In Parashat Metzora, the Torah teaches that when somebody says Lashon HaRa, “VeNatati Nega Tzaraat BeVeit Eretz Achuzatchem,” “And I shall put the plague of Tzaraat in a house of the land of your possession” (VaYikra 14:34). According to Rashi, when the Canaanite inhabitants of Israel saw that the Jews would be victorious over them, they hid their valuables in the walls of their homes so that the Jews would not get them. By placing Tzaraat on the walls of the house, Hashem provided the new Jewish owners with a way to access the treasure. This seems to contradict the view of the Talmud (Yoma 11b) which views Tzaraat inflictions on homes as a punishment for the refusal to loan household effects to others. Since those who turn down their neighbors’ requests usually claim that they do not have what the borrower needs, Hashem forces them to remove all their household items, so that everyone can see the truth.
Rav Y. Eiger offers an explanation of this contradiction based on a thought of the Maggid of Metzritch. In Zemirot of Shabbat, we say, “MeShoch Chasdecha LeYodecha Keil Kano VeNokeim,” “Bring Your kindness to those who know You, jealous and vengeful God.” Why is God’s treating us kindly related to the fact that He is a jealous and vengeful God? The Maggid explains by means of a parable. A king was once traveling with one of his servants, when a peasant threw mud at the king’s cloak. The servants wanted to immediately punish the peasant, but the king would not allow it. “Rather,” said the king, “teach him proper etiquette, until he is fit to serve me.” When the fellow was finally trained, the king had him brought to the palace, where the former peasant was brought before him. The man was so overcome with shame at having insulted the person who was so kind to him that he began to weep uncontrollably. Similarly, we turn to God and ask that He expose us to such an overwhelming outpouring of divine kindness that we will be embarrassed over how we have “mistreated” Him. This “punishment” will have a more powerful and lasting effect on us than true punishment will. While the Tzaraat afflictions are a punishment, they come together with God’s blessing in the form of the Canaanite’s treasures. In this way, God brings the sinner to repentance and rehabilitates him with kindness.