As we gather in our homes, let us also remember Israel

Shabbat HaGadol,


Leviticus 14:1-15:33

Malachi 3:4-24

"Everything in creation has its appointed painter or poet, and remains in bondage like the princess in the fairy tale, till its appropriate liberator comes to set it free."

Ralph Waldo Emerson's comment serves as a reminder that there are buried treasures in Metzora, one of the most unattractive portions in the entire Torah.

Any student whose bar or bat mitzvah occurs on Shabbat Metzora is invariably at a loss to know what to write or speak about because this text concerns itself with minutiae that appear to be irrelevant and uninteresting: the determination of whether an individual, object or clothing is ritually impure; postpartum purification; and the treatment of leprous skin afflictions, with vivid descriptions of pustules, fungi, abscesses, eruptions, boils, rashes, discharges, fluids and pimples.

The priest examined these afflictions, made judgments about whether or not to quarantine the affected individual and prescribed methods of cleansing: "Some of the oil left in his palm shall be put by the priest on the ridge of the right ear of the one being cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot — over the blood of the guilt offering" (Lev. 14:18).

Arthur Koestler once commented that there are three kinds of stories: "'Ha ha' stories to amuse and entertain, 'Ah ha' stories for discovery of ideas and education, and 'Ahhh' stories, where the tales are sublime and connect the teller and listener with a golden thread."

A careful reading of Metzora reminds the reader of something precious, and thus reveals a golden thread in the otherwise dismal content of this Torah portion. Metzora references an unhealthy home that has some kind of bacterial or fungal growth on the walls and must be purified before it is again fit for human habitation (Lev. 14:35ff). This passage reminds a reader that a threat to the well-being of a home often arises from more than just mildewed walls.

A home requires a great deal of care to keep away external as well internal plagues. Families can live in shabby, poorly repaired homes, but their homes may shine with love, tranquility and harmony. Conversely, others may live in palatial homes marked by acrimony and sadness. The repair of its doors and windows does not disclose the true condition of a home; only those who occupy a home and how they treat one another can reveal it.

This is Shabbat HaGadol, the great Sabbath that precedes the joyous home-based celebration of Passover. Turning to the majestic pyramids and cities of ancient Egypt, a reader finds what made the Nile Delta inhospitable for our ancestors — their homes were magnificent but corrupt. Jews marked their doorposts with blood so that they might be spared the plagues that punished decadent Egyptian homes.

To this day, Jews mark their doorposts with mezuzot, whose parchment contains the Sh'ma, ancient Hebrew words that urge Jews to build a home of faith inscribed upon the hearts of inhabitants as well as upon its doorposts and gates. In so doing, a Jew is reminded that when God is present in our dwellings, our houses are a mikdash miat, a small sanctuary filled, not only with God's presence, but also with the glow of hospitality, charity and peace, a shelter for friends and loved ones. When we create a home, it becomes the place described in the oft-noted words of John Howard Payne:

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home

As we prepare for Passover and re-enact the Exodus from Egypt and the entrance into the Promised Land, we are reminded of the conditions that offer hospitality whether in a home or in a homeland. By extending the notion of welcome and hospitality from our own homes to Beit Yisrael, the House of Israel, our tiny homeland on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, we express our concern about Israel's ability to continue to be hatikvah — the hope of two millennia of exilic wanderers — "to be a free people in a home of our own."

On this Shabbat and at this Passover season when we look inward at our own homes, we also look outward toward the land of Israel. We pray for the tranquility of the Jewish homeland, so that next year in Jerusalem, all can live in peace and see fulfilled the ancient prophetic dream: "My house shall be called a house for all peoples" (Isaiah 56:7).