Questioning faith in the parsha
KOSHI: What is the plague? Why/how does it infect the “house.” How do we prevent m’tzora from the ‘house of Israel”?
V.34 When you enter the Land of Canaan that I give to you as a possession, and I place an eruptive plague on the house in the Land you possess
RASHI… This is good news for them then…Since the Amorites hid treasures of gold in the walls of their houses during the 40 years that Israel wandered in the Wilderness, now—as a result of this NeGaH, he breaks down the house and discovers the treasures.
TALMUD… “a house in the Land you possess.” All houses are subject to plague-spots, except those of non-Israelites, for it is written: “your possession” As the Holy One gives us the Land, so too, the plague…[Gitin, 82a]
RALBAG… Remember that these are houses which the people Israel did not build. God would therefore at times inflict a plague to let them know that a particular dwelling was shaky and ready to fall.
V.35 The one to whom the house belongs shall come and declare to the Kohen: “Something like a plague has appeared to me in the house …”
TALMUD…The school of R’ Yishma-el understood: “Asher LO ha-bayit—the one who intends the house for him alone…” So the one who will not lend his things to others, denying that he possesses them, will be exposed by the Holy One and be forced to empty out his house [Arachin 16a]
RASHI… “something like a plague-spot…” Even if he is smart enough to know, he should not pronounce it so with a definite statement by saying: “A plague has hit my house.” Rather, he must say: “Something like a plague…” [Nega’im 12:5]
TOSAFOT YOM TOV… One should try to avoid speaking of unfortunate events, and even if speaking of them is unavoidable, one must speak of them in a circumspect manner—for to speak directly of that which is menacing in one’s future might cause it to happen.
R’ S.Z. KAHANA… “Nirah li—it appears to me” occurs only twice in the Bible. Once it is in conjunction with the plague, the other in the book of Jeremiah: “The Lord appeared to me from afar…” [Jer 31:3] The link is this: One who thinks a plague has come upon his house may feel God is afar. Thus, the meaning of the Psalms: “Unless the Lord builds the house the builders labor in vain.” [Ps. 127:1]
V.40 The kohen shall then command that they remove the stones with the plague in them and cast them…
TALMUD… “and THEY shall remove…” Who is THEY? The owner of the affected house and his neighbor who shares the outer wall. Both of them remove and cast out, both of them scrape and bring new stones
TALMUD… R’ Meir asked: Now what in the house can become unclean? If you say his wooden utensils, his metal, his clothing—Can he not immerse and cleanse them?…The rabbis concluded: If Torah has such regard for material possessions, how much the moreso for the lives of his sons and daughters! [Nega’im, 12:5]
V.43-45 “If the affliction returns after the stones have been removed…then the Kohen shall return and examine: If the plague persists, it is a malignant affliction. The house shall be torn down…”
RASHI…See that the Torah does not say: The Kohen shall come, but rather “return.” If he comes back at the end of the second week and the affliction is unchanged, one might think he may depart and be done with it. But rather, a third week is to be given. If, after removal of stones and scraping, in three week’s time the affliction returns—or still remains, it requires demolition.
TALMUD…As in the case of the recalcitrant son who is stoned to death, the plagued house “lo hayah, v’lo atid lih’yot—It never was and never will be.” [Sanhedrin 71a]
ALSHIKH…Since, according to some of our sages, there never was nor will there be an afflicted house, why is this chapter in Torah? The prime teaching must be that each person who is a member of the house of Israel must be ever on the alert for any breakdown in its structure. This is our house. Even the smallest breach in its walls can spread to its well-being. So we must be the ones who watch and examine, and if need be, pull out the stones and clean out the affected areas and rebuild.
R’D.J. MEYER…Is it really possible for a house made of wood, brick and plaster to assume a personality of its own? Well, in a classic work of American fiction, such is certainly the case. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s accursed House of the Seven Gables in colonial Salem takes on the features—the evil, the decay, the darkness and the illness—which emanate from the family history unfolding within. Hawthorne describes the house in human terms, as “a great human heart, with a life of its own, full of rich and somber reminiscences.” What must be done to restore a stricken house to a habitable state?…
R’D. WOLPE…That the leprous house threatens to infect other homes shows how intimate are the bonds that unite our Jewish community. No household exists in isolation. What goes on in families has implications for others around them. Perhaps the lesson of leprosy is paradoxical: This disease which so often results in isolation is intended to teach us that Israel’s community is indispensable!