וידבר ה' אל משה ואל אהרן לאמר, כי תבאו אל ארץ כנען אשר אני נותן לכם לאחוזה ונתתי נגע צרעת בבית ארץ אחוזתכם.
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon saying: ‘When you will arrive in the Land of Canaan which I am giving to you as an estate, and I will make an affliction of leprosy on a house in the land of your estate.” (Vayikra 14:34)
Rashi finds the language of the verse difficult to understand. The wording makes it seem as if Hashem is promising to afflict the houses with leprosy, with the implication that it would be a good thing. When the Torah speaks about leprosy on a person (ibid. 13:2), it says: “If there will be on the skin of a person’s flesh…” But when the Torah speaks about leprosy on the houses, it says in a direct manner: “I will make an affliction.”
Rashi resolves this question by saying: “It was good for them to hear that the leprosy would appear, because the Emorim hid gold valuables inside the walls of their homes during the forty years that the Jews were in the desert, and because of the leprosy [the Jews] had to open the walls and thus found the treasures.” (Vayikra Rabbah 17:6)
Let us think for a moment how the Jewish homeowner felt upon discovering a patch of leprosy on his home. Quite probably, the homes in which gold valuables were hidden were nice, elegant homes; after all, the Emorim who owned simple homes did not have many valuables to hide. Upon discovering the leprosy, the Jew became very upset. Now he will have to destroy the wall of his home to remove the leprosy! What a hassle, and what a loss! But in the end, when he did take the wall apart, he discovered a treasure that made the entire unpleasant episode more than worthwhile.
In this week’s haftorah (Parshas Metzora) we read about a fascinating incident that transpired with the Kingdom of Israel. The nation of Aram came with a large army and surrounded the Kingdom of Israel. A terrible famine resulted from the siege. There were four Jewish lepers outside the city who decided to surrender to Aram. They reasoned that they didn’t have much to lose in any case. If they would be killed, they would be spared having to die from hunger.
The four lepers went to the Camp of Aram and found a tent that was loaded with food and gold and silver treasures, with no one there to guard the tent. They ate some food and took some of the valuables, and then continued to the next tent. Once again, they found lots of food and valuables, but the tent was unguarded. They went from one tent to the other but found none of the Aramim. They came back to the gates of Shomron and informed the Jews of their discovery. The king was suspicious and feared that it could be a trap of the Aramim, so he sent a group of scouts to check out what was going on.
The truth was that Hashem performed a miracle by causing the Aramim to hear the sounds of a large approaching army. They assumed that the Jews commissioned the Hittites or the Egyptians to come to their aid, and they fled in fear. In this wondrous manner, Hashem fulfilled the promise that the prophet Elisha made the day before: “Two measures of barley and a measure of fine flour will be sold for one shekel at this time tomorrow in the gates of Shomron!” One of the king’s men scoffed at these words, saying that it was impossible, to which the prophet responded: “You will see it with your eyes, but you will be unable to eat from it!”
When the scouting party came back to tell the people that the Aramim had indeed fled, leaving behind vast stores of food and valuables, the residents of Shomron flocked to the abandoned camp to gather the bounty. In the ensuing stampede, the king’s officer who scoffed at the prophecy was crushed to death.
This story teaches us that even when things seem hopeless, Hashem may be preparing the salvation, which can arrive in the blink of an eye. The Jews of Shomron were starving and saw no end in sight to the terrible famine, but within a day the entire situation was reversed.
So too, when a person discovered a patch of leprosy on his home, he may have thought it was a major calamity. But in truth, Hashem was sending him a gift. The letters that spell the word nega (plague of leprosy) can be rearranged to spell the word oneg – joyful pleasure. The appearance of the nega seemed like a terrible thing, but it was turned into a blessing.