OK G”d, so which is it? Are you responsible for every little thing that happens, or not? Where does our free will fit in? Do you only pull strings for major events? Does anything happen by mere chance?
These questions, and more, went running through my head as I revisited parashat Metzora once again. This time I was particularly struck by this text:
When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess… (Lev. 14:34)
I found it odd that, out of all the various forms of plagues, skin diseases, etc. dealt with in this parasha (as well as Tazria) only in this instance does G”d declare G”d’self to be the cause/source of the affliction.
G”d is most assuredly capable of inflicting diseases, skin conditions, and more upon human beings. The Torah certainly tells us of a few times when this happened. From this, are we simply to assume that all the afflictions in Tazria and Metzora are caused to happen by G”d, even if it doesn’t explicitly say this? Seems an awfully big leap, if you ask me. In addition, if we accept that as the case, then it begs the question of why, in the case of afflictions of houses, does G”d specifically self-identify as the cause.
It is possible that there might be cases of houses afflicted by plagues that were not caused by G”d, and that, in such case, the rules and remedies prescribed in the Torah don’t hold? How is one to know the difference between a G”d-caused afflicted wall and a non-G”d-caused afflicted wall?
Rashi doesn’t directly address my question but does suggest that these afflictions upon walls were placed deliberately by G”d in order that it would cause the Israelites to tear down those walls and find within them treasures hidden by the previous occupants. That provides a somewhat offhand explanation of why G”d would be noted as the direct cause of this tza’arat of walls. Not a very satisfying one at all.
Subtle issues of translation also contribute to the problem here. Which is the more accurate rendering: “when I place an affliction…” or “I will place an affliction…” or “and I place an affliction…” Subtle yet significant in terms to trying to understand what’s going on here. Rashi views it as a statement of definitive action “…I will place…” citing the textual difference in this sentence and other sentences where it speaks of such infections on people and clothing, saying “if there is an affliction of tza’arat.”
So Rashi clearly notices that there is something different about this situation, yet surprisingly does not mention that it is only here that G”d self-identifies as causing the afflictions.
Now, taking into account our understanding of tza’arat as being a condition that is reflective of a person’s guilt, bad actions or bad intents, it makes sense that people, to some degree, self-afflict themselves with tza’arat (and, I suppose, their clothes) whereas walls and houses, being inanimate, must have tza’arat placed upon them by an external force. Yet if we follow this line of reasoning, it sort of takes G”d out of the equation when it comes to tza’arat afflictions of people and clothes, at least some of the time.
So I’m right back where I started. OK G”d, so which is it? Are you responsible for every little thing that happens, or not? Where does our free will fit in? Do you only pull strings for major events? Does anything happen by mere chance?
Are these questions even answerable? Do I really want to know the answers? Is this a worthy use of my time?
All good questions to ponder this Shabbat.
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on this parasha:
Tazria-Metzora 5770 – Excessive Prevention
Tazria-M’tzora 5767-Once Impure, Not Always Impure
Tazria-Metzora 5766 – Comfort in Jerusalem
Tazria-Metzora 5758/5764-Getting Through the Messy Stuff
Tazria-Metzora 5761-Lessons For Our Students
Tazria-Metzora 5762-Sing a Song of Leprosy