You may remember that earlier in Exodus, God commands the building of the tabernacle. The measurements are precise and exacting - a certain number of cubits for this ... a specific color for that ... God doesn't just tell the Israelites to build something: God gives specific measurements. An architect would have been happy to get these divine blueprints.
One of my favorite mitzvot is from these instructions. God commands that the inside of the holy of holies be covered in the finest of gold. At first blush, this may seem relatively un-interesting. It's the holy of holies - of course it should be lined with gold! But upon reflection, I don't think it's all that obvious.
Think about your home for a moment. I'm guessing that your most treasured possessions are on display in your living room or den. They're public. They're not hidden away in a drawer for no one to see. In fact, friends probably comment on these items as they come into your home for the first time.
But this is not true with the holy of holies. Not everyone gets to see it. In fact, only one person gets to see it - that one person being the high priest. And not only that, he only gets to see it on one day a year - Yom Kippur!
And yet, despite the fact that this rich display of gold is barely seen, it is to be drenched in the richness of gold.
One commentator reflects that God did not command this willy-nilly. The interpretation echoes my kindergarten teacher: It's what is on the inside that counts. And as Exupery wrote in the Little Prince, One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye. The building of the Tabernacle teaches us that outside behaviors must mirror inner beauty. What we say and what we do are commingled. Private theological thought is not completely separate from public speech and action.
This week we study the Levitical portion of Metzorah. This is the 2nd portion in a row that tells of skin lesions, bodily discharges and diseases ... that's what this portion seems to be about. But beneath its challenges we can find real possibilities for learning and growth.
Part of this Torah portion discusses a sickness of a house. Scaly outbreaks can appear on walls or on the floor. Cracks in the foundation can rock the home back and forth. There is a parallel drawn between the sickness of a person and the home in which that person lives. As with a person, there is a quarantine process - no one can live in the house while it is "unclean." There are rituals that are outlined in which the priest can declare the house clean, just as the priest does with individuals struck with the sickness of tzara'at, which was the focus of last week's portion.
You may remember that our rabbis make a beautiful link between the gossip of our tongues and different physical manifestations of sickness. Lashon Hara, the evil tongue, is the cause of these ailments. Our rabbis warn us to be careful of gossip, and there are many many laws surrounding this important topic.
But just when we wrap our heads around our rabbis' connection of physical disease with gossip, we see something else. Can it be that ... houses get sick?
In the tabernacle, we have something beautiful and pure that no one sees. A home is like the holy of holies in that it is special ... private. No one knows what happens "behind closed doors." Here too, the Torah challenges us to consider a link between our private selves and our public selves. There is a connection between what happens inside the home and the appearance of that home to others. Sure, none of us are going to come home to find our houses covered in plague-infested goo. But surely we can understand a broken home, an unhealthy home ... an unhappy home.
Ultimately, I think that this section of Metzorah reminds us that outward manifestations do not matter unless they are matched with purity of intention.
The hebrew word for purity is T'horah. The word is used often in this portion, and it's not always clear whether it refers to physical cleanliness or spiritual cleanliness. This is because they are intertwined.
These stories from the Torah remind us that despite our vain efforts to put up "good appearances," it does not diminish sickness from entering our homes - and this is might be a spiritual sickness that indeed does come from Lashon Hara - from hurtful speech.
Our souls are like the holy of holy. They are each capable of being lined with the finest gold. And just like the holy of holies, no one can see it. Unless of course, our language and our actions reflect it toward them, and toward each other.