Cleansing our Leprous House (Parsha M’tzora)

This week we have a double reading Parsha Tazria (Lev. 12:1-13:59) and Parsha M’tzora (Lev. 14:1-15:33). Among the subjects in this week’s Parshot is that of the cleansing of a leprous house. (The ancient Hebrews appear to have used the same word to describe leprosy on a person and mold on a house.)

[33] And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
[34] When ye be come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession;
[35] And he that owneth the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, It seemeth to me there is as it were a plague in the house:
[36] Then the priest shall command that they empty the house, before the priest go into it to see the plague, that all that is in the house be not made unclean: and afterward the priest shall go in to see the house:
[37] And he shall look on the plague, and, behold, if the plague be in the walls of the house with hollow strakes, greenish or reddish, which in sight are lower than the wall;
[38] Then the priest shall go out of the house to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days:
[39] And the priest shall come again the seventh day, and shall look: and, behold, if the plague be spread in the walls of the house;
[40] Then the priest shall command that they take away the stones in which the plague is, and they shall cast them into an unclean place without the city:
[41] And he shall cause the house to be scraped within round about, and they shall pour out the dust that they scrape off without the city into an unclean place:
[42] And they shall take other stones, and put them in the place of those stones; and he shall take other morter, and shall plaister the house.
(Lev. 14:33-42 KJV)

Philo of Alexandria writes of this passage:

Moreover, the organs of the outward senses have valleys, great ducts to receive everything external which is an object of the outward senses, which collect together an infinite number of distinctive qualities, and by means of those ducts pour them in upon the mind, and wash it out, and bring it in the depths. (16) On this account, in the law concerning leprosy, it is expressly ordered, “when in any house hollows appear of a pale or fiery red colour, that the inhabitants shall take out the stones in which such hollows appear, and put in other stones in their Places;” (Lev 14:36) that is to say, when different destructive qualities which the pleasures and the appetites, and the passions akin to them, have wrought in men, weighing down and oppressing the whole soul, have made it more hollow and more lowly than its natural condition would be, it is well to remove the reasons which are the cause of this weakness, and to bring in such in their stead as are sound by a legitimate style of education and a healthy kind of discipline.
(The Worse Attacks the Better 15b-16)

Philo sees the house as akin to our souls and the “leprosy” (i.e. mold) infecting the house akin to “the pleasures and the appetites, and the passions” which infect and weaken our souls. From this we learn that we must remove the cause of this weakness, so that our rational mind is in control, rather than pleasures, appetites and passions.

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