Be Careful What You Claim
Skin diseases, fungus in our homes, and purification of a woman after childbirth! Oh my! These are just some of our topics of conversation each time we are hit with the awesome task of rediscovering the parshiot of Tazria and Metzora, two Torah portions that are often combined into one reading, as they are this year. Let's see what the text has in store for us this year.
33. YHWH spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying:
34. When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess,
35. The owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, "Something like a plague has appeared upon my house."
36. The priest shall order the house cleared before the priest enters to examine the plague, so that nothing in the house may become unclean; after that the priest shall enter to examine the house.
Your Leviticus Navigator
1. What is this "plague" that has erupted in the house?
2. Is there some explanation for why it could have occurred?
3. Why does the priest order the house to be cleared out before he enters?
These questions have remained a mystery to Jews for thousands of years. And yet they have provided us with some great midrashic material! In this interpretation, the rabbis focused on what would happen in the neighborhood when the contents of a house are cleared out for everyone to see.
Vayikra (Leviticus) Rabba 17:2
A man says to his friend, "Lend me a chab of wheat" and the other says, "I have none." Another man says to the same friend, "Lend me a chab of barley" and the other says, "I have none." This happens with three more people who ask that same friend for a chab of dates, for a sieve, and for a sifter. Each time the friend says, "I have none." What does the Holy One do? He causes leprosy to come upon his house, and as he takes out his household objects, people see, and say, "Did he not say, 'I have none?' See how much wheat is here, how much barley, how many dates! Cursed be the house with such cursed inmates!" Rabbi Isaac B. R. Eliezer adds that the house sinks on account of such cursed people.
Your Leviticus Rabba Navigator
1. According to Leviticus Rabba, what is the purpose of emptying the house?
2. According to the rabbis, what then is the "plague" that has fallen on the house?
3. According to the midrash, how does God react to our not sharing our belongings?
4. What does this say about what we tell our neighbors?
5. What does this say about the dangers of greed and materialism? The benefits of being generous?
So often, even in small ways, we deny ourselves to other people. We deny them our belongings, our time, our help. Our own materialism prevents us from being generous with others. We might think to ourselves, "No one will know if
I say that I do not have what they are looking for. Why bother?" In answer to this question, Judaism would say that God is present even in these times of what seem to be trivial matters. What we say just might come back to get us in the end. Today most of us do not believe that we will be struck with leprosy for lying about what we own. And yet this example may help us to see just how important it is to be generous with our neighbors when they ask us for a chab of dates, for a sieve, or for a sifter. If we have them, what's the harm in saying "yes?"
Prepared by Andrea Lerner Midwest Director of Hillel's Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.