A Plague on your House
The parsha discusses a type of plague that settles itself in the walls of
one’s home. If the plague spreads along the walls of the house in a
certain halachically defined pattern, the house eventually may have to be
destroyed. There is opinion in the Talmud that this plague in the walls of
a house remains a purely hypothetical case, since the halachic
requirements for the plague’s pattern of spreading in those walls are so
technically exacting as to make this a case impossible of actual
fulfillment. Nevertheless, the Talmud admonishes us to study this matter
in order to be rewarded for so doing. Apparently the Torah wishes us to
understand the consequences of plagues in the walls of one’s home. I have
always connected the appearance of a plague in the walls of a house to the
biblical verse that states that a stolen stone in a wall and an ill-gotten
beam in the ceiling continually shout that they are stolen. Strictly
speaking, Jewish law would require the demolition of the wall or the
ceiling so that the stone or beam can be returned to its rightful owner.
However, the rabbis lightened the burden of the thief by saying that
monetary compensation would suffice, doing so in the hope that this would
lead the thief to repent of his deed more easily. Yet, a house that has a
plague in its walls, in the sense of stones that constantly proclaim that
they are stolen, is doomed to destruction. Technically, the plague may not
be able to bring the house down. But morally speaking, the house is doomed
at some point of its existence.
The entire concept of tzoraat – the plagues discussed in last week’s
parsha of Tazria and this week’s parsha – are related to the issues of
speaking poorly and slanderously against others. A house filled with bad
language, poor speech and slander of others is truly a wrecked and
wretched home. There are plagues that descend on one’s clothing – one’s
outside appearance, one’s public standing in the community, if you will –
as well. Again, the person who is known as a slanderer and tale-monger is
eventually reviled by his or her own community. The plague of personality
that slander inflicts on its perpetrators becomes visible and obvious to
all. But the worst of all forms of this plague of tzoraat is the one that
infects the person, the slanderer, directly. For it corrodes one’s soul
and renders one a cynic, a mocker, a person to stay away from.
Just as the plague of tzoraat was deemed to be a contagious one by most of
the biblical commentators, so too is the weakness of slander a contagious
condition. The Talmud teaches us that the slanderer is a triple murderer.
He kills himself by speaking bad speech, he kills the person he is
speaking to who will now accept the slander, and he kills the victim of
his slander about whom he is speaking. These twin causes of tzoraat in
one’s home – thievery and slanderous speech – must be combated at all
levels of our lives and beings. Only by so doing can we aspire to have a
plague-free home and general environment.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Berel Wein and Torah.org
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