The double parashah of Tazria-Metzorah this Shabbat draws us into the strange realm of negaim, blemishes of the body, clothing and even homes that signal impurity and require urgent attention. This topic was considered to be one of the most complicated areas of Jewish law in antiquity, and it remains challenging for us today. We often associate this material with contemporary issues of illness and healing. It teaches the responsibility of religious leaders to visit the afflicted and assist them on their journey back to health. (If you are interested, listen to my podcast about Ketubot 77, which features the heroic Rabbi Yehoshua b. Levi’s care for those afflicted by the dread disease “ra’atan.”)
In the parashah there is an arresting image at 14:33-38 in which a homeowner reports that something “like negaim” has appeared in his house. The Mishnah (Negaim 12:5) derives that even if the homeowner is a great sage, he should not condemn his own house as afflicted, but rather should report that the mark “looks like” a nega—so that the relevant authority, the priest, can determine the diagnosis. Moreover, the Mishnah notices that the Torah instructs that the house should be emptied before the priest’s visit. Why? According to this Mishnah, the Torah was “concerned” (hasah) about the financial loss that would result from the priest declaring the entire contents of the house to be impure.
In an unusual homiletical flourish, the Mishnah concludes that if the Torah was concerned with even inexpensive items, all the more so with expensive items. And if the Torah sought to minimize the designation of property as impure, how much more so with the people in the home—that they should be spared the diagnosis of impurity. And if the Torah was concerned with any householder—even a wicked one—then all the more so with the righteous. Thus the sages of the Mishnah teach that the Torah wants its representatives to administer ritual matters with compassion and leniency. This beautiful teaching never ceases to be relevant. Continue reading