Scabs, spots & skin discolorations. The topic of our parasha this week is Sara’at. A man may see it on his body, his clothing or his home. He is to report it to the kohen who then pays him a visit for ‘inspection’. The kohen determines his status as clean, unclean or undetermined. The man either reverts back to his regular life, is sent out of the camp to dwell in solitude for some time, or locked in his home for seven days.
The Torah goes into these laws in great detail, outlining the various types of negaim (plagues), and ultimately the purification process. The laws are extensive, nuanced & admittedly unattractive. However, upon reading the introductory verse to the section on Sara’at of the homes it seems otherwise.
“When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession (Vayikra 14:34)”. Rashi comments “It is good news that the leprosy comes on their homes...”
The opening of the verse seems to be heralding good news. It speaks of coming to the land of our ancestors, the land of our inheritance. The end, however, speaks of the gruesome plague of Sara’at on the homes. Yet, Rashi comments “It is good news that the leprosy comes on their homes...” How is this to be construed as good news? Why was the verse written in such a fashion?
I believe the Torah constructed the verse this way to embed within it a powerful message concerning Eres Yisrael. G-d is close to the Jews who live in Eres Yisrael. Unlike other countries which have administering angels overseeing them, Israel is directly under the supervision and care of G-d. This is how the land is described by Moshe Rabenu in Debarim “a land which the Lord your G-d cares for; the eyes of the Lord your G-d are always upon it (11:12)”
The Jews who merit to live in Eres Yisrael have the potential to have a closer relationship with G-d than those living outside the land. Although this is a tremendous privilege and opportunity, it also bears dangerous consequences. One who sins in Eres Yisrael is judged according to a higher standard. A breach of one’s relationship with G-d in Eres Yisrael is more harmful than one outside the land. G-d punishes the inhabitants of Eres Yisrael as a father would punish his own children, in order to place them on the right path. When the sins of the inhabitants reach the limit, G-d sends the Jews into exile as a father might send his own children away.
Our Rabbis tell us that Eres Yisrael is acquired through suffering (Berachot 5A). Indeed Am Yisrael has suffered & sacrificed much for their land. Am Yisrael has never been satisfied living in exile. We have always aspired to reach the heights & merit of living in Eres Yisrael. We have always been willing to risk dangerous consequences for the opportunity to live in the treasured land.
Entering a land which has potential for Sara’at on the homes is in fact good news. It translates into entering a land of higher standards. Only in the Land of Israel did G-d plague the homes of its’ people. Sara’at never plagued the homes of Jews in exile. The relationship wasn’t strong enough for G-d to do so.
Possessing the land of Israel is both a privilege and a responsibility. May we all merit this great privilege and live up to the responsibility soon b”h.
Rabbi Yaakob Savdie is an educator & Rabbi in the Sephardic Community of Brooklyn. He serves as a Rabbi at Congregation Ahaba Ve Ahva, where he gives shiurim, delivers sermons, and helps to guide the congregants. He also oversees the Post High School Program at Yeshibat Shaare Shaul (the Sephardic Rabbinical College) where he educates the young adults of the community, and teaches Gemara & Halacha. He received his semicha from Hacham Obadia Yosef ZS"L.