Metzora: A Plague Upon Your House

Expert Guidance

What does it mean for a house to be afflicted with plague?

Table for Five: Metzora

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, “Something like a plague has appeared upon my house.”

– Lev. 14:34-35


Rabbi Shmuel Reichman, International Speaker, Bestselling Author, Business Coach

Speech holds the power to create relationships, lift people up, expand people’s minds, and enable genuine communication and connection. As human beings, we are naturally isolated and separate from one another. We are individual beings, all living in our own subjective world and inner universe. How, then, can we overcome the infinite barrier between ourselves and everyone else?

This is the gift of speech. Speech is the mechanism that enables us to connect with other people and overcome the seemingly infinite barrier between us. And this is the real tragedy of lashon hara (evil speech). Lashon hara takes the very tool of connection — speech — and uses it to disconnect people from each other. When one speaks negatively about someone, they create a wall between the subject of their negativity and the person they are speaking with. The very tool of connection has been corrupted to achieve its opposite goal.

This is why the consequence for speaking lashon hara is tzara’as (plague/affliction) and temporary isolation. The person who spoke lashon hara disconnected people from each other. As a consequence, they now become disconnected from everyone, isolated in their own inner world, incapable of any communication and connection with anyone else. However, this punishment is not only punitive in nature; it is reformative. This time in isolation gives them the opportunity to contemplate their past failures, helping them truly understand the pain of isolation and disconnect, and this hopefully inspires them to create a greater sense of connection and harmony moving forward.


Elan Javanfard L.M.F.T., Professor & Author, Psycho-Spiritual Insights blog

In this Parsha we encounter a fascinating scenario of a house’s walls being afflicted with tzaraat and needing to be dismantled. Rashi tells us this was divinely ordained by Hashem so that when the walls were destroyed, Bnei Yisrael could find treasure hidden underneath, resonating with the concept of Post-Traumatic Growth.

Post-Traumatic Growth suggests that individuals can experience positive psychological changes following adversity or trauma. It acknowledges that amidst the darkness of challenges, there exists the potential for growth, resilience, and transformation which embodies what Rashi describes, seeing the struggle through the lens of faith.

The house, like a person struggling, is initially viewed as injured or damaged. The tearing down of the walls symbolizes the psychological deconstruction people face when confronting trauma. Breaking down their barriers, fears, and insecurities. However, within the rubble lies the potential for discovery and the possibility of finding meaning or a treasured new purpose. The treasure represents unseen strengths and wisdom that can emerge through coping with adversity. Lastly, Hashem helps us complete the metaphor by making the homeowner discard the stones outside of the city. This act symbolizes the need to actively rid our lives of negative beliefs, patterns, and attitudes that build perpetual suffering.

Whether facing adversity or trauma, Hashem metaphorically challenges us to confront the walls within ourselves that hinder our growth and healing. May we all find the courage to confront these inner walls, dismantle them with strength, and uncover the treasures within ourselves gifted to us by our Creator.


Rabbi Brett Kopin, Base LA and Milken Community School

This verse calls Mercutio’s famous words to mind: “A plague o’ both your houses!” He shouts these words as he approaches an imminent death after losing a duel he fights for his friend, Romeo. But Mercutio, of course, was not referring to a physical house, but rather the Capulet and Montague families. The same way in which the Ten Commandments’ admonition, “Do not covet your neighbor’s house,” refers to the neighbor’s clan or family, and not necessarily to the neighbor’s physical house.

Houses are not inflicted by plague. The homeowner in the verse must say, “Something like a plague…” It is clear from the next few verses that the text is describing something more akin to mold (a huge problem, especially in rainy climates!). This eruption can get so bad that the house is under threat of being dismantled completely, and it is the responsibility of the priest to enact a quick remedy.

When left unchecked, plague, or something like a plague, can erupt within our families, our homes, even our larger communities. It takes on many forms, but perhaps most insidiously, it erupts as internal strife, the kind of strife one hopes will quickly pass, but when ignored, continues to grow. The role of Jewish leadership, in every generation, is to stop a plague whenever it begins. This is perhaps why our tradition describes Aaron, the first High Priest, as a lover and pursuer of peace. What matters most, above all else, is keeping the family together.


Nicholas Losorelli, Ziegler Student/Temple Beth Am Rabbinic Intern

In our pasuk, we are faced with a strange circumstance and a practical response: if a plague appears upon your house, then you should go to the priest and say “something like a plague has appeared upon my house”. The nature of this “plague” may or may not be clear; as many who have spent significant time in Israel can attest, mold and lichen often appear inside homes due to moisture with the former, and due to lichen’s affinity for stone for the latter. Some of these lichens can actually be quite beautiful, but given that most people don’t know the ins and outs of lichen or mold, it’s best to consult an expert. What happens, though, if you do know a thing or two, or are even an expert on molds and lichen, can’t you just say “this is mold” or “this is lichen”, and deal with it yourself? Well, according to Rashi, not so. Rashi picks up on the “like” part of the statement, that you must say “something like a plague has appeared”, even if you know for sure—even if you are an expert. Why? Plagues and disease are infectious, and can spread easily, and so too can fear and gossip, so better to have a system in place to handle these situations, because even though our certainty may be well-founded, we may still be liable for the unintended consequences of spreading fear, and spreading gossip, often leading to innumerable and irrevocable consequences and damage.


Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn, BCC/Rabbanit and Chaplain/Congregation Netivot Shalom and New York-Presbyterian Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Whether for the house or the body, recovery from tzaraat is never done completely in isolation. The kohen guides the person throughout. This builds a culture of not hiding our struggles and worries but instead turning to our leaders and community for support and guidance. With psychological sensitivity, our rabbis expound upon the intentionality of the phrase “something like” in our verse. Even a learned scholar is required to use this phrase to communicate both humility and respect for another’s help. It also serves as a buffer to limit fear and embarrassment. There is wisdom in acknowledging what we don’t know and in leaning on the insights and help of others. Often the human instinct is to hide whatever is metaphorically plaguing or worrying us to survive and avoid pain and discomfort. Sometimes this is needed and can even work. Our ritual, however, reveals that complete isolation is not the path to spiritual healing. This does not mean that we must force someone to speak publicly about their suffering and retraumatize. Rather, our parsha provides a ritual framework for individuals and our community to build social structures for thoughtful repair and healing embrace. As the Midrash emphasizes, the verbal requirements in the laws of tzaraat teach that in the face of life’s obstacles, sharing with our community opens up their prayers and care for us. When a house is plagued, the Torah answers with support rather than shame. May we merit to do the same.

With thanks to Rabbi Shmuel Reichman, Elan Javanfard, Rabbi Brett Kopin, Nicholas Losorelli, & Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn

Image: Reconstructed ancient Israelite house (Eretz Israel Museum)

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