute this
limitation to the nature of the situation. While in the desert,
the People of Israel dwelled in tents, which were not susceptible
to infection. Only when they entered the Land of Israel, and moved
into permanent houses, could this law be applicable. Thus the
limitation to the Land of Israel is simply a reflection of the
reality of the lives of the people.
However the Ramban (Nahmanides) was of a different opinion (on Leviticus 13,47):
This (the affliction of clothing) is not at all natural and does not exist in the world, and the same is true of leprosy in houses. However, when the people of Israel are wholly devoted to the Lord, His spirit will be upon them at all times to keep their bodies, their clothing and their houses looking well, but when sin and iniquity occur in one of them ugliness will appear in his flesh or his clothing or his house to show him that the Lord has forsaken him... See then, that this does not happen except in the Land, which is God's inheritance: "When you enter the Land...which I give you as a possession" (Leviticus 14:34) and ...this [leprosy] will never occur except in the Chosen Land where the presence of God dwells.
Nahmanides' conclusion is that leprosy in a house
is actually a result of the holiness of the Land of Israel and
indicates God's ongoing concern for the Land of Israel and His
presence within it.
Various answers have been given to the question why leprosy appears in someone's home.
In the Midrash Vayikra Rabbah (chap. 17) leprosy is understood as a punishment for sin:
The diseases which infect man first appear in his
house. If he repents - only the infected stones must be pulled
out - if not the entire house must be destroyed. They also infect
his clothes. If he repents - they need to be laundered - if not
- they must be burned. Then they afflict his body. If he repents
- he will be purified, if not - he must sit alone.
However, we find a very different message in other sources. According to tractate Horayot (10a), our parasha "is an announcement (of good news), that plagues will inflict them". Though Rashi explains: "Scripture announces to them (mevasran) what will happen in the future even though it is bad news", Vayikra Rabbah (ibid.) clearly understands "announcement" (besora) as good news.
Rabbi Hiyya taught, is it an announcement (of good news) to them that plagues will inflict them? Yes, for Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai taught, from the moment the Canaanites heard that the Israelites were coming, they arose and hid their money in their houses and their fields. Said the Holy One Blessed Be He, "I promised their ancestors that I would bring them into a land full of all good things, as it is written (Deuteronomy 6:11) 'houses full of all good things'. What did the Holy One Blessed Be He do? He brought the blight of leprosy to a man's house, and when he destroyed it (as the Torah ordained) he found a treasure.
It would seem that our sages saw the positive side of leprosy which affected the house from the opening of our portion (Leviticus 14:34) which is different from all the rest. In all the other sections which deal with leprosy and impurity the events are described as conditional. "If a man or a women has an infection" (Leviticus 13:29), etc., whereas here we read: "And I inflict an eruptive plague of leprosy upon a house in the land you possess". This language is unconditional and therefore was interpreted as portentous and bearing good tidings.
This approach is based on the assumption that leprosy does not necessarily appear as a punishment but can also be a privilege: So too, did the Sefer Hachinuch explain: "The Lord brought leprosy to a few houses when they conquered the Land, for their own benefit, so that they would destroy those houses and discover the money hidden by the Amorites".
This interpretation provides the reason why leprosy
in the walls of a house occurs only in the Land of Israel. The
purpose is to uncover those treasures hidden by the former inhabitants
of the Land in the walls of their houses.
The weekly Torah portion is distributed with the assistance of the President's Fund for Torah and Science.