Parshas Metzora: When Destroying A Home Is The Only Option

The laws dictating what one is to do in response to contracting tzara’as are rather extreme when it comes to tzara’as of the house. Should one find tzara’as in his home once, the procedure is difficult enough. Should it return a second time, however, the Torah’s prescription is most severe:

Leviticus 14:45:

וְנָתַץ אֶת־הַבַּיִת אֶת־אֲבָנָיו וְאֶת־עֵצָיו וְאֵת כָּל־עֲפַר הַבָּיִת וְהוֹצִיא אֶל־מִחוּץ לָעִיר אֶל־מָקוֹם טָמֵא

And he [the priest] shall break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the mortar of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place.

If a person’s home contracts tzara’as more than once, it is to be absolutely demolished. The entirety of the house is to be broken down and carried out of the city, down to the very mortar. Needless to say, this treatment seems to be exceptionally harsh. Is it really necessary to destroy a person’s entire home over this? To lose one’s house is absolutely devastating, and as the Torah’s reaction to a house that contracted tzara’as more than once, it seems a little bit excessive.

Yet, perhaps it’s not excessive at all. Perhaps it is absolutely necessary. Ramban states the following about a house in which tzara’as was found a second time:

Ramban on Leviticus 14:43-45:

וזהו טעם "בבית" כי בכל הבית יהיה דינו כן והטעם כי הרוח הרעה לא תסור מן הבית ההוא אבל תמיד תהיה בבית ההוא באחת המקומות להבעית את בעליו

And this is the reason [that the verse uses the term] “in the house,” for throughout the entire house there is the status [of tzara’as], and the reason is that the evil aura [of tzara’as] does not leave from this house, but is rather there always in the house in [at least] one of the places to trouble the owner.

According to Ramban, the fact that tzara’as has shown up in this particular house now more than once means that the problem is deep-seated in the house itself. The tzara’as, in this case, can no longer be said to be incidental, but has instead become very much a part of the nature of the house itself. It is “in the house,” and "ממארת הוא בבית," a fundamental aspect of the nature of the home. The home and the tzara’as are no longer two separate entities, as such. The tzara’as is now rooted in the very essence of the home. As such1, it is too late to simply remove the malady from the home, for that is no longer possible. Things are too long gone, too fundamentally damaged, for the house to be salvaged. Instead, it must be destroyed and rebuilt from scratch.

Indeed, this can happen from time to time throughout life. There are times when things can be corrected, but there are also times when fixing something is no longer an option; it’s too late. Despite the pain, despite the difficulty, sometimes a person must cut his or her losses and move on. There comes a point when a clean slate, a tabula rasa, is the only option.

This does not have to be seen as entirely negative, however. One must simply learn when a correction is still possible, and when starting over is the only remaining choice. As devastating as it is to lose a home, the Torah instructs that when tzara’as has infected its very essence, there is no other option but to destroy it and rebuild it anew — having learned from one’s mistakes — towards a better and brighter future.

1. I am indebted to my friend Elan Teichman for this idea.

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