Former Shaliach in Washington
Currently Cadet at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs
“When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as a possession, and I place a lesion of tzara’ath upon a house in the land of your possession” (Vayikra, 14, 34)
On Shabbat Parshat ‘Metzora’ in the spring of 1940, Rabbi Klonimus Kalmish Shapiro, the Piasetzna Rebbe, gave a talk on the verse quoted above to his followers, or Chasidim, in the Warsaw Ghetto.
It was the spring of 1940, almost six months after the Germans occupied Poland; many Jews from all over the country were being moved to Jewish Ghettos. The Piasetzna Rebbe, whose talks were later discovered under the ruins of the Ghetto and made into a book called ‘Aish Kodesh’ or the ‘Holy Fire’, led his followers through the hardest of times and through his talks always tried to give hope where there was very little.
In this specific talk the Rebbe asks a question on Rashi’s commentary of the above verse. The verse, which is the opening to the paragraph discussing the ‘Tzaraat of ones house’, seems to be quite festive. It is as if Hashem is saying that when you enter the Land of Canaan, the land that I will give you… I will give you lesions on your home. Quite a welcoming! Rashi in his commentary immediately picks up on this and explains that it is in fact a wonderful welcome. Over the years the Canaanites, and others who lived in these houses before the People of Israel, hid money and treasures in the walls. Once the new owner of the house spots the lesions, he can take apart the wall and find the treasure.
Rashi’s commentary seems clear, aside from one small issue that bothers the Piasetzna Rebbe. In the coming verses, explaining how to go about getting rid of the lesions, the rules are that first the house is declared impure – everything must be removed and the owner must wait a week outside his house. After that he may need to wait another week (depending on the size and color of the mark) and only then does he remove the marked bricks and rebuild his house. The Rebbe asks: if the idea of the Tzaraat is so that Hashem can give us a reward, why do we need the whole process and the long wait? Why can’t we remove the bricks the minute we see the mark and find the treasure?
This seemingly unimportant question takes on a whole new meaning in the reality of the Warsaw Ghetto. The Rebbe explains that there are many hardships that people may have, and a man of faith believes that all the hardships are thrust upon him from above so that he can become a better person and possibly become closer to Hashem. In this way he can see the light at the end of the tunnel and understand that as hard as things may be for him, there is an ulterior purpose in Hashem’s plans.
At the beginning of what is now known as the Holocaust the Rebbe seems to be dealing with a different kind of hardship that was harder for him to explain. He mentions the hardships of being Jewish in the ghetto: no place to learn Torah, no school for children, no mikveh… These hardships don’t look like they can bring someone closer to Hashem, but rather push them away, as if Hashem has forgotten his nation and has no interest in them any more. In this case, the Rebbe says, it may be too hard to see the good that can come out of it or the light at the end of the tunnel. That is why the Torah teaches us that there may be cases where the treasure is a long way down the road. The house is first impure, then secluded for a week and then taken apart. Only after that process can the treasure be found. The lesions of the house teach us patience and belief that everything Hashem does is for good.
Only after reading the ‘Aish Kodesh’ and seeing it in writing can I, growing up third generation after the Holocaust, dare to copy what was said then. It seems unfathomable that anyone in those conditions can speak of hope and good and lights at the end of the tunnel the way the Piasetzna Rebbe did.
Miraculously, only a few years later the State of Israel was declared in the land “that I will give you as a possession”. Thus, in a totally different reality than that of the Piasetzna Rebbe, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, in his book on the weekly Torah portions, writes on the topic of the very same Rashi.
Rabbi Riskin also asks about the festive ‘sounding’ verse and the ‘gift’ that Hashem will give the People of Israel when they enter the land. He asks, more specifically, what is the treasure that Rashi is referring to? To answer this Rabbi Riskin explains that the walls of the house may be symbolic to what the walls contain; the very fabric of the house that makes walls into a home. A Home consists of smells, tastes, relationships, families etc. The ‘gift’ that Hashem gives us are the lesions on the walls that can indicate if the home itself is in a good state or if we need to take time to purify it and maybe even rebuild it.
This is the treasure that Hashem wants to give us when we enter the land, the ability to pause and recalculate whether we are in the right direction and if our home is strong enough.
Seventy years ago, in the darkest of times, the laws of ‘Tzaraat’ taught the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto a lesson in patience, belief and hope. One generation later, when Jews are free in their homeland and in their country, the laws of ‘Tzaraat’ call on us and ask us if we are in the right direction towards building a strong, stable home, or do we need some renovations in order to strengthen our spiritual foundations?
Shabbat Shalom and a happy Israel Independence Day.