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'When you come into the Land of Canaan… I shall put the plague of tzaraat into the houses…' (14:34)
This Parasha and the previous one deal with tzaraat - commonly, but not necessarily accurately translated as 'leprosy'. The Rabbis bring the tradition that tzaraat is a Divine-ordained communication to individuals, extant during the Biblical Period. It came as a result of poor attitudes and conduct towards other people - such as haughtiness and gossip.
The Torah deals with tzaraat under three headings - on the person, in garments, and in houses. The laws of the first two applied from when the Torah was given - even during the wanderings in the desert. The laws of tzaraat in homes, by contrast, did not apply to the tents (c.f. Num. 24:5) in their forty years of travel. They only applied to 'when you come into the Land of Canaan' - after they settled down in more permanent dwellings in the Holy Land. Why should the laws applying to homes only become operational on putting down roots in the Promised Land?
By way of response, Moses tells the Israelites about their future homes in a very different context, just before his death:
Take heed not to forget… G-d… lest you build homes… and you become excessively haughty… (Deut.8: 11-14)
Thus the Torah implies a link between homes and pride. The reasons are obvious. Class differences in the desert were not products of wealth and poverty. The Israelites were all directly dependent on G-d's munificence - on the Manna, and His Protection. None of them lived in permanent mansions. Homes were not the basis of a person feeling superior to one another.
By contrast, once the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they ceased to be wanderers and started to be settlers. There was plenty of scope for housing to become a status symbol - inevitably some people 'did better' than others, which by itself is not condemned by the Torah. What is, are the feelings which can go with it - namely a person views his wealth in 'permanent' bricks and mortar as a means of making those less fortunate feel inferior, and fit for exploitation. As Jeremiah was to put it:
Woe to he that builds a house unjustly… who exploits his neighbor (Jer. 22:13).
Thus it appears that tzaraat in houses came as a warning to individuals against 'social superiority complexes' that come with wealth. In the case of homes, it would only have been relevant when permanently settling down. It is a warning to those concerned to 'search and delve into' their 'ways and return to G-d' (Lam. 3:40), by showing a little more compassion and generosity in means and spirit to those in need.
It may be suggested that the same applies today when things go 'wrong with the house' - be it a sudden problem with mortgage repayments, or the need to carry out unexpected, urgent repairs (at most inconvenient times) to the water, gas, or electricity… It is G-d tell us that our security is not in bricks and mortar, but in 'walking in His ways' (Deut. 28:9), especially in respect to the welfare of other people.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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