On The House!
The portions of Tazria and Metzora abound with the laborious and meticulous laws regarding leprosy. It is a tough read. But like the afflicted, the texts require close examination for cures, cues and insights.
There is a curious verse that has a familiar sound but whose connotations are alarmingly different. It opens with כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ when you enter the Land (of Israel). The same term opens a portion, so called, later in Devarim, and is found in various other narratives in the Torah. In all cases it is a dramatic pronouncement expressing the purpose of the exodus from Egypt, the establishment of our homeland in Israel. Fitting to evoke, this week when we will celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut. With our musical ears thus tuned, we expect… good news. Yet כגודל הציפיה – גודל האכזבה As great is the expectation, so is the disappointment. Here is the verse, 14:34
כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לָכֶ֖ם לַאֲחֻזָּ֑ה וְנָתַתִּי֙ נֶ֣גַע צָרַ֔עַת בְּבֵ֖ית אֶ֥רֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶֽם׃
When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess.
Perhaps motivated to find the “good news” in this rather startling assurance, Rashi quoting the Sifra, expounds that this occurrence is not a punishment, rather it is a “Besorah” (tova) . God comes bearing good tidings! – For in the walls which you will have to break down, treasures that the Amorites concealed will be found. This in itself only strengthens the incongruity, for if this was the purpose of the “besora” can these treasures not be discovered in a more convenient place, perhaps in the back garden? Why bring the house down?
Additionally the word וְנָתַתִּי֙ I will give, also appears to be at variance with what is normally the pledge of a gift. Consider the first time it appears in the Torah, in the Book of Bereishit, in the foundational covenant between God and Abraham, 17:8
וְנָתַתִּ֣י לְ֠ךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ֨ אַחֲרֶ֜יךָ אֵ֣ת ׀ אֶ֣רֶץ מְגֻרֶ֗יךָ אֵ֚ת כָּל־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן לַאֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָהֶ֖ם לֵאלֹהִֽים׃
I will give the land you sojourn in, to you and your offspring to come, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting holding. I will be their God.”
Think of the Shema;
וְנָתַתִּ֧י מְטַֽר־אַרְצְכֶ֛ם בְּעִתּ֖וֹ יוֹרֶ֣ה וּמַלְק֑וֹשׁ וְאָסַפְתָּ֣ דְגָנֶ֔ךָ וְתִֽירֹשְׁךָ֖ וְיִצְהָרֶֽךָ׃
I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil—
Clearly another conundrum strengthening the reasoning of Rashi, but surely such warnings of punishment ought to be prefaced by the “Im” clause,- if you behave in such a manner then I will… How are we to understand this seemingly unprompted brazen occurrence of leprosy striking ones home?
Whilst performers and performances thrive on bringing the house down, in this instance it is theology rather than theatrics that is at play. Our story is both predetermined and designed by one’s own choice. In this disconcerting “blessing” lies a pattern, events that appear to be inexplicable and unjust may in fact be the harbingers of blessings. This motif will be felt again this week as we summon the incomprehensible capacities to rise from; הַזֹּרְעִ֥ים בְּדִמְעָ֗ה בְּרִנָּ֥ה יִקְצֹֽרוּ׃ They who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy.- Or from tears of grief to tears of joy. It is that capacity to recognize “the cracks (in the house) are where the light gets in.”
Surely that is the comforting lesson Rashi who also lived through some of the darkest periods of Jewish history is offering to console his own generation, and those that follow.
Shabbat shalom v’chag sameach