Take It Easy

When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as a possession, and I place a lesion of tzara’ath upon a house in the land of your possession and the one to whom the house belongs comes and tells the Kohen, saying, ‘Something like a lesion has appeared to me in the house.’

At first glance, this verse from the weekly Torah portion seems incomprehensible: G-d is telling the Jewish people that they will arrive in the land of their inheritance, enter their new homes and find them plagued with leprosy. The Jews might have to leave and even destroy their homes.

Is this a divine joke?

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, known as Rashi, says G-d is telling the Jewish people that the curse they see in their homes will actually turn into a blessing. Yes, G-d will bring leprosy to some of these homes and the Jews might even have to leave them for a while. But when the stones plagued with the oozing dark green or red stains are removed, they will discover “treasures of gold inside the walls of their houses.” That treasure had been hidden by the Amorites while the Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years.

But why the threat of eviction? Let the Jews simply find the treasures of their former occupants in the closet or somewhere less traumatic. The Jews have already traveled 40 years through the heat, sand and dust. Give them a break.

This chapter in Leviticus, however, has another purpose: It highlights the role of the Kohen. He is called to determine whether the lesion is pure or contaminated. From the look of things, this could be obvious, but the Torah urges the homeowner not to make a judgment. He doesn’t tell the Kohen there is a lesion, rather “something like a lesion.”

“The Kohen shall order that they clear out the house, before the Kohen comes to look at the lesion, so that everything in the house should not become unclean. After this, the Kohen shall come to look at the house. And he shall look at the lesion.”

Here, the Kohen is giving the homeowner advice: “I will give you time to clear out your house. This way if the house is contaminated, you will have saved all your belongings.”

The ability of the Kohen to issue practical advice marks a mainstay in Jewish tradition. For the last 2,000 years, the role of the Kohen has been taken over by the sage, a pious scholar entrusted with helping Jews both spiritually and materially. He stays close to his flock, understands and addresses their needs.

The Talmud in Yevomot refers to a case where a married man dies without children. There is nobody to carry on his name. The Torah urges, but does not command, a surviving brother to take the widow in a marriage known as Yibum. If not, the brother must undergo a separation ceremony known as Halitza.

In the Talmud, the rabbis are faced with a situation in which the surviving brother is much younger than the widow. Or, the brother is far older than the woman. He would be more like a father than a husband.

“We tell him: What do you have with a girl? [Or] what do you have with an old woman? Go to somebody who is like you and do not introduce strife in your house.”

Alice Walker was the first black American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. During the civil rights campaign in the mid-1960s, she met Melvyn Rosenthal, a Jewish attorney from New York. Their marriage was based on the hope that love would conquer all — whether the KKK in Jackson, Miss. or the gulf between Jew and gentile. In 1969, they had a daughter named Rebecca.

The idyll quickly faded. Leventhal was on the road with the civil rights movement while his wife was miserable in Jackson. Soon, they separated and Rebecca was consigned to a dual life. Every two years, she would reside with her mother. Then, she would be shipped to her father in a Jewish suburb of New York. Nobody seemed to accept her^.

Alice Walker turned her failed marriage into a novel. She then dedicated her life to hating Jews, particularly Israel. Rebecca followed her mother, and at 15 changed her last name from Leventhal to Walker. Like her mother, she, too, saw Jews as racists.

The advice of the Kohen in this week’s Torah portion is meant to help. His advice to the homeowner: “Take it easy. I will wait while you save your possessions. Then, I will rule on the fitness of your home. We will remove the infected blocks of your house, and who knows, you might find gold. The entire episode will turn into a blessing.”

G-d does not play jokes — particularly on the Jewish people. Our exile of 2,000 years might not have ended, but most of the Jewish people are in the Land of Israel. Life can be difficult here — terror, soaring taxes, official corruption, internecine hatred. And like the Jewish man with a house full of slime, we must make improvements. We will have to remove the infected bricks from the house and “cast them away outside the city, to an unclean place.”

Rabbi Ovadia Ben Yaakov, the medieval Italian rabbi and physician known as the Sforno, sees the contaminated home as a parable. The Jews built a temple to G-d but their corruption resulted in its destruction. Then came a second temple — also demolished. Finally, when we understand what is required of us as Jews, a third temple will be built.

And it will last forever.

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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