• Rabbi Rubanowitz

Metzora - Buried Treasure

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“Tish Talk” by Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz

Thoughts from your Rabbi for Your Shabbos Table

Tazria-Metzora, 5777/2017~ “Buried Treasures”

As we are reminded every year, the two Parshiyot  we will read tomorrow relate in a big way according to our Rabbis of the Talmud, to the sins of “Lashon Hara”-tale bearing, gossip and the negative talk (and treatment) of others. During the Temple periods, when we had active Priests/Kohanim, one who has been guilty of Lashon Hara might suffer the leprosy of the Torah,  or “Tzaraat” which will hopefully encourage him or her to change ways and take the necessary steps to heal. What is fascinating is that this disease was not limited to the skin or body, but might first hit one’s home, then clothes, and finally, if the sinning persists, the body itself. What always fascinated me more however, is that while this disease is clearly understood as punitive- a heavy handed “reminder” from Hashem, the first stage-the disease on the house—is also described by our Rabbis as a gift from Hashem. Almost like a reward or a “prize” in disguise. As Rashi explains, as we proceeded to conquer the Promised land, the Emorites, believing we were but a temporary nuisance, hid their treasures inside the walls of their “soon to be Israelite Occupied” homes. After we settled the land, occupied the abandoned homes, and presumably started speaking Lashon Hara (an inevitable result of Jewish life?-I so hope not), we get our first divine consequence-our homes are hit with dreaded Leprosy-and Voila! As we take apart the leprous walls we discover the Emorite treasures and become millionaires overnight.

Does this make sense to you? Why would G-d reward our destructively horrible rumor mongering and reputation assassinating slanderous ways with riches? And if Hashem sought to shower us with gifts as we settled the land of Israel why do so in such a backhanded fashion? Why not just mail each home a winning lottery ticket? Or have the cash buried in the exact spot we nail in our Mezuzot, for example, granting us the prize while we are engaged in a Mitzva-not as the result of our libelous actions towards our sisters and brothers?

Here is an idea: Our sages, philosophers and Rabbis throughout the generations have always understood that the intense desire to speak ill of others stems actually, not from our negative view of those others of whom we speak, but of our own insecurities and self-loathing. The confident and healthy-egoed person has little or no reason to speak less of others. She is not threatened by another’s prominence. It is when we feel “less than” that we often feel the urge to lift up ourselves by bringing others down. After all, “I’m not so bad after all…look what happened to her or him, look what they did…..”. This reality has also been understood by leading psychologists and behavioral scientists, who have placed a great deal of emphasis on the building of self-worth  and the “rehabilitation of the ego” as an antidote to expending “negative” energy-never a truly productive endeavor and almost always destructive.

Well, the Torah, beat us all to it with its own rehabilitation program. What better way to show someone who suffers from a lowered self-esteem or feelings of unworthiness, that he is so wrong about himself? What a brilliant manner through which to demonstrate how we each possess infinite inherent worthiness? We literally sit on top of buried treasures! Look at what’s behind the walls! Under the stones! The temporary and illusory benefit gained from putting others down pales in comparison. We just need to tear down some of our own walls, to uncover who we really are and remove the stones that block us from seeing that we are actually and personally loaded with treasures underneath. This is how Hashem rehabilitates the bad-mouthing gossiper. The “punishment” is indeed the greatest gift-building us up as we learn to notice-and realize our own value, a value not contingent on comparison to the next door neighbor. By us finding the hidden “Emorite” * gold in our own homes, we learn how little is to be gained by looking at others, and reminds us of the greatness that lies within-and under our very noses.  Shabbat Shalom and Happy Digging!

* The Medrash cited by Rashi singled out the Emorites as the ones who buried their treasures- despite there being seven nations inhabiting Canaan. Why then just mention Emorites? You might note that the word “Emorite” also relates to the Hebrew word “Emor”, which implies “soft” speaking, devoid of harshness or perhaps negativity. Maybe that lesson is the real “gold” of the Emorites” hinted to by the Medrash/Rashi. Some more food for thought.

Shalom Rubanowitz,

at the “Shul on the Beach, Venice,  California.