A D'var Torah for Parshat Tazria-Metzora 2012/5772 by Rabbi Lester Bronstein
One of my sons drew the short straw and got Tazria-Metzora as his bar mitzvah portion. We all felt sorry for him until he found a message in it that changed our view of the Jewish world forever.
He zeroed in on the passage about "leprosy of houses," tzara'at habayit. In that section of the Torah (Leviticus 14:34-57), we are told that when the Israelites enter the Land of Canaan and it so happens that an eruptive plague breaks out in a house, such that green or red streaks appear on the walls, everyone needs to take drastic action.
It might be that the whole house has to be cleared out. If the plague has spread deep into the walls, the building stones need to be pulled out. The interior must be scraped down to the base. The stones will need replacing. In the worst case, the house must be razed and a new structure built in its place. Eventually the residents will need to go through a complex purification ritual.
My son's great insight came when he realized that this regimen only begins to apply "when you enter the Land of Canaan that I give you as a possession." In other words, he argued, it's about Jews taking full responsibility for the integrity of our own house in our own land. It's about literal rot and mildew, yes, but also about the figurative rot we encounter when we allow our "house" to be corrupted.
What does the owner need to say to the priest in a full voice? K'nega nir'ah li babayit, "It appears to me that a plague has come upon my house." The operative phrase is "to me." It's a reversal of the words of the rasha at Passover who says "to you," and thus separates him-herself from the community. Here the owner recognizes him-herself at the center of the problem, and as the one who needs to find the solution. There are always external factors to blame. But action resides with the owner.
Yes, it's a Yom Ha'atzma'ut teaching! It reminds us that we are the "independent" owners of the "house" called the State of Israel. We own its human rights triumphs, but also its human rights deficiencies. We may or not be the cause of every "rot" within the borders of Israel and its environs of control, but we are the ones who must go to great lengths to identify that rot and clean it out.
Indeed Eretz Yisrael is our bayit/house, our achuzah/possession. It is our right and privilege to own it and live in it and enjoy it. But the Torah of Jewish ownership in the Land is not only a covenant that bequeaths to us its fruits. It is also a contract that adjures us to deal honestly and thoroughly with its tzara'at/plagues of injustice.
And just as this is the Torah portion that no bar/bat mitzvah wants to land on, so it is the portion whose core message we would all like to avoid. But we must not. Holiness comes only when one speaks up and admits that some things are terribly wrong, and then moves quickly to clean house. Only then may we celebrate atz'maut, the independence that flows from taking responsibility.