Parshios Tazria & Metzorah
Jewish Statehood (I)
By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom
After presenting the various laws dealing with Tzara'at (scale diseases) and
the purification rituals which accompany them, the Torah presents the laws
of Tzara'at haBayit (scale diseases on the walls of houses):
And Hashem spoke to Mosheh and to Aharon, saying, When you come to the land
of K'na'an, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the disease of
leprosy in a house of the land of your possession; And he who owns the
house shall come and tell the Kohen, saying, It seems to me there is a
disease in the house; Then the Kohen shall command that they empty the
house, before the Kohen goes into it to see the disease... And the Kohen
shall come again the seventh day, and shall look; and, behold, if the
disease has spread over the walls of the house; Then the Kohen shall command
that they take away the stones in which the disease is, and they shall throw
them into an unclean place outside the city; And he shall cause the house
to be scraped inside around, and they shall pour out the dust that they
scraped outside the city into an unclean place; And they shall take other
stones, and put them in the place of those stones; and he shall take other
mortar, and shall plaster the house. And if the disease comes again, and
break out in the house, after he has taken away the stones, and after he has
scraped the house, and after it is plastered; Then the Kohen shall come and
look, and, behold, if the disease has spread in the house, it is a malignant
Tzara'at in the house; it is unclean. And he shall break down the house, its
stones, and its timber, and all the mortar of the house; and he shall carry
them out of the city into an unclean place...This is the Torah for all kinds
of Tzara'at, and patch, and for the leprosy of a garment, and of a house,
and for a swelling, and for a scab, and for a bright spot; to teach when it
is unclean, and when it is clean; this is the Torah of Tzara'at. (Vayyikra
The first statement which strikes any student about this Parashah is that,
unlike the Torah of Tzara'at presented relating to persons and clothes
(chapter 13), the Tzara'at haBayit seems to be a "promise", rather than a
contingency (When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a swelling, a
scab, or bright spot, and it is on the skin of his flesh like the disease of
Tzara'at; then he shall be brought to Aharon haKohen...).
The Midrash (cited, with variations, by Rashi at 14:34) explains the
"promise" as follows:
R. Hiyya taught: Was this a harbinger for them, to tell them that they would
have plagues in their houses? R. Shim'on bar Yohai taught: Once the
K'na'anim heard that Yisra'el are coming to war against them, they hid their
money in their homes and fields. HaKadosh Barukh Hu said: I promised their
fathers that I would bring them into a Land filled with all manners of good,
as it says: And houses full of all good things; what did haKadosh Barukh Hu
do? He causes plagues to come into the [Yisra'eli's] house, whereupon he
razes it, finding a treasure there. (Vayyikra Rabbah 17:6)
There is something a bit disconcerting about this explanation: If God's
intent was merely to expose the K'na'ani's hidden treasure to His people,
thus fulfilling the promise of bringing us to a Land of houses full of all
good things, why the need for a scaly plague in the house? Why not simply
command us to destroy the houses, or to remove the stones etc. in order to
find the treasures? (See Hizkuni at 14:34; in a diametrically opposite
perspective of that suggested by the Midrash, he associates the command to
destroy these houses with the command to uproot pagan worship sites. To
wit, God is showing us where the "secret" worship sites are and helping us
to uproot them by bringing a scabrous plague on those houses.)
I'd like to ask two further questions on this Parashah:
2) What is the rationale behind the sequence of Tzara'at presented in the
Torah: personal scale-disease, Tzara'at haBeged (scale disease on clothes)
and finally Tzara'at haBayit?
3) Why must the owner of the house turn to the Kohen for help in ferreting
out the Tzara'at of the house (or, for that matter, of his person or his
Since the direction we will adopt in responding to these questions relates
both to the unique nature of Eretz Yisra'el and the special demands of
Jewish Statehood, we will take a long detour and examine some of the more
recent developments (the last couple of centuries worth) in the restoration
of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisra'el. Although this essay will cover
three Mikra postings, each issue will focus on a separate component of the
issue as it relates to that week's Parashah (or Parashiot); those questions
will be "provisionally" answered at the end of each issue, with a summary of
all of the points in the final installment.
