Metzora- Tzara’at… But in a Good Way!

וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה וְאֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֖ן לֵאמֹֽר׃ כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לָכֶ֖ם לַאֲחֻזָּ֑ה וְנָתַתִּי֙ נֶ֣גַע צָרַ֔עַת בְּבֵ֖ית אֶ֥רֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶֽם׃
And Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying: When you come to Eretz Canaan which I will give to you as an inheritance and I will put tzara’at on the houses of the land which you are to live in …(Vayikra 14:33-34)

In an unusual sedra, the parsha which begins with these pesukim stands out as especially out of the ordinary. It continues to discuss the conditions under which a Jew’s house could sprout the spots of tzara’at– Chazal establish that it could come about through improper use, as a punishment for unbecoming speech, or just as a sign that the house once was owned by an idol worshiper and needs to be destroyed- but the main common denominator, as discussed in the passuk quoted about, is simple: this phenomenon only happens within the borders of Eretz Yisrael.

The Land of Israel is colloquially known in American English as the Holy Land. For this reason, it is difficult for us to understand why house tzara’at is only in Eretz Yisrael- this physical manifestation of the spiritual disease is anything but holy, and this does not seem appropriate for Israel. Why could it be that tzara’at of the dwelling only happens in the Holy Land?

Chizkuni answers with the ancient equivalent of Spiderman’s famous mantra; “With great power comes great responsibility.” Eretz Yisrael, the physical manifestation of Torah and Judaism, is by far the holiest place in the world. One who chooses to live there opens themselves up to the potential to reach incredibly high levels of spirituality in both the less and more physical realms. But, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and the potential for greatness also opens up an equal potential for falling. Eretz Yisrael does not tolerate failure, as explained in the tochacha of Bechukotai, and this intolerance can and has throughout history expressed itself as different forms of punishment- plagues, enemies, and expulsion from the land. These can oftentimes be on a personal level or on a national level, depending on the extent and seriousness of the sin, but they return to the same theme: when one lives in Eretz Yisrael, they naturally are on a higher level and must be extra careful not to make any mistakes, as the land does not tolerate sin.

For this reason, house tzara’at, unlike other forms of spiritual leprosy, is not an entirely bad thing. While it is a sign of failing, and a terribly embarrassing one at that, it is also symbolic of being on a higher level- it shows that one has embraced their “ארץ אחוזה,” and even though they are human and fail on occasion, they nonetheless remain on that high level. Eretz Yisrael could have sent a plague, could have sent enemies in, could have expelled them, if she wanted them gone. By sending house tazra’at, Hashem shows that the individual is still worthy of living in the Holy Land- it’s a warning shot, for him to do teshuva and improve.

There are many individuals in our communities who look at the Jews of Israel, especially the less observant ones who don’t always follow halacha correctly, and don’t really want to take part in it. An extremely extreme group of our brethren even look at current events in Israel, at the wave of terror, rockets, droughts, and see this as a nega from Hashem in response to these Jews whom they judge as unworthy due to their perceived lackluster observance of Judaism.

But, as we’ve seen from Chizkuni, this cannot be further from the truth! The physical affliction that Israel is suffering from now may have a spiritual source, and it is incumbent upon all Jews to contemplate what they might be doing wrong. But, to be perfectly clear, if one would like to insist that current events are a spiritual punishment, like house tzara’at, then they must also accept Chizkuni’s chidush on this, that house tzara’at is symptomatic of a much higher level of spirituality.

It may be an opportunity for a spiritual cheshbon hanefesh, but it is not a sign of loss of spirituality– rather it is a sign that there is a high expectation of spirituality in Israel and we have not yet met that standard (perhaps because many observant Jews are choosing to not move- as the saying goes; which came first, the chicken or the egg?). One should certainly not avoid living in Israel to avoid “catching” this “spiritual plague”- if anything, they should see current events as a confirmation that Eretz Yisrael is in fact the place to be, and should fulfill Moshe’s directive of “כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן- when you come to Eretz Cana’an.” House tzara’at is not sign of spiritual lowness, and its modern manifestations should certainly not keep someone away from Israel out of concerns for their holiness.

Rav Teichtel, in Em Habanim Semecha (chapter 1/page 73), adds onto this theme. He teaches that in the time of kibutz galuyot (not even a formal mashiach, but just any informal Shivat Zion), Hashem will send a nega against those Jews who chose to remain in the galut. Why? Because they chose to stay in their new ארץ אחוזה, instead of following Moshe’s directive of כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן at the time when we אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לָכֶ֖ם לַאֲחֻזָּ֑ה, are given it as an אחוזה. (Just as finding a nega in Israel is not particularly difficult, recent current events in the Diaspora do not make it difficult to imagine an affliction going on there.)

I believe that this warning is particularly pertinent in light of Chizkuni’s  lesson here. If one decides to abandon his true ארץ אחוזה because of a fear of being around individuals of lesser spiritual caliber, we’ve already seen that this is not correct. However, if someone is also concerned of a potential nega that could befall them throwing their lot in with the “resha’im of Medinat Yisrael,” then not only are they wrong- they are only setting themselves up for more trouble, as a terrible nega will befall them anyways, one which will lack the silver lining of Israel’s leprosy.

Let us hope that all of our brethren will internalize this lesson and decide to embrace the ge’ulah that is unfolding- if they don’t the consequences could be terrible them and for all of world Jewry.