Just like speech can be evil cause destruction, it can also be “golden” and bring all forms of goodness and blessing.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Metzora” (Leviticus 14:1-15:33) and it is essentially a continuation of last week’s Torah portion with further details on purity, impurity, and that mysterious spiritual skin disease known as “tzara’at.”
To recall, tzara’at manifests itself as a skin rash or skin discoloration but it can also appear on one’s clothing and even the walls of one’s home. Tzara’at was almost always a sign of impurity and therefore one who was affected by it would often face isolation and a number of additional purification procedures.
Although there are over half a dozen sins whose punishment could have been tzara’at, it would most commonly befall one who has spoken “lashon hara” – forbidden speech.
I would like to focus on the tzara’at of the home. As mentioned, a sinner could wake up to see tzara’at-like symptoms on the walls of his home.
In the event that the priest confirms that it is the spiritual punishment of tzara’at the house must be demolished. While it sounds terrible, there was actually a silver lining in having tzara’at appear in one’s home.
The commentators tell us that the Emorites, the original inhabitants of the land of Israel, would hide their riches, gold, and jewels in the walls of their homes. When the Jewish people conquered the land of Israel, they lived in these very same homes. However, they had no idea that there was gold and riches in their walls!
Only if they were stricken with tzara’at, and thereby forced to demolish their home, would they know that there were such treasures in the walls. Yes, their homes were demolished, but they often ended up wealthier than before!
A number of questions must be asked on this.
Why do the commentators only mention that the “Emorites” hid riches in their walls? There were many other nations living in the Land of Israel, such as the Jebusites, Canaanites, Girgashites, Hivites, and more. Did the other nations not hide riches in their wall? Was it something that only the Emorites thought of?
It is explained that the word “Emorites” is related to the Hebrew word “Emor” which means “to speak” and “speech.” It seems that God had arranged that it was the homes of the Emorites that had riches hidden in the walls. This was in order to send a message to the Jewish inhabitants that they were punished due to their “Emor” – forbidden speech.
But back to an even more obvious question. If the homeowner was a sinner, why did he deserve to find riches in his walls?
The sages tell us that it was to give the sinner a message and a second chance. Just like speech can be evil cause destruction, it can also be “golden” and bring all forms of goodness and blessing. The sinner was being warned that although he spoke evil about others, speaking positively is extremely valuable like the riches he found in the walls.
Indeed, although sins are destructive there is also a constructive message or “repair” to them, as well.
For example, speech can be used to put people down or to raise people up. A remedy for theft could be extra care in returning of lost objects. The remedy for murder (or wanting to kill) would be engaging in activities that preserve life. The remedy for eating forbidden foods would be to celebrate with permitted ones in the context of Shabbat and holidays. And so on.
God doesn’t punish us for punishment’s sake. He often does so with a hidden message, with the hope that we will learn from out mistaken ways and improve ourselves. One who did not learn the lesson from his evil speech would not find jewels in the walls the next time the house would have to be demolished!
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