FROM MOURNING TO CELEBRATION
The season between Pesach and Lag b'Omer has, of late, become a time not
only for celebration (in some circles), but also of reflection and
commemoration (also, sadly, only in some circles - more on this anon). Since
the modern state of Israel was declared on that historic Erev Shabbat of May
15, 1948, the twinned days of Yom haZikkaron (Israel Memorial Day - Iyyar
4) and Yom ha'Atzma'ut (Iyyar 5) have been the occasion for many intense
feelings among the citizens of our State. Heart-wrenching visits to
military cemeteries and moments in silence throughout the country mark the
former; while great celebrations involving communal dancing and singing
highlight the latter - along with appropriate national ceremonies to
accompany each day.
A significant segment of the religious population has fully participated in
the "new rituals" associated with each of these commemorative days - along
with enhancing each of them with Halakhically-oriented "old rituals" to
express, more traditionally, the great and deep feelings which each of these
monumental days evokes.
I would like to address two issues in this essay which relate, very
directly, to the tone of these commemorative days as we prepare to move into
our second half-century of Statehood.
First of all, as noted above, it is only a segment of the Torah-committed
population which identifies with (and participates in) these national
celebrations. It is worth our while to investigate why the "Torah world" has
not fully embraced the opportunity to mark these days in a significant
manner. This question itself will be dealt with in two separate - yet
interdependent - studies. Why does a significant plurality (if not outright
majority) of the "Shomer Shabbat" community in Israel virtually ignore the
significance of these days? In responding to this question, we will see that
there is no one answer which accurately reflects the Hashkafah of the many
schools of thought which are, by dint of their non-celebration, grouped
together in the eyes of the Israeli public (religious as well as secular).
Independently, we may wish to ask why so much of the Orthodox community
outside of Israel (especially in North America) allow these two days to go
by without so much as a mention? To so many members of the religious
community (including a not-insignificant portion of our readership), this
question is a non-starter. We will investigate why this is the case further
on, along with suggesting why the question, at the very least, needs to be
asked, specifically within those communities.
The second issue, which may appear to be totally unrelated to the first, is
the spirit which animates the State, the Zionist movement (if such could be
said to exist at all) and the celebration of Statehood in this, the 52nd
year of Medinat Yisra'el. How far have we come towards realizing the dreams
which drove our brothers and sisters of the last two generations to drain
swamps, pave roads, patrol borders and make the desert bloom? Is there
anything left of that dream today? Has the contemplative sobriety of Yom
haZikkaron invaded the celebratory tone of Yom ha'Atzma'ut so that we no
longer feel that we have anything to celebrate?
This may sound like a curious question; unfortunately, a recent change in
the "public face" of Israel nearly provides an automatic response in the
negative to the former question and an affirmative one to the latter.
Succinctly put, how close is the vision which created our State to the
reality experienced by her citizens today? Is it at all possible to speak of
a "shared vision" within the various segments of the Jewish population? (a
proper analysis of the role of the Arab population in Medinat Yisra'el is
beyond the scope of this essay - as well as beyond the ken of the author).
Is there a vision which can include the entire "world of Torah"?
As noted, these questions do not necessarily seem to be of one cloth and one
would rightly anticipate separate analyses. I believe, however, that there
is an underlying question which informs all of these issues, the resolution
of which, more to our point, may be the foundation around which a
satisfactory (and satisfying) direction may be found.
At the outset, let me admit that this undertaking is too great for even
Mikra-postings. I readily confess that it seems presumptuous to suggest that
a "great foundation" can be presented in these pages which will accomplish
what no end of pundits, rabbis, political advisors and community leaders
have failed to generate. Yet every one of us is called to contribute our
best to K'lal Yisra'el, even if it falls short of the contributions made by
others. Perhaps the suggestions raised in these pages will provide some food
for thought which will stimulate further discussion in the cause of Am
Yisra'el b'Eretz Yisra'el...t'he zot s'chari.
