Each week, our resident Hillel Rabbis (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and Rabbi Alex Kress) will comment on the week's parsha.
This week we encounter a spiritual ailment called “tzarat '', translated by some as "leprosy" or others as "scaly affection". Either way, it's almost certainly not a classical disease but instead a physical manifestation of something lacking spiritually. The Talmud makes this clear in Arakhin 16a with this statement:
“Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says that Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Leprous marks come and afflict a person for seven sinful matters: For malicious speech, for bloodshed, for an oath taken in vain, for forbidden sexual relations, for arrogance, for theft, and stinginess.”
I would like to focus on the issue of arrogance. Rashi, in his comments to Leviticus chapter 14, assumes that the ritual that takes place to purify the individual with tzarat includes lessons to teach the person ways to be less arrogant. For example, he writes that we use a crimson string to recall the worm that's very much not arrogant. Strikingly we also use wood from a cedar tree in this ritual, which is just the opposite; it's a very proud and impressive tree that can grow tall, up to 230 feet. We can learn from this that being more humble does not mean only viewing our negatives. This is teaching us a valuable lesson: being more humble is being very aware of the things we are great at and the things we are missing. When we mix them and appreciate what we have to offer alongside areas of improvement, we can become more humble and open to more significant growth.
Our Torah portion this week puts us in close contact with a mysterious ailment called tzara’at. This ailment doesn’t just affect the body but can also infect one’s home. In fact, in Leviticus 14:34, God tells Moses & Aaron that a tzra’at infestation will break out in their homes when they arrive in the land of Canaan. This is strange - why would a plague break out after the Israelites reach the promised land?
Rashi answers that, “the Amorites hid golden treasure inside the walls of their houses during the 40 years the Israelites spent in the wilderness. The eruptive plague would cause the owner of the house to tear it down, at which point he would find the treasure.”
Though we certainly would never ask for tzara’at in our homes or coronavirus in our world, there is an element of our quarantine experience in which we are mining gold we either didn’t know was there or didn’t have time for before. We’re cooking and reading and binging TV and creating art and picking up new hobbies and catching up with friends and spending more time with family. Though we all yearn to return to a sense of normalcy, don’t forget to be grateful for the gold already in your midst.