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Parshas Metzora By: Malka Schneps

In Parshas Metzora, we learn that if a person discovers a lesion on his house that may be tzara’as, he should come and tell the kohen. The kohen then instructs the man to clear out the house of all possessions before the kohen comes to examine the lesion. Rashi explains that everything contained within a home becomes tamei when a kohen declares the lesion to be tzara’as. By removing all possessions from the home before the declaration of tzara’as, the possessions are spared from becoming tamei. Exploring this further, Rashi points out that the only possessions that would truly benefit from this would be the lowly earthenware vessels. If other, finer vessels became tamei, they could simply be immersed in a mikvah and they would become tahor once more. The food and drink would not suffer from becoming tamei either; the person could eat and drink these items during his own period of being tamei. The earthenware, however, could not be immersed in the mikvah, so becoming tamei would permanently destroy them. Why would the Torah go to such great lengths to spare a few cheap pieces of pottery? First let us take a step back to consider the bigger picture. The Midrash relates that the true purpose in having the person remove all of his possessions from the house was to correct his selfishness. An affliction like tzara’as on a house is caused by selfishness. The person had items

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that could have been given away or loaned to others in need, but the selfish person denied having them. By forcing him to display all of his possessions before his neighbors, his shame becomes public. Hopefully, this will lead him to teshuvah. We tend to think that selfishness is rooted in overvaluing one’s possessions: By regarding each possession as a treasure to be hoarded, the owner selfishly hides away each and every item, from big to small — even his lowly earthenware. R’ Zev Leff, shlit”a, explains that in truth, selfishness is literally tzarus ayin, or a narrow eye, which is the result of not appreciating the true value of material possessions. The selfish person views his possessions from a narrow perspective and undervalues them. Tzaddikim, on the other hand, value their material possessions even more than their lives, which we learn from the incident where Yaakov put his life in danger by crossing a river to retrieve his earthenware vessels. Earthenware vessels turn out to be a very good medium through which to teach a lesson about valuing one’s possessions and not being selfish. R’ Leff explains that there are two ways an object can have value. One way is if the material of which the object is fashioned has value. A silver vase, for example, is valuable because it is made of silver, not because it can hold flowers. Earthenware, on the other hand, only has value

because of what it can do; the material itself has no value. Aside from possibly contracting tumah by being inside a house when it is declared tamei, earthenware only contracts tumah through its interior walls and not through its exterior walls. This is because the cheap earthenware walls have no intrinsic value. The value of earthenware is in its function. For example, the only value of a clay jug for carrying water is its usefulness for carrying water. Otherwise it has no value. What lesson is the person to learn from having to remove all of his vessels from his home for the sake of the earthenware? R’ Leff explains that a tzaddik views all of his possessions to be like earthenware. Whatever Hashem has given him, whether it be a clay jug or a silver menorah, it only has true value from how he uses it. What value is there in wealth if no tzedakah is given? A simple sweater has little value on its own, but if it is given to a poor person who is cold, its value cannot be measured. The simplest item can attain the greatest value if it is used in avodas Hashem. Whether Hashem has granted one great wealth, or whether one struggles day by day, what matters most is what he does with what he has. By being generous and using our possessions to help others in need, we not only imbue our possessions with value, but we also demonstrate that we value other people, who are Hashem’s treasures.

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