POLITICAL ZIONISM AND ITS RECENT PRECURSORS
Generally speaking, when we refer to the "Zionist dream", reference is made
to that specific vision shared by the progenitors of the Zionist movement of
the late 19th century. Ardent socialists who found that they could not built
their utopia in Eastern Europe, they directed their energies towards our
ancient homeland, Palestine. They were avowed secularists, whose Zionism was
as much the product of their disaffection from the established (read:
religious) Jewish community (as they were swept along in the exhilaration of
the Enlightenment) as it was an outgrowth of their "Jewish roots". They
envisioned a Jewish state that would offer all that is noble about Judaism
- essentially the finest of Western culture and academia - to the world and
would be a haven where all Jews could come to participate in that great
enterprise. The great ideals of socialism would be realized on Jewish native
soil, as the Jewish people would achieve their destiny of being a "light
unto the nations." Since this is not chiefly a historic piece, I will not
include here a summary of the development of the Zionism movement, the
various Congresses etc. Suffice it to say that the vision shared by these
early Zionists was not infused with - or even informed by - Torah
sensibilities. Political Zionism was very much the daughter of the Zeitgeist
of the second half of the last century and, as such, was caught up with the
heady arrogance of that exciting time. There was no need for the "old ways",
so closely identified with the mentality of "Galut". A "new Jew" was going
to be created; a Jew unbound by centuries of tradition and belief, a
"modern" Jew who would be able to sit at the table (literally as well as
figuratively) with the member of any other nation and look at him as an equal.
Surprising as most Jews would find it, these hardy socialists were not the
only Jews to "make Aliyah" in the 19th century - nor were they the first.
Religious Jews had been living in Eretz Yisra'el for nearly a century before
the first Zionist Congress took place in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. Truth
to tell, there were small (but not at all insignificant) communities of Jews
in Israel who had been there for countless generations - some claiming that
they never left!
At the beginning of the 19th century, followers of the Vilna Ga'on (d.
1797) and R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe - d. 1813)
made Aliyah. In both cases, unlike the communities which had been there for
several centuries, these new Olim saw themselves as the vanguard of the
Mashiach. In a lengthy treatise, Kol haTor, authored by R. Hillel of
Sh'klov, the Vilna Ga'on's many teachings regarding the special nature of
the times and the steps needed to be taken to inspire the coming of the
Mashiach are outlined. The students of the Ga'on settled in Tz'fat and
Yerushalayim; whereas the main Habad community was in Hevron.
Along with these "Messianic activists" (more on this term later), there were
communities of representatives of many of the European communities in
Yerushalayim. As their representatives, their task was fully devotional -
to study and pray in the holy city, accepting their material support from
their home/host community abroad. Although this system had only become
popular in the 1700s, there are examples of this type of
"representative/devotional" Aliyah dating back to the Middle Ages.
In any case, it is clear that both a personal connection with the Land of
Israel and a sense that this was an auspicious time to settle the Land were
not sentiments exclusively felt within the secular community of Jewish
So far, we have seen three motivating factors for people to want to move to
Eretz Yisra'el - only one of which would necessarily involve political
sovereignty and statehood:
1) A place for Jews to implement the socialist visions sweeping across
Western and Central Europe - in a Jewish milieu;
2) As a somewhat mechanistic activity designed to both hasten the coming of
Mashiach and to be properly prepared for his advent.
3) To reside in the Holy Land, preferably within the Holy City, studying
Torah and praying to God.
(To be sure, there were always Jews who were motivated to "make Aliyah" for
other reasons. The story is told that R. Hayyim Brisker, one of the most
ardent and outspoken opponents of Political Zionism desired to move to
Israel, plant an orchard and, thereby, be able to fulfill the various
Mitzvot which obtain exclusively in the Land. He never realized his dream.)
With the organization of "Zionism" as a political movement at the end of the
century, however, religious sentiments regarding the Land of Israel
decidedly cooled. That is not to say that interst in the fate of Eretz
Yisra'el waned; but vehement opposition to the Zionists and anything
associated with their program led to an almost wholesale refusal on the part
of rabbinic authorities to have anything to do with their efforts. Whatever
judgment the Ribbono Shel Olam may have passed on this question - He is,
after all, the sole arbiter in historic questions (see Rav Yoseph D.
