By Hazzan Jacob Sandler.
This past week we observed Yom HaShoah and this Shabbat, we will read from parshat Tazria-Metzora. The latter was my Bar Mitzvah portion 16 years ago. Back then, I wrote my first D’var Torah which connected the double parasha to the Holocaust, and what follows are those words I wrote in 2007, which continue to be relevant even today. I hope this #ThrowbackThursday is enjoyable to you, and you should feel free to share it with a B’nai Mitzvah student you know, who might especially get a kick out of seeing what their Hazzan was thinking about at their age. May this also serve as a reminder that deep insights can be learned from those who study Torah at any age, and those insights can remain inspiring even as they continue to grow.
Today’s Torah portion is Parashat Tazria Metzora which comes to us from the Book of Vayikra. Tazria Metzora is a double portion that focuses on the ritual purity and impurity of the Israelites’ bodies, clothing and homes.
Parashat Tazria begins by talking about the laws of human contamination. It talks about how a woman is impure at the time of childbirth and teaches us the specific rituals needed in order to become ritually pure again. The parasha continues with specific information on inflammations, burns on the skin, and an affliction similar to leprosy, called Tzara’at, which would appear on the head or face.
Parashat Metzora continues by talking about the stages of purification and discusses the Tzara’at of the house [as well as] the measures needed to purify or destroy a contaminated house. Finally, parashat Metzora ends with what to do about normal and abnormal human discharges.
The Torah states (Lev. 14:34-45), כְּנֶגַע נִרְאָה לִי בַּבָּיִת׃. “when you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an irruptive plague upon a house… The owner of the house shall come and tell the priest [something like a plague has appeared in my house]… The priest shall order the house cleared… And the priest shall enter to examine the house. the house becomes quarantined, and when the priest returns if the affliction has spread to the walls of the house, the contaminated portions and stones are removed. If the plague again breaks out… The house shall be torn down and taken to an impure place outside the city.“ “וְנָתַץ אֶת־הַבַּיִת…אֶל־מִחוּץ לָעִיר אֶל־מָקוֹם טָמֵא׃”
In other words, the house is examined, then the house is examined again, then the priest will decide whether or not the house will be torn down.
This is so interesting and this is so challenging. Who ever heard of walls, breaking out with an affliction, and then asking the Cohannet to come and look at the house? It’s so bizarre! So, I turned to the Talmud to help me understand it.
The Rabbis in the Talmud (Mishnah Eruvin 8:2:21) said, ‘bayit ham’nuga lo haya’ בית המנוגע לא היה – a house that carries the affliction of Tzara’at does not exist, ’v’lo atid lihyot’ ולא עתיד להיות – and will not exist in the future! When I first heard this, I said to myself, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me. The case of an infected house never existed, and will never exist? then why did I, and why should we, spend so much time studying about it?!?’ And the Talmud asks the same question, “lama nichtav – למה נכתב?” Why is it written in the Torah? דרוש וקבל שכר (d’rosh v’kibel s’char) – it is written in the Torah, so that we can study and expound upon it, and receive divine reward for our efforts. So I will do just that.
As our sages studied this Parsha, they concluded that Tzara’at in the house was caused by Lashon HaRa – the evil tongue – or gossip. But I would like to take this one step further. The outbreak of Tzara’at could be used as a metaphor for what could happen to a society when they don’t take notice of any kind of misconduct, even something very small.
For example, this past Sunday, we observed Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. I feel that Tzara’at could be a metaphor for what happened in Nazi Germany. The Nazis spread negative propaganda against the Jews. They used blame and lies to make it seem like the Jews were responsible for all the bad things happening in Germany and the world. Using this metaphor, the Nazis’ use of Lashon HaRa would cause the affliction of [metaphorical] tzara’at within Germany and all Nazi occupied territory.
We can draw a parallel to today’s Parsha. Nazi Germany became an infected house. Those who resisted and the Allies would be like the Kohanim. The Kohanim determined the house was impure and had to be destroyed. And as we know the Allies realized that in order to save the Jews, and all the victims of the Shoah, Hitler and the Nazis had to be destroyed.
We can all learn from this Parsha. We can learn the rituals involved in purifying a house. We can also look for ways to purify ourselves. As a people, let us all act as the Kohanim, refraining from misconduct in order to avoid the spread of tzara’at in our lives.”