April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Metzorah: The Evil Ooze • Vayikra: 14: 33-57

The house was 52 years old. It was beautiful, but much like its new owners, it was starting to show its age. It was only natural that a few things might need fixing. The Schwartzes repainted the walls and installed new countertops in the kitchen when they moved in a year before, but problems kept cropping up. The electrical panel needed replacing. The roof needed repairs. Nothing too surprising.

But when the brown sludge started oozing out of the bathtub drain in the children’s bathroom, that was more than Penina had bargained for. It was so, so—

“Gross! It’s totally gross! It’s downright disgusting. Actually, revolting is the word that comes to mind.”

“Penina, calm down,” her husband Barry said. “You’re acting hysterically.”

“No I’m not! Okay, maybe I am, just a little. But let me tell you something, Barry. This stuff in the bathtub? It’s like something out of a bad movie. It’s the slime that swallowed Fair Lawn or something like that. It’s completely awful.”

“I get it. It’s bad.”

“No, it’s not bad. It’s almost like it’s alive. I feel like my house is possessed by some evil force. It’s like a poltergeist or something.”

“What on earth is a poltergeist?”

“Actually, I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure it’s really, really bad.”

“You definitely need to calm down.”

“Fine, I’ll calm down. But first tell me what you’re going to do about the brown slime that is taking over our house.”

“Me? I’m a bus and two subways away. I can’t do anything until tonight. Besides, plumbing is not exactly my strong suit. Do you know what I would do if I was there?”

“What?”

“I would pick up the phone and call a plumber.”

“But I don’t know any plumbers in Fair Lawn.”

“Just open the Yellow Pages and dial the one with the biggest advertisement. Hey, isn’t there a plumber who goes to our shul?”

“I think you’re right. What’s his name?”

“I think it’s Katz.”

“Right. Maury Katz.”

“Maybe it’s time to give him a call, before the brown ooze overflows the tub and swallows the whole neighborhood.”

“You so wouldn’t be making jokes if you were here and witnessed firsthand how vile and malevolent this stuff is. In fact, maybe I’ll save some for you, in your coffee cup.”

“Call the plumber.”

Katz and Katz Plumbing and Heating was not the largest ad in the phone book, but it had a nice graphic where the letters K-A-T-Z formed a bright red monkey wrench. Penina left a message on their emergency line, and Maury Katz called back ten minutes later.

She recognized him immediately when she answered the door.

“Oh, hi,” Penina said. “You look different when you’re not in a suit.”

“What?”

“What I mean is, the only other time I’ve seen you is at Shomrei Emunah, on Shabbat.”

“Right,” Maury said with a shy smile. “I hear you have a clogged drain.”

“It’s not a clogged drain,” Penina explained. “It’s an evil brown slime from the underworld that has come to possess my house.”

“Um, sure,” Maury said politely. “Let’s have a look at the bathtub, shall we?”

Penina led Maury to the bathroom but stopped at the door, letting Maury go first.

“After you,” Maury said—ever the gentleman.

“Oh, I’m not going back in there,” Penina explained. “I don’t think I can bear to look at it again. Besides, it may try to suck me down the drain, or something.”

“It?”

“Didn’t I make myself clear?” Penina said.” It’s not just a clog. It’s some kind of nasty ooze. It’s like it’s alive.”

Maury walked into the bathroom and surveyed the bathtub. “Nice,” he muttered.

“Am I right? Is it evil?” Penina called in the doorway.

“Well, it’s unpleasant looking, I’ll give you that, but to be honest, it’s not really out of the ordinary. Just your garden-variety pipe clog that backed up from your toilet into the bathtub. I’ll get out my snake and have it unclogged in a jiffy.”

“Well I still think it’s a living, breathing entity from the nether world,” Penina said.

“You know, there is precedent for a house to be spiritually impure and oozing with ritually unclean slime,” Maury said.

“Really? Are you talking about some horror movie?”

“No, I’m talking about the Torah. Parshat Metsora has a whole section that discusses how to manage a house whose walls are dripping with impure slime. But I think that most of the commentators suggest that it’s not the house that has the real spiritual issue. It’s the inhabitants of the dwelling who need to search their deeds to make sure they have been acting correctly.”

“So are you saying that this malevolent ooze is my fault because of my family’s sins?”

“Not exactly. I think that the Talmud (Gemara Sanhedrin, 30A) suggests that in all of history there has never really been a house that qualifies for this distinction. It’s just symbolic of impurity and sin. Still, if your house did have a malevolent, sin-laden ooze, I would be the one you would need to call.”

“A plumber?”

“No, Mrs. Schwartz, a kohen,” Maury said, coming out of the bathroom and closing his toolbox. “The clog’s all gone.”

“Oh thank you, thank you, thank you. That is a big load off my mind,” Penina said.

“Can I pay you now?”

“No, I’ll mail you the bill. And don’t worry. There’s no charge for the spiritual cleansing.”

“Really? How much would that have cost?”

Maury smiled as he climbed back into his truck. “You can’t afford it.”

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics and author of the Torah story blog themaggidofbergenfield.com

By Larry Stiefel

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