in my Shul growing up loved to say, “I don’t repeat lashon hara… so listen
carefully the first time.” While witty,
the quip also reflects our tension between simultaneously feeling uncomfortable
gossiping and yet also feeling the insatiable appetite to share when we have
something juicy. Our two parshiyos, Tazria and Metzora, describe the
consequence and rehabilitative process for someone who could not sufficiently
guard their tongue.
spiritual leprosy, could strike an individual or clothing, and it could also
infect a house. Rashi
quotes the Midrash: “this was good, because the Emorim who lived there for the
forty years while the Jewish people journeyed through the desert hid their gold
and silver in the walls of their houses. Now, through this tzara’as affliction
and the need to demolish the walls, the Jews would find the treasure that was
Isn’t this a peculiar way to deliver a
treasure? If Hashem wanted to reward the
people with wealth, why hide it in the walls only to later be discovered
because of a condition the house suffers from?
Rabbi Mordecai Mayer was the rabbi of
Sha’arei Shomayim on the Lower East Side for 20 years. (You may recognize his name because for 18
years, he conducted a twice-a-week program on Jewish topics on the radio
station WEVD.) In 1949 he published a
book called “Israel’s Wisdom in Modern Life” in which he offers a fascinating interpretation
of this Midrash.
Some suffer the
plague of the skin, being uncomfortable with who they are and the consequences
of the choices they make. Others suffer nigei
begadim, the plague of the clothing, consumed by what to wear and with whom
to identify. And yet others are afflicted with the plague caused by the “walls
of their house,” the relentless pursuit of material possessions.
When our house
defines us and we invest disproportionate time, resources, energy, care, and
concern into what we have and the effort to keep up with others, we become
afflicted by the walls of our house. Our
house introduces a plague into our lives – jealousy, anxiety, stress, conflict,
arrogance, competitiveness, and an attachment with what we have, not what we
experience and who we are.
Rabbi Mayer writes, “The physical home becomes a “nega,” an
affliction, when it becomes an obsession, an ideal into itself that drains a
person’s energy, resources and spirit.”
He continues by describing how after suffering tzara’as of the home, we
actually find a besura tova, a treasure.
“The ‘treasures’ of life are sometimes found specifically within the
ruins of the home, of the physical building that had until now overtaken the
owner’s life and denied him contentment and fulfillment. The laws of tzara’as
ha-bayis warn us to focus on what we do in the home rather
than how it looks, on the values practiced within it rather than the monetary
value of its furnishings. If we seek the
true ‘treasures’ of life, then we must look not to our material assets, but
rather deep beyond the superficial ‘walls,’ behind the decorative trimmings and
luxuries that are incapable of providing the fulfillment and gratification that
The treasure we find is the discovery that what matters most is not in
fact the size and impressiveness of our house, but what matters is the home we
have built. What memories have we
formed? What relationships have we
created? What values have we
Consider: the Torah’s account of yetzias
mitzrayim repeatedly refers to the concept of “bayis,” the
home. The word bayis appears in
the section describing Pesach no fewer than 12 times. The very name of the festival, Pesach,
derives from Hashem passing over the battim, the homes of Bnei
Yisroel. The Torah contrasts
Hashem’s striking the Egyptians with His saving the Jewish battim. Even the pascal lamb is designated as se
l’veis avos, se labayis, a lamb for each father’s bayis, a lamb for
the entire bayis. What is a bayis
and why does it play such a central role?
The Tolner Rebbe explains that a bayis
is a home, not a house. What is the
difference between a house and a home? A
house is the physical structure within which I live. It is the bricks, mortar, wood and cement
that form that which I dwell within and that protects me from the
elements. The home, by contrast, is not
physical at all. It is comprised of the
people with whom I live, from whom I receive emotional and spiritual protection,
and on whom I can rely and depend upon with consistency. The Gemara tells us that Rebbe Yossi never
referred to his wife as ishti, my wife, but rather as beisi, my
home. The Chizkuni explains that battim,
or bayis, refers to children. A
Jewish home is never a matter of four walls, a roof, and furniture. Bayis consists of the family within,
and the dedication of that family to follow Hashem as the Jews did when they
gathered with their families to eat the Pesach sacrifice on that night.
It is therefore,
not coincidental that Bnei Yisroel left Mitzrayim and specifically lived
in sukkos, temporary, flimsy, impermanent houses. By living in such provisional and makeshift
houses, the people would learn to identify with their home and not their house.
For the last month and for an undetermined amount of time going forward, we have been constrained to our houses. Certainly, at this time, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned with how we will continue to afford them and the necessities within them. Nevertheless, during this crisis we have discovered a treasure by being reminded that ultimately what matters is not our house, its size or décor, but our home, the people, their health and well-being, and the relationships that we cherish.
May we all truly merit a bayis ne’eman, a reliable house and a healthy and enduring home.