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BURIED TREASURE

by Levi Graiser    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"When you arrive in the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I will place a tzaraat affliction upon a house in the land of your possession. . ." (Leviticus 14:34).

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"When you arrive in the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I will place a tzaraat affliction upon a house in the land of your possession. . ." (Leviticus 14:34).

Looking at this verse at face value, it appears to be more of a threat than a promise. The Children of Israel are told that when they come to the land of Israel, the place to which they have been yearning to come since the time of Abraham, they will be punished with the disease of tzaraat on their houses. We know that tzaraat comes as a punishment for one's sins, generally for lashon hara (evil speech). How could Hashem be so sure that the Jewish people would sin and deserve punishment? Also, why is Hashem scaring the Jewish people by telling them this foreboding news about the land of Israel?

Rashi, the classical commentator on the Torah, sheds some light on these questions. He explains that the Emorite nation dwelling in the land of Canaan heard about the Jews' imminent arrival to their land. Being practical and realizing that the Jews would probably be victorious in conquering the land, the Emorites hid all their valuables in the walls of their houses so that the Jews would not find the riches. Hashem informs the Jews in this verse that He will bring tzaraat on their houses, causing them to be condemned and destroyed. The Jews will then find the riches that were hidden from them. As such, this verse is not a threat to the Children of Israel; it is rather very good news, that upon entering Canaan they will become very wealthy!

But we still have a question to answer: If tzaraat is a punishment for a sin, why does a sinner deserve to get rich? The commentary Tiferes Tzion offers the following answer: Those who were righteous found their riches in convenient places, such as in their fields. They would find their wealth when plowing their fields, sparing them the agony of destroying their houses. Those who were less righteous did indeed get tzaraat on their house as punishment for their sins. By experiencing the shock and humiliation of having tzaraat on their house, they would realize that they needed to do teshuvah (repentance). Once doing sincere teshuvah, they were deserving of finding the riches in their homes.

But there is still something a bit puzzling about this explanation. The laws regarding tzaraat of houses are much more detailed than those of tzaraat effecting people, as for houses the Torah delineates a process extending three weeks until the house is demolished. At the end of each week, there is the possibility that the house will be declared pure and not need to be destroyed. Let us put ourselves in the shoes of one whose home has tzaraat. As soon as the Kohen (priest) declares the spot on the wall to be tzaraat, the person does teshuvah for his sins to try to get rid of the tzaraat. He will probably pull his Yom Kippur Machzor off the shelf and say vidui (confession) ten times a day!

Then at the end of one week, the Kohen returns. A very confident homeowner is shocked to learn that the tzaraat is still there! During the next two weeks, he gives charity and continues to do teshuvah with amazing fervor. Yet, after these two weeks, the Kohen decides that the house must be demolished. Imagine the disappointment this person feels. He feels that his intensive teshuvah campaign has been rejected by Hashem! And as the Kohen destroys the house, this dejected person discovers the fortune of a lifetime in the walls of his own home. All that teshuvah paid off after all!

Many times we find ourselves in the situation where we are tying to improve and come closer to Hashem, but it seems like He keeps rejecting us. This verse and the message behind it come to tell us not to despair, but rather to continue our efforts, for they will be justly rewarded.

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Levi Graiser, who hails from Atlanta, is studying at the Rabbi Naftali Riff Yeshiva in South Bend, Indiana.

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