It’s What’s Inside That Counts by Elie Sonnenblick


A large portion of Parashat Metzora is dedicated to the intricacies of Tzara’at. Tzara’at can infect anything: a person’s house, his clothing, and even his skin. Most of the laws of Tzara’at seem rather logical. For example, it makes perfect sense that one who has what appears to be Tzara’at needs to consult a Kohein. However, the laws pertaining to those who find Tzara’at on their house are less logical and more difficult to understand. Why are they required to remove everything from their homes (VaYikra 14:36) before the Kohein even comes to determine if the affliction is indeed Tzara’at?

To answer this question, we must first understand why one is afflicted with Tzara’at. The most well-known reason is Lashon HaRa, slander. Another explanation comes from a closer look at the word “Tzara’at.” It can be broken down into two words, “Tzarut Ayin,” literally translated as narrowness of the eye, i.e., selfishness. With this new understanding of Tzara’at, we can more easily understand why one must take everything out of one’s home. Everyone who had once asked to borrow from the punished individual but had been denied is now able to see all of the afflicted person’s belongings outside his house. This whole embarrassing episode is a form of atonement, and it will prompt the afflicted person to be less selfish in the future.

After the afflicted individual takes all of his belongings out of his house and has thus already learned to be selfless, what would cause him to deserve a declaration of Tzara’at from the Kohein, resulting in the destruction of the walls?

This occurs if the person still has not internalized the lesson. In order to further stress the point of the affliction, the house is destroyed. A related message stems from a comparison of the house to a Keli Cheres, an earthenware vessel. This type of vessel is unique in that it can contract Tumah, impurity, only if the inside, not the outside, becomes Tamei. Earthenware vessels are valued for their functionality, not for any intrinsic value they hold. Similarly, destroying the structure of the house illustrates that the outer appearance is not what is important; rather, it is the functional interior that matters. Furthermore, the materials inside the house are taken out before the house is destroyed not only to cause embarrassment but also to teach this very lesson.

        Thereby, we learn two important lessons from Tzara’at. We must be selfless, and we must look for and value inner qualities over purely material appearances, even if they are harder to see right away.

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