"The owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, 'Something like a plague has appeared upon my house'" Leviticus 14.35

By Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh, April 7, 2011

The recalcitrant "plague" - be it damp or dry rot - that afflicts the hapless householder in Parashat Metzora always reminds me of Mercutio's damning condemnation of Montague and Capulet alike, "A plague o' both your houses" in Romeo and Juliet; the association, though in its original context a malediction, nevertheless opens up many positive homiletical pathways in two parashiyot which are otherwise ostensibly devoid of much worth or meaning for the modern mind.

Many of us have had dry rot or damp problems in our homes, and know how expensive, time-consuming and frustrating their eradication may be; likewise, we are all aware of the parlous state of other structures whose condition is of concern to us, be it the political quandaries of other nations or our own, the fragile nature of the international economy, the threats from extremism both political and religious, the long-term dangers of climate change, or a multiplicity of other areas of life which impinge on us, whether we like it or not.

In the Leviticus context, after one attempt to cleanse the house has failed, the priest gives orders and the property is completely demolished, every little piece of it being removed to a dump away from human habitation. But, unlike the family home in ancient Canaan, many of the problems that beset our 21st-century "houses" are devoid of simple resolution; and even where political systems have signally failed and are demolished by their own people in brave and bloody revolution, though we might hail them from a moral perspective, the practical, economic and diplomatic implications may still impact negatively on us.

Perhaps Parashat Metzora serves as a reminder to us of the uncomfortable truth that some problems remain beyond a simple resolution, and however much we may wish it otherwise, we must live with their mess and pollution, however noisome it may be.

Last updated: 12:02pm, April 7 2011