Parshas Metzora - The order of tzara'as on people, clothes and houses


The passuk says in this week’s sedrah (14:34)

כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם לַאֲחֻזָּה וְנָתַתִּי נֶגַע צָרַעַת בְּבֵית אֶרֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶם

When you come to the land of Kena’an which I give to you as an inheritance, and I will place tzara’as in the house of the land which you have acquired.

When the passuk explains the halachos of tzara’as of a person and of clothes, the passuk just says that the tzara’as will occur on the person or on the clothing - אָדָם כִּי יִהְיֶה בְעוֹר בְּשָׂרוֹ שְׂאֵת אוֹ סַפַּחַת אוֹ בַהֶרֶת and וְהַבֶּגֶד כִּי יִהְיֶה בוֹ נֶגַע צָרָעַת. However when the passuk explains the halachos of tzara’as of houses it says that Hashem will place the tzara’as on the house - וְנָתַתִּי נֶגַע צָרַעַת.
  • Why does the passuk differentiate between the description of tzara’as simply happening to a person or clothes, and Hashem placing tzara’as on a house?

The medrash comments (Vayikra Rabbah 17:4)

רב הונא בשם רבי יהושע בר אבין ור' זכריה חתניה דרבי לוי בשם ר' לוי אין בעל הרחמים נוגע בנפשות תחלה... ואף נגעים הבאים על האדם תחלה הן באים בביתו חזר בו טעון חליצה וא"ל טעון נתיצה הרי הן באים על בגדיו חזר בו טעון כביסה וא"ל טעון שריפה הרי הם באים על גופו חזר בו יטהר וא"ל "בדד ישב".

Rabbi Huna said, “Hashem does not punish people first. If tzara’as comes upon a person, first it affects his house, if he does teshuvah then the tzara’as can be peeled off the wall, if not then the tzara’as will remain and his house will need to be destroyed. Then the tzara’as will come on to his clothes, if he does teshuva then the tzara’as will go away and the clothes will need tevillah, if not then the clothes will need to be burned. Then the tzara’as will come on to his body, if he does teshuvah then he will become tahor, if not then he will sit alone outside of the camp.

It would seem that according to the medrash first the Torah should have explained the halachos of tzara’as of houses, then the halachos of tzara’as of clothes and then the halachos of tzara’as of people. However, the Torah explains the halachos of tzara’as in the opposite order. First it explains the halachos of tzara’as of people (פרק י"ג, פסוק א'), then the Torah explains the halachos of tzara’as of clothes (פסוק מ"ז) and then the Torah explains the halachos of tzara’as of houses (פרק י"ד, פסוק ל"ג).
  • Why does the Torah explain the halachos of tzara’as in the reverse of the order indicated by the medrash?

The medrash continues to explain on this passuk

בְּבֵית אֶרֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶם, זֶה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (יחזקאל כ"ד, כ"א): הִנְנִי מְחַלֵּל אֶת מִקְדָּשִׁי גְּאוֹן עֻזְכֶם. (ויקרא י"ד, ל"ה): וּבָא אֲשֶׁר לוֹ הַבַּיִת, זֶה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (חגי א', ט'): יַעַן בֵּיתִי אֲשֶׁר הוּא חָרֵב. (ויקרא י"ד, ל"ה): וְהִגִּיד לַכֹּהֵן, זֶה יִרְמְיָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ירמיה א', א'): מִן הַכֹּהֲנִים אֲשֶׁר בַּעֲנָתוֹת. (ויקרא י"ד, ל"ה): כְּנֶגַע נִרְאָה לִי בַּבָּיִת, זוֹ טִינֹפֶת עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה, וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים זֶה צַלְמוֹ שֶׁל מְנַשֶּׁה... (ויקרא י"ד, ל"ו): וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וּפִנּוּ אֶת הַבַּיִת (מלכים א' י"ד, כ"ו): וַיִּקַּח אֶת אֹצְרוֹת בֵּית ה', (ויקרא י"ד, מ"ה): וְנָתַץ אֶת הַבַּיִת, (עזרא ה', י"ב): וּבַיְתָא דְנָה סַתְרֵהּ, (ויקרא י"ד, מ"ה): וְהוֹצִיא אֶל מִחוּץ לעיר, (עזרא ה', י"ב): וְעַמָּה הַגְלִי לְבָבֶל, יָכוֹל לְעוֹלָם, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר (ויקרא י"ד, מ"ב): וְלָקְחוּ אֲבָנִים אֲחֵרוֹת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ישעיה כ"ח, מ"ב): לָכֵן כֹּה אָמַר ה' אֱלֹקִים הִנְנִי יִסַּד בְּצִיּוֹן אָבֶן אֶבֶן בֹּחַן פִּנַּת יִקְרַת מוּסָד מוּסָּד הַמַּאֲמִין לֹא יָחִישׁ.

