ישיבת כרם ביבנה

Tzaraat of Houses and Eretz Yisrael

הרב מאיר אורליאן

The section of tzaraat of houses begins with a unique expression: "When you arrive in the Land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I will place a tzaraat affliction upon a house in the land of your possession..." (Vayikra 14:34) As tzaraat is not an agricultural mitzvah, why is it linked to Eretz Yisrael? The Chizkuni explains that this is because the Jews did not have houses in the desert, unlike tzaraat of people and of clothes which was relevant even in the desert. However, Chazal learned from this pasuk that the laws of tzaraat of houses apply only in Israel and not outside of it, even though there are houses there?

Furthermore, R. Yehuda expounds in the Sifrei the language of the verse: "I will place - this is good news for them, that tzaraat will come upon them." What good news is there in that tzaraat comes upon a house and makes it liable for demolition? Rashi explains, based upon the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah), that the Amorites buried treasures in their houses, and by demolishing the houses the Jews would find these treasures. However, this explains only the generation who entered the Land; what about subsequent generations?

It is possible to explain the "good news" of tzaraat in that it is no longer necessary to warn the person through his body and clothes, and he can be warned through his house. The Midrash teaches (Tanchuma Tazria 10):

G-d is reluctant to harm a person in this world. What does He do? He warns him first, and afterwards afflicts him, as it says, "I will place tzaraat affliction upon a house in the land of your possession" ... If he repents, fine. If not, they come upon his body, as it says, "If a person will have upon the skin of his flesh."

However, the Chizkuni offers an additional explanation of the connection of Eretz Yisrael: "Because of the quality of Eretz Yisrael - that the Temple is destined to be built in it - it needs to be clean and pure." In other words, the great value of Eretz Yisrael requires an appropriate way of life, and observing extra purity. Similarly, we find in the beginning of Masechet Taharot: "There are ten [levels of] holiness: Eretz Yisrael is holier than all other lands," etc. Thus, the quality of Eretz Yisrael is the first level of the Temple's holiness, which reaches its peak with the Holy of Holies. This quality of the Land of Holiness, which warrants the laws of tzaraat, is certainly good news for Am Yisrael, even if it requires demolishing the house.

[Furthermore, just as the laws of tzaraat apply only in Eretz Yisrael due to the quality of Eretz Yisrael, so, too, they apply only to Jews, and not to non-Jews, which is also due to the quality of Am Yisrael. Cf. Sforno.]

Similarly, the Ramban writes about tzaraat of clothes (13:47):

This is neither natural at all, nor common in the world. The same is true of tzaraat of houses. However, when Yisrael are completely devoted to G-d, G-d's spirit will be upon them constantly to uphold their bodies and clothes and houses in good appearance, and when a sin occurs to one of them, there will be a discoloration in his flesh or clothes or in his house, to show that G-d has gone away from him. Therefore, the Torah writes: "I will place a tzaraat affliction upon a house in the land of your possession," because it is an affliction of G-d in that house. This applies only in the Land that is the heritage of Hashem.

Thus, the holiness of Eretz Yisrael demands behavior and way of life befitting it. Similarly, we are warned in the end of Parshat Acharei Mot regarding the illicit relations: "Let not the Land disgorge you for having contaminated it, as it disgorged the nation that was before you." (18:28) Rashi explains there: "This is comparable to a prince ... So, too, Eretz Yisrael does not tolerate sinners." The Ramban there writes at length about the value of Eretz Yisrael, that it is the portion of Hashem, and therefore Hashem sanctified the nation that sits in His Land to be His with the holiness of the relations and with many mitzvot.

The Torah also positively describes Eretz Yisrael in Parshat Eikev, "from the rain of the heavens it drinks water; a Land that Hashem, your G-d, seeks out." (Devarim 11:11-12) Life in it depends on doing the will of G-d. Thus, we say in Kriat Shema: "If you hearken to My commandments .... then I shall provide rain for your Land ... Beware for yourselves, lest your heart be seduced ... and you will be swiftly banished from the goodly Land that Hashem gives you." (13:14-17)

What emerges is that the gift of Eretz Yisrael is a great merit that carries with it a great responsibility. Thus, when we celebrate the coming Yom Ha'atzmaut, and thank G-d for His great kindness in having returned us to Eretz Yisrael - we must pay attention to improve our way of life to befit the holiness of the Land, to observe a life of Torah and mitzvot. This is obligation is not only for us, but for all Jews who live here, as the Ramban writes in Eikev (there): "G-d will not do miracles all the time, to give the rain always at all the early and late times ... or to stop the rain and it will dry up, only based on the actions of the majority of the nation." With this, we will merit once again the ultimate purpose of having the Divine Presence dwell amongst Am Yisrael through the Temple, and we will merit observing the laws of purity that sanctify and purify Am Yisrael to the highest level!

 

 

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