Tazria-Metzora: Hidden Treasures

Copyright Neal Joseph Loevinger 2010

Torah Portion: Tazria-Metzora

The double portion Tazria-Metzora is one of the most difficult in the Torah. It begins with laws concerning bodily fluids and goes on to discuss manifestations of ritual impurity, both on people and houses.

Greetings!

Towards the end of this week’s double portion, we learn that tzara’at, or scaly outbreaks, can occur on buildings as well as people. Once that happens, the priest has to come look at the house, and if it’s really tzara’at, then it’s scraped off or the stones affected are removed. If it comes back- the house may have to be destroyed. (Cf. Vayikra 14:33-45)

Our friend Rashi notices a theological problem in the verse introducing this section of laws:

“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 . . . . . ” (14:34)

Rashi notices that the verse implies that God will give or place the tzara’at on the houses, and answers the implicit question: why would God bring the Israelites to a good land and then put plagues upon their houses?

His answer (which is from an earlier midrash):

“This is good news for them that lesions of tzara’at will come upon them because the Amorites had hidden away treasures of gold inside the walls of their houses during the entire forty years that the Israelites were in the desert, and through the lesion, he will demolish the house and find them.”

With this midrash, Rashi turns our lesson inside out: instead of a set of ancient purity rules about plagues and punishments, our verse teaches us about looking for hidden treasure hidden under seemingly unpleasant things. What seems like a punishment might- if you remove the outer layers and demolish old structures – reveal gold. The image of walls coming down and treasure being revealed suggests to me that the real plague is not on the skin, but is our negativity, cynicism, resentment, or jealousy- which, when we tear them down, can often allow much more beautiful things to emerge.

This understanding also fits with the traditional interpretation that the metzora– the one afflicted with the outbreak- is afflicted because he spoke motzie shem ra, or slander about others. When that metaphor is a applied to a building, perhaps it suggests that when we tear down mental structures afflicted by cynicism and resentment, new and unexpected things will emerge, which we would never find without the decision to declare certain things impure and worthy of removal. Hidden treasures, tucked away behind yucky walls- what might we find upon close inspection of our houses, our communities, and ourselves?

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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