Rabbi Eisen’s Shabbat Shalom Message

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Candlelighting for
Friday, April 15, 2016 • 6:36pm

• Our Portion for the Week

METZORA – Leviticus 14:1 – 15:33
This portion continues the presentation of the laws of ritual purity. In particular, the priests are instructed as to the purification rites for a person determined to be afflicted with tzaraat as described in the previous portion. Instructions are also given for dealing with tzaraat in building stones (some kind of mold, blight or rot that showed up in the plaster). Finally, procedures are set forth which are required when an Israelite, male or female, experiences discharges from the sexual organs. The Torah here seems to be classifying illness and disease as forms of impurity. Thus, they are placed in the realm of religious concern. All these impurities threatened, directly or indirectly, the purity of the sanctuary, which was located within the area of settlement. Therefore, for all Israelites, maintaining a state of purity was of great importance.

• Our Question for the Week •

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, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, "Something like a plague has appeared upon my house." (Leviticus 14:34-35)

According to the text, God's approval or disapproval of ancient Israelites' actions would appear in visible signs. In our relationships with other people, we often wish we could get "signs" of their feelings toward us, be they positive or negative. How honest do we want people to be with us? When is a direct rebuke – like the discoloration of one's house – welcome to us? When is it not? Is it fair for people to expect that we be as direct with them as they are with us?

Visible signs of transgression – like tzara'at on one's house – need to be treated with caution, because it is possible that the person who has such a discoloration only does because he/she has panicked for some reason, not because of some deep-seeded deficiency of character. We know that we often make poor decisions when we are afraid. When, if ever, is fear or panic a legitimate excuse for unfortunate behavior? Should our answer make a distinction between fear based on reality and fear based on fantasy?

The Mishnah tells us that the caution with which the priests treat an afflicted house shows a concern for the preservation of a person's possessions, even the simplest thereof – and that concern only grows for the precious possessions of a faultless person. Even though Judaism often eschews materialism, we can often find in our sources a healthy respect for a person's property. How do we best strike a healthy balance between enjoying precious possessions and embracing that which is not a "thing?"