Tazria-Metzora

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

"If a person has a white blotch, discoloration, or spot on the skin of his body, and it is suspected of being a mark of the leprous curse on his skin, he shall be brought to Aaron or to one of his descendents, who are the priests." (13:2)

This very same procedure is prescribed once again in Chapter 9 and later, in regard to such an infection in one's clothing, in Chapter 49. Interestingly this same procedure is not prescribed when a spiritual infection is found in one's home:

"When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving to you as an inheritance, I will place the mark of the leprous curse in houses in the land you inherit. The owner of the house shall come and tell the priest. It looks to me as if there is something like a leprous curse in the house. The priest shall give orders that the house be emptied out before any priest comes to see the mark so that everything in the house will not become unclean. Only then shall a priest come to see the house." (Chapter 14)

Why is it in the case of the house the owner must come and apprise the priest of the situation and then the priest takes action, while in the case of the infection of either the skin or clothing he merely shows the infection to the priest? The simple answer is that one cannot physically bring the house to the priest and therefore a procedure different from that employed with infected skin or clothing must be used. I think, however, there is a far deeper meaning to this change of procedure than the mere physical difficulties involved.

Our Rabbis are quick to point out that these infections are the manifestation of spiritual imperfections, in particular the involvement of the individual in lashon hara, in speaking ill of others. Maimonidies remarks that these illnesses were found only among the Jews and represent a novel manner in which G‑d attempts to assist the Jew toward the acquisition of the status of Holiness. With this as the basis for these infections we can postulate another reason why of necessity the rules applying to the infected home must be different than those applying to infected skin or clothing.

Our home is our private fortress. Within its walls much of our life is lived out away from the prying eyes of others. Indeed our deepest felt emotions are displayed only within the confines of the home and our immediate family. The well known line, "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," reminds us that what we see is the exterior of the home and not its interior. The exterior always appears nicer than our own but we know little of the true nature of life lived within the portals of our neighbor's home. How often are we shocked to find that a family we thought was well functioning is found to be terribly dysfunctional, resulting in all sorts of horrible situations. Nowadays this is very much the case when we find out many years later of the physical and sexual abuse children endured at the hands of their own parents in what always seemed to be a perfectly normal family. The home can breed secrets.

Not so with the infection of the skin and clothing. Readily seen by all, the need to aggressively treat these diseases of the soul is obvious.

Therefore the Torah tells us that in the case of an infected home, the residents of that home must go to the priest and tell him of the problem. The first step toward dealing with the internal problems of the family is for the family itself to seek the help of a professional. It is at that juncture that the priest orders the house be cleared out or, in modern terms, that the professionals involved begin to work with the family members to understand the intricacies of the family's life and the resultant problems that have arisen. Only then can a priest visit the home and begin to offer means by which the issues encountered can be addressed.

There is a statement attributed to the Posek of the last century, HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, which is very telling. R' Moshe said "people are most willing to come to me to ask me if a chicken is kosher, but it is the rare person indeed who comes to me to ask for some guidance on the raising of his/her child." Known not only for his scholarship, R' Moshe was known as well for his compassion and humanity. An ideal source for guidance in family matters; he was most often relegated to the role of ritual advisor.

Too often the stigma of having a problem, of needing professional assistance, is enough to keep those in the greatest need from seeking such support. Rather, they allow the home's infection to grow and develop until it explodes into tragedy. This is particularly apparent among those who consider themselves members of the Orthodox community. Afraid of even admitting that someone else has violated them, for fear that this will bring shame upon them in the community at large, they allow the "leprosy" to continue to grow until it moves beyond the confines of their own private home and life infecting others as well.

I have often remarked concerning the misplaced value system that seems all too prevalent within Orthodox circles today. There is no doubt in my mind that a declared Orthodox Jew found eating in McDonald's would feel the wrath of the community. People would rebuff him at every turn. Yet, when one commits any act against another human being, the reaction, if there is one, is quite mild. We have all heard the stories of child molesters within the Jewish school system who are simply dismissed from their posts only to take up another teaching position elsewhere. Why? Because the original school says nothing of his behavior when asked about the teacher. And so, this individual, this seriously sick individual, is given carte blanche to continue on in his perverted activates reeking havoc with the lives of additional innocent children.

Scrupulous about weeding out those in the community who violate the laws between man and G‑d, for example eating in McDonald's, the community somehow is willing to look away when the violation occurs in the area of the laws between human and human. We seem to live in a topsy turvy world. I am sure G‑d can take care of Himself. It is our fellows, our young, who need our protection and the support of the community at large. Praising those who come forward to expose such problems suffered at the hands of others would be a magnificent first step by the community to change this very dangerous situation.

While it is true that these Biblical manifestations of our moral weaknesses no longer exist, their message regarding how we are to live our lives is a lasting one - one from which we should all seek guidance when we are confronted with problems and difficulties.