This past fall, my husband Dan and I moved into our first home. When we bought our home we knew that it was definitely in need of some TLC. In the past 6th months we have painted, plastered, and removed countless spider webs. After months of never ending home repairs, our house is finally starting to feel like our home.
This week in parsha Metzora, we learn that not only is it possible for people to contract tzaraas—a leporous like infection on the skin—but a house, can contract tzaraas as well! You can imagine my panic when I learned that there is yet another thing we might need to repair in our house! Luckily, our Rabbis are all in agreement that tzaraas-type afflictions of houses are clearly supernatural occurrences, and therefore few and far between.
Two very different reasons are given by our Sages for why a home could become contaminated with tzaraas. Midrash explains that when the Canaanite inhabitants of Eretz Israel saw that the Israelites were about to conquer the land and inhabit their homes, they hid their valuables in the walls of their homes.
In order to enable the new Israelite owners of those houses to acquire this wealth, God infected the part of the wall where the treasure was concealed with tzaraas, so that the Israelites could remove the infected stones and obtain the treasure.
The walls of our homes, too, hold our most valuable possessions and memories. Almost every time I go home, I spend the first few moments unpacking, looking around at the walls of my childhood bedroom. I see the places that I slathered glitter glue on the wall, displayed my graduation diploma, had my friends sign their names in permanent marker and hung up loved ones’ photos. I notice all the sticky glue left over on the walls from removing glow in the dark stars and all the indents clearly visible from thumbtacks that held up posters.
Our text suggests that in order to access the treasure of the home, we first need to remove all the tzaraas. But I think that focusing on creating a solely beautiful home is doing us a disservice. Instead of our impulse being to remove anything unsightly or that causes us heartache, we should allow our homes to be filled with the the fullness of life.
There will be moments when our homes are filled with laughter and simchas and a fresh, new shiny coat of paint, and there will be times that we drop dinner on the floor and it splatters and stains our walls, or we find ourselves surrounded by our loved ones during a period of grief.
We have to work to create a home that can hold both. Because life is about learning how to work through the comfortable and uncomfortable. And we can only do this when we feel grounded, held, and safe.
The second interpretation for why a home could become contaminated with tzaraas is as Divine punishment for selfish behavior.
A house becomes contaminated with tzaraas when the owner of the house arrogantly believes that the house, and all of the belongings within it, are his or hers alone, acquired solely through his own efforts and that no one else is entitled to enjoy the benefits of his personal success.
A house becomes a home when we open our doors to others. Whether that is sharing challah around a Shabbat table, providing a box of tissues and a comforting place to sit for a friend who has a had a hard day, or inviting people over to watch Netflix. These are the truly valuable moments that make a house a home.
I invite you to discuss with your loved ones:
- What are the things that are critical for you in making where you live a home?
- Were there times that were especially meaningful to you when someone opened their home to you?
- Why do you think that Judaism emphasizes the importance of hospitality and welcoming the stranger?
Rabbi Rebecca Weinstein, Grade 6 Tanach and Grade 8 Torah She’b’al Peh