In last week’s parsha of Tazria-Metzora we read about the possibility of people experiencing tzara’at upon their houses. Chapter 14, verse 34, describes how some people would discover the affliction of tzara’at (translated by some as leprosy) in their walls as they took possession of their property from the Canaanites. Can you imagine, after having fought long and hard, moving into their new houses, the Jewish people might have to deal with a plague that would strike at their houses and force them to demolish their very walls? Why would Hashem cause such an apparent misfortune to take place this way? Apparently, it seemed to be a bad thing at first. Perhaps, though, it was not so bad after all.
Rashi explains that the Canaanite people, knowing the Jews would soon conquer the land, hid their valuables and jewelry, plastering them into the walls of the house for safekeeping. In order to enable the Jewish homeowners to acquire this wealth, Hashem placed tzara’at on the part of the wall where the valuables were hidden. This way, when the owner was forced to demolish the wall, the treasure would be revealed. Something that started out looking bad was actually meant for the best.
The haftarah also continues with a similar theme. It relates the story of the four metzoraim (lepers) who felt they had nothing to lose. They felt distressed thinking that no matter which way they turned their lives were done for. Thinking that they might as well turn toward the Aramean camp that was besieging their city, their footsteps were magnified and heard as if it were the sound of thousands of soldiers approaching. The Arameans panicked and fled. The Jewish people were saved by these four lepers who had originally thought that their lives were doomed and that they had nothing to live for. Again, something that started out looking bad was actually meant for the best.
A while back one of my fellow Chai Riders Motorcycle Club members experienced an accident. He had just put on new tires and hadn’t had a chance to wear them in, as one is supposed to do for the first hundred miles. Instead, he drove out in the rain and, with the tires and road being so slick, he slid sideways and fractured seven ribs. When he was taken to the emergency room they did a complete series of scans and found that he had a silent killer growing in his body. One of his kidneys had developed a type of cancer that caused no pain and had no symptoms. He was referred to an oncologist and he was able to receive proper treatment that extended his life for years. Had he not experienced his motorcycle accident his cancer would have been discovered too late to have saved him.
A similar, but more dramatic, story was told by R’ Menachem Stein in Israel. A chareidi mashgiach was going to work in Rishon Letzion when a terrorist suddenly attacked and stabbed him. He was taken to the nearby hospital where they stopped the bleeding and treated his wounds. During the course of diagnostic testing they discovered a silent malignancy that was just beginning to develop. He was referred for treatment and is still alive today. Had he not been stabbed by a terrorist, this malignancy would also never have been discovered until it was too late. This gentleman was so thankful that he put up posters in his chareidi neighborhood thanking the terrorist who stabbed him (and Hashem) for having ultimately saved his life.
So when we read that parsha and think that the story of ancient houses having tzara’at seems obscure and unrelated to modern times remember the story of the men who had mishaps and were accidentally saved from silent cancers, the people who had treasure in their walls and the lepers who had nothing to live for. We need to reflect and remember that sometimes when things initially look bad, Hashem may actually have meant it for the best. All we have to do is have the proper faith.
Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is vice president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected]