SALT - Monday, 3 Nisan 5776 - April 11, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Torah in Parashat Metzora presents the laws relevant to a bayit ha-menuga – a house afflicted with tzara’at on its walls.  We read that the homeowner – “asher lo ha-bayit” – is to approach the kohen upon noticing a discoloration to report it, and the kohen then comes to determines whether the discoloration indeed qualifies as tzara’at (14:35). 

            The Gemara in Masekhet Yoma (11b) detects within the phrase “asher lo ha-bayit” an allusion to the homeowner’s miserliness and selfishness.  The house and all its contents are “lo” – exclusively his, and he refuses to share them with others.  The Gemara comments that this form of tzara’at would come upon a person who would falsely deny having in his possession items which his neighbors ask to borrow.  Therefore, the Torah instructs that the house must be emptied of its contents before the kohen declares the house impure, in order to show everyone that the individual indeed owns those items which he denied possessing.

            Although the Gemara speaks of the emptying of the house as serving to publicize the homeowner’s blessings by putting them on display for others to see, this may also be intended as an opportunity to remind him of how much he truly owns.  One of the impediments that sometimes prevent us from assisting others is our preoccupation with our own problems and needs.  We claim – to ourselves – that we do not own enough to assist others.  Concerned and anxious about our own shortage of resources, and overburdened by the self-imposed pressure that we experience, we fail to lend the assistance that we are capable of providing.  But when we “empty” our homes, when we take stock of what we have, we often realize that we have considerably more than we had thought.  Just as the emptying of the afflicted home showed the neighborhood and the homeowner himself that he possessed more than he had claimed, similarly, we often underestimate our blessings and fail to recognize just how much we own.  Once we realize how much we have, we will be more open to sharing our blessings with others.

            The context of the Gemara’s comment, of course, is material possessions, but the message applies equally to other resources, such as talents and skills.  We sometimes feel we have nothing to offer those around of us, that our limited skill set forces us to retreat into our own “homes,” our own private lives.  We fail to recognize our talents that can and should be used to positively impact the people around us, and this causes us to tend exclusively to our own needs rather than extend beyond ourselves.  The Gemara here perhaps urges us to recognize just how much we have, to honestly assess our skills and talents, limited as they may be, and acknowledge that we are capable of achieving and contributing more than currently do.