Parashat Metzora

The Cursed House

The image of a house afflicted with a plague encourages us to examine what real and metaphorical plagues afflict our own homes and societies.

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • Priestly rituals to cure tzara-at (skin affliction) when it afflicts humans are described. (14:1-32)

  • Rituals to rid dwelling places of tzara-at are presented. (14:33-57)

  • The parashah denotes male impurities resulting from a penile discharge or seminal emission. (15:1-18)

  • The parashah concludes with accounts of female impurities caused by a discharge of blood. (15:19-33)

Focal Point

When you enter the land of Canaan, which I gave you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, "Something like a plague has appeared upon my house." The priest shall order the house cleared before the priest enters to examine the plague so that nothing in the house may become unclean; after that, the priest shall enter to examine the house. If, when he examines the plague, the plague in the walls of the house is found to consist of greenish or reddish streaks, which appear to go deep into the wall, the priest shall come out of the house to the entrance of the house and close up the house for seven days (Leviticus 14:34-38).

Your Guide

Why is the owner of the house tentative about describing what he or she sees, as demonstrated by his or her saying "Something like a plague…" in Leviticus 14:35?

Why must the house be cleared and quarantined before the priest enters it?

Why is it important to determine if the plague is invasive, appearing "to go deep into the wall?"

Why is the priest called in to make the diagnosis?

By the Way…

Our Rabbis…stated in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 71a): "The house affected by the plague never existed and is not destined to exist. It was stated for the purpose of edification." Alshikh follows this view, but adds that the plague teaches us that society should take notice of the first sign of misconduct, however small. Just the same as a disease begins with hardly noticeable symptoms and can be stopped if detected in time, so a moral disease in society can be prevented from spreading if immediate steps are taken. Otherwise, it will spread throughout the community (Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Leviticus, pp. 137-8).

That is the thing about toxic mold: Many of its symptoms are documented and real, but it can also be spread by suggestion and word of mouth. And lately, the slimy black growth seems to be everywhere--in stately homes and housing projects, courthouses and libraries, factories and schools. One California lawyer alone is handling mold complaints for 1,000 clients ("Haunted by Mold" by Lisa Belkin in The New York Times Magazine, August 12, 2001).

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Rabbi Fred Reiner

Rabbi Fred Reiner is the senior rabbi of Temple Sinai, Washington, D.C.