For more than half my lifetime I have done my best to help victims of violent crimes in their struggle to recover. I have counseled rape, murder, terrorist and abuse victims spiritually, emotionally and legally for a large portion of my life. My services were always gratis even though as a result of my efforts I have garnished much knowledge and have received a mitzvah for my work as well; in many instances I have seen victims rise above their despair and use their tragedy to generate something positive from their misfortune. Some of them have developed a new-found closeness to G-d and family. As a result of suffering, an individual may acquire meaning and knowledge concerning life and may relish life by living it and stop taking it for granted. Yes, there can be positive things that can be learned from a tragedy.
This week’s Torah portion of Metzorah relates to many different varieties of loss. It refers to different categories of leprosy or tza’arat that affects not only a person, but also his house and personal property. If a house became afflicted with leprosy it could mean that the infected stones be removed. If the affliction spread much farther than the stones, it meant that the whole house was contaminated. Such houses, including their stones, wood, mortar and other components, had to be demolished and removed from the city.
The loss of one’s house is a major life event that begets severe grief for an extended period of time. Destruction of a home is a tragedy that requires both physical and emotional relief. It is certainly not a positive event. But from the destruction of a house infected with leprosy, a positive outcome may ensue. Destruction could even lead to the discovery of wealth hidden within a house’s walls.
According to Rashi’s commentary, when the Canaanites occupied the land of Israel they foresaw that the Israelites would eventually conquer their land. When they fled in haste from the Israelites, they hid valuables such as gold in the walls of their homes so that the Israelites would not find their wealth. G-d therefore placed an affliction on the wall where the treasure was concealed, so the stones would be removed and reveal the treasure.
When something tragic occurs, we must remove those affected stones from our lives and from our hearts in order to discover the positive things that we had overlooked beforehand. Get in touch with the new person you have become, and concentrate on the other positives in your life.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)