In the land of your inheritance – this refers to the בית המקדש. Then the house owner should come – this refers to Hashem. And he should tell the כהן – this refers to Yirmiyah who was a כהן. A blemish has appeared in the house – this refers to עבודה זרה. And the כהן shall command and they shall empty the house – this refers to the when the king of Mitzrayim took the treasures of the בית המקדש. And he shall destroy the house – this refers to when Nevuchadnezzar destroyed the בית המקדש. And he shall take them out of the city – this refers to when Nevuchadnezzar exiled the בני ישראל to Bavel. You may think forever, therefore the passuk says that they should take other stones – this refers to the rebuilding of the בית המקדש.

The analogy of the חורבן הבית corresponds to a person who found tzara’as in their house except for one detail. The medrash compares taking the infected stones to outside of the city with the בני ישראל going into galus. However, according to the rest of the analogy, the equivalent of the infected stones being removed would have been the stones of the בית המקדש being removed, because this is analogous to the house which has tzara’as.
  • Why does the medrash compare taking the infected stones to outside of the city to the בני ישראל going into galus?

The ספר שערי צדק explains that tzara’as indicates that the person is spiritually removed from the thing that has tzara’as, which he should be using, but is not using, for עבודת ה'. In the case of tzara’as of a house, this means he is using the house for his own purposes and he is removed from the spiritual purpose of his house. In the case of tzara’as on clothes this indicates that he is using the clothing for his own purposes and he is removed from the spiritual purpose of his clothes. And in the case of tzara’as on his body, this indicates that he is using his body for his own purposes and he is removed from the spiritual purpose of his body.

Because Hashem gives us ארץ ישראל and He gives us our clothes and he gives us our bodies, therefore ארץ ישראל our clothes and our bodies naturally have the קדושה which inclines them towards שמירת התורה. If a person exerts his own will and starts using his body, clothes and house for his own purposes, he will first drive this natural inclination for דברים שבקדושה from his body, then from his clothes and then from his house.

The Torah arranges the order of the halachos of tzara’as in the order that the removal of the natural inclination to דברים שבקדושה will occur, therefore we first have tzara’as of the body, then tzara’as of clothes and then tzara’as of houses. However because Hashem is kind, he will bring the tzara’as on the person in the reverse order of what is actually happening, so first He will indicate to the person that he is not using his house for שמירת המצות, then He will indicate this to the person regarding his clothes and then He will indicate this to the person regarding his body.

Therefore in the case of tzara’as of the house, the passuk says וְנָתַתִּי נֶגַע צָרַעַת because at this stage the cause of the tzara’as has not yet naturally progressed to the person’s house, but Hashem places the symptoms of tzara’as onto his house in order to be מעורר him to do teshuvah. However for tzara’as of clothes and of the body, where by the time the tzara’as becomes visibly discernible, the spiritual malaise that causes tzara’as is already present in the clothes or in the person’s body, then the passuk just talks about what happens when a person has tzara’as or what happens when there is tzara’as in clothes, because here the physical symptoms are indicative of the spiritual malaise which is already present.

When the medrash compares the destruction of the בית המקדש to a person who has tzara’as in his house, the medrash compares the בני ישראל going into galus to the stones of the house being removed from the city. This is because whether the person is unable to use his house for דברים שבקדושה because the house has been removed, or whether the person is unable to use his house for דברים שבקדושה because he has been removed from the house, is immaterial. In both cases Hashem is מעורר the person to do teshuvah by showing him that he is foreign to the natural propensity for קדושה that lies in houses in ארץ ישראל and that lies in the בית המקדש.

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