Soloveitchik, Hamesh D'rashot, p. 23), the outspoken antagonism of most of
the Rabbinic collegium throughout Eastern Europe is easily understood. Not
only were the Zionists avowedly secular, they also planned to build their
own (avowedly secular) state on holy ground!
Although the "Messianic activist" school continued to have capable
spokesmen, (e.g. R. Yehudah Alkalai, R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer), the
influence of this movement had waned by the time Political Zionism's message
was publicized. This set the scene for the two leaders - one political and
the other a visionary - who did more than anyone ( before or since) to
change the relationship between Zionism and the world of Torah-committed
Jews: Rabbi Yitzchak Ya'akov Reines and Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak haKohen
Kook. We will begin next week's installment with a brief survey of their
programmatic and policy agendae relating to the resettlement of Eretz
Yisra'el. In the meantime, here are the "provisional" answers to the
questions posited above.
THE UNIQUE DEMANDS OF JEWISH STATEHOOD
The Rishonim note that, unlike personal Tzara'at and that afflicting
clothing, Tzara'at haBayit is directly and exclusively related to houses in
Eretz Yisra'el. Ibn Ezra (14:34) states that: "For this only applies in the
Land, on account of the superior nature of the Land, because the Mikdash is
among them and the Glory is in the Mikdash." In other words, the afflictions
which plague the houses are only considered significant in the Land, due to
the Glory of God manifest there.
The Land is, indeed and just as God promised us, filled with all manner of
good things. And the gold of that Land is good - teaching that there is no
Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisra'el and there is no wisdom like the
wisdom of Eretz Yisra'el. (B'resheet Rabbah 16:4) But those great goods can
only be realized when Am Yisra'el achieves its destiny, not operating as a
an amalgamation of pious individuals, but as a kingdom of Kohanim and holy
nation. Building a nation, overcoming the tribal and sectarian
considerations which animate a nation of recently liberated slaves (or a
people long exiled from their Land) takes much serious work and there are no
easy solutions to the many dilemmas which face national leaders:
It has been taught: R. Shim'on b. Yohai says: haKadosh Barukh Hu gave
Yisra'el three precious gifts, and all of them were given only through
sufferings. These are: The Torah, Eretz Yisra'el and the world to come. (BT
The goodness of Eretz Yisra'el, the beauty of a national entity which
reflects most perfectly the ideals of God's Torah, is a job which takes much
digging and hard work - and necessitates the overcoming of great afflictions
and obstacles. Had God merely directed us to the hidden gold of the
K'na'anim, we would have mistakenly thought that nation building - "building
our house" - is an easy task. We would not even have had to build, just
inherit a previously built house, with gold and silver waiting for us.
Tzara'at haBayit teaches us that it is specifically when we are faced with
plagues, with scaly walls and moldy bricks, that we are called not to look
away but to root them out - for that is exactly how our firmest foundations
will be built and the greatest riches will be unearthed.
Who is qualified to direct this search for national treasures? Which type of
leader has the mandate to address the "plagues of the house" and identify
how best to clean them out? It is the Kohen, whose function is most
eloquently described by Malakhi as follows:
For the Kohen's lips should guard knowledge, and they should seek the Torah
from his mouth; for he is a messenger of Hashem T'zakot. (Malakhi 2:7)
Why, then, does the Torah first present "personal" afflictions, then
afflictions relating to clothing, only concluding with Tzara'at haBayit?
Great nationalist movements have often placed such an overwhelming stress on
the success and weal of the group that the moral development of the
individual - as well as his welfare - have no place in the national agenda.
Jewish nation-building, conversely, is a process of balancing the needs of
the individual (the P'rat) against those of the community (the K'lal).
In order to build a righteous nation, which can serve as a theistic-ethical
beacon for the nations of the world, we need to insure that the individual
members of the group are successfully facing their own "plagues" ("personal"
Tzara'at) , as well as those which affect their interactions with others
We now understand why the Torah presents the various forms of Tzara'at in
this order - for we must first develop righteous individuals and a holy
society if we are to have any hope of creating and maintaining the nation
which carries God's Name and enshrines Him in their midst.
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and Torah.org. The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.