The Gift of Tzara’at by Yehudah Fuksbrumer


One of the various forms of Tzara’at described by the Torah is Tzara’at HaBatim, Tzara’at that affects houses. Rambam notes in his Mishnah Torah (Hilchot Tum’at Tzara’at 16:10) that Tzara’at HaBatim (as well as Tzara’at Begadim, Tzara’at that affects garments) is a supernatural sign or wonder rather than a natural occurrence.

When introducing the phenomenon of houses infested with Tzara’at the Torah states (VaYikra 14:34), Ki Tavo’u El Eretz Kena’an Asher Ani Notein Lachem LaAchuzah VeNatati Nega Tzara’at BeVeit Eretz Achuzatchem, “When you come to the land of Kena’an that I give you as a possession, and I will give an affliction of Tzara’at onto a house in the land of your possession.” This Pasuk raises three difficulties. First of all, why are only houses in Eretz Yisrael (Kena’an) susceptible to the affliction of Tzara’at? Furthermore, why does the Torah refer to the phenomenon of house Tzara’at as if it will occur with certainty (as expressed in the wording “When you come…” and “I will give…” )? Finally, the Malbim and the Torah Temimah note that the use of the Shoresh “Natan” as the verb for giving is usually reserved for situations where something positive or beneficial is being bestowed. This is seemingly inappropriate in the context of Tzara’at.

Rashi (ad loc. s.v. VeNatati Nega Tzara’at) quotes a Midrash that addresses all of these difficulties in very practical terms. The Midrash writes that it is good news for Bnei Yisrael that afflictions are coming upon their houses because the Emorim (the residents of Kena’an before Bnei Yisrael arrived) hid treasures of gold in the walls of their houses during the entire forty years that Bnei Yisrael were in the desert. Because of the afflictions on their houses, Bnei Yisrael are forced to demolish the houses and thereby will uncover the hidden treasures.

Others, including Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Chizkuni, and Rav Yehudah HaLeivi in his Sefer HaKuzari, note that the phenomenon of Tzara’at-infested houses is a byproduct of Eretz Yisrael’s special Kedushah. Chizkuni (ibid.), for example, explains that because the Beit HaMikdash will be built in Eretz Yisrael, the land must be kept spiritually clean and pure. According to Chizkuni, therefore, the purpose of the Tzara’at HaBatim in Eretz Yisrael is to highlight which houses were used by the Kena’anim for idol worship so as to target them for destruction.

The Sefat Emet (cited by Rav Chaim Sabato of Yeshivat Birkat Moshe in his Sefer Ahavat Torah) likewise takes note of the sanctity of the Land of Israel and interprets the very Midrash quoted by Rashi in the following allegorical manner. Within Eretz Kena’an, a land teeming with the impurity of the Kena’anim, are concealed treasures of holiness. It is the mission of Bnei Yisrael to “break the walls,” so to speak, and uncover all of the concealed holiness wherever it is to be found. As the Sefat Emet notes, “in the most material of things are stored the most sparks of holiness.”

Soon we will be celebrating Yom HaAtzma’ut, a time to reflect on the miracle of the creation of Medinat Yisrael and to pray for her continued wellbeing. Despite many challenges, Israel continues to grow both physically and spiritually stronger. It remains the mission of Am Yisrael to uncover the vast storehouses of holiness within our land and our people. The more holiness we uncover, the closer we will get, BeEzrat Hashem, to the full and final redemption.

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