Chapter 14, verses 33-34 in this week’s Torah portion are telling: “G-d spoke to Moshe and Aaron, saying, ‘When you arrive in the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I place (affliction of) tzara’ath upon a house in the land of your possession.” It is clear from these passages that houses are susceptible to this affliction as well as people and their clothes. However, according to the Talmud, only houses in the Land of Israel are susceptible.
There are two reasons that are displayed for this. Yoma 11b states the reasoning for a house in the land of Israel to be stricken with tzara’ath is to punish individuals who refuse to share possessions from their home with others, particularly by hiding that these possessions exist. In Verses 35 and 36 of this same chapter the owners of such homes are to declare to the Kohen that the affliction indeed struck the house. In Yoma 11b it is then stated that the Kohen commands the owner to remove all possessions from the afflicted home to show every last possession owned. This is translated as a “measure for measure” consequence.
The other reason for the affliction of homes in Israel has to do with actual protection for our ancestors about to inhabit Canaan and posses these properties or houses. In “Vayikrah Rabbah,” Rashi states that a reason for affliction of tzara’ath on houses in the Holy Land is to prevent the Canaanites and Ammorites from hiding possessions from the Israelites as they were aware of their entrance and possession of the land. Rashi points toward the actual wording in verse 34: “When you arrive in the land of Canaan” as the logic of his stance on this, as tzara’ath on people and clothes had already been suffered by those prior to Israeli entrance.
Both viewpoints are understandable and they both explain a very important trait in people that G-d appears to despise: false secrecy. The Torah has laid out guidelines in business dealings on how operation should take place among the Jewish people. Certainly, it is understood that in making a living there are certain practices that those of us in business must be careful not to indulge. G-d has provided us with the proper and ethical points that are allowed to be practiced in that manner. However, if someone acts secretly against the Torah, or in an unethical manner, that is a violation.
These two viewpoints are strong in explaining that there are indeed fine lines in ethics. Perhaps if more business people of the world would examine this practice involving possible penalty in such offenses and take to heart these explanations, the business world could indeed be in the shape we all hope and expect it to be in, rather than the recent struggles we have witnessed.
Let us pray that one day people see the right way to act in these matters rather than what appears to be the easy way.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)