Behind Closed Doors – The Walls Know

We love closed doors for the cover they provide; what we do behind them others can’t know and what they don’t know can’t hurt them. We can be irascible, immoral and impossible in private, yet parade in public as amicable, wise and generous and no one will be the wiser.


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In the messianic age this loophole will close. The walls themselves will call out our sins. Can you imagine an employer criticizing an employee for reading the sports pages on company time while the walls call him out for what he does in his own office? Can you imagine thinking idle or wicked thoughts while walking the streets and the pavement calls out, “Sinner, what right do you have to tread on me?”[1]



This can be rather embarrassing, but not to worry, in the messianic age there will be no sinners and no sin. The walls of our rooms will be content with their occupants and I suspect the flies on those walls will be rather bored. This was not so in the Biblical day. In ancient times there were many sinners and their sins were literally called out by the wall.

Tzaraat - A Wall, Thread and Skin Disease

The Torah speaks of Tzaraat, a spread of blotches on the walls, wardrobe and person. Our sages taught that Tzaraat was the symptom of a spiritual malaise, primarily caused by gossip.[2] If Jews spoke ill of others, whether true or false, stains appeared on the walls of their home. If the gossip ceased, the stains faded, otherwise, they spread to the wardrobe and eventually the hair and skin of the gossipmongers.[3]


Anything touched by Tzaraat, home, garment or person, was ritually defiled. Decontamination required a minimum seven day quarantine followed by a strict regimen of ritual bathing and sacrificial offerings. This was a serious affliction, but upon reflection one recognizes it is sign of love from G-d.[4]

It is not difficult to be lured into sin. The first time we transgress we feel guilty and vow to never repeat the sin, but the second time it feels a little less harsh and by the third time we even feel a little comfortable.[5] Before long we are lulled into a false sense of complacency while we fall into sinful habits. We might be oblivious to our mounting sins and by the time we realize, it is difficult to change our ways.

Tzaraat was G-d’s way of letting us know that we had strayed. At first the reminders were gentle, but if the message was ignored, the reminders became more and more insistent until they appeared on the sinner’s person, where it was all, but impossible to ignore. Sinners would then review their behavioral patterns to identify areas that required correction, adjust course and return to the beaten path before their wanderings took them too far afield.

To send these messages G-d overruled the elaborate system of natural law [6] that He designed to govern the micro and macro systems of the universe. Adjusting the natural order is not difficult for the creator, but it is also not without complication. For every change there is a consequence and for every consequence there is a secondary and tertiary effect. The ripple effects of miracles, large and small, are astounding and endless. Yet G-d undertook these adjustments to convey a message to His errant child.[7]

Suppose someone solicited you for directions to a particular location and proceeded to drive in the wrong direction. You might call out and wave to draw the driver’s attention, if you were in a vehicle you might even follow the errant driver to steer him/her right. But if you were on foot, you would be reluctant to stop a taxi and chase down the errant driver. You would shrug in sympathy and hope that another Good Samaritan will steer them back.

Now if the driver were your own son you wouldn’t be so ambivalent. You would want him to find his way and worry that he might wander into unsavory neighborhoods. You would spare no effort to reach him and lead him home. If you couldn’t reach him by phone, you would follow by car and if necessary, call the police. You certainly would not stand idly by while your son wandered about.

G-d looked down and saw His children stray from the proper path and didn’t sit idly by. He sent them reminders because He cared. The reminders entailed a temporary repeal of the natural law, stone, cloth and hair developed blotches usually common in irritated skin, but to G-d it was a worthwhile effort.[8]

A Sign of Love

Though Jewish law compels the Metzora to address the Tzaraat immediately despite personal reluctance or scheduling conflict, special dispensation is offered to a groom during the week of his wedding.[9] By the time Tzaraat appeared on his person, the groom had ignored the warnings on his walls and wardrobe. Such a determined and pre meditated regimen of sin renders the groom a grievous sinner, yet, despite his blatant disregard for G-d, he is given a seven day dispensation.


If Tzaraat is a sign of love, the dispensation is sensible. A loving G-d wants His child to repent, not suffer. He didn’t afflict the groom on his wedding day in punishment, but in rebuke. “My son,” G-d seemed to be saying, “marry your beloved and be happy, but first improve your ways. It isn’t fitting for my child to be a gossipmonger; to speak in the fashion of the wicked.”

On this note, the Talmud reflects; if G-d cares deeply for the sinner, imagine how much He cares for the pious. If the sinner’s suffering is a sign of love, the suffering of the pious is surely an even greater sign of love. Though we don’t always understand the particular forms of G-d’s expressions, we are without doubt the fortunate recipients of His tender, passionate and boundless love. [10]



[1] Hayom Yom 15 Adar A and 7 Adar B.

[2] In fact the Hebrew word Metzora is an amalgam of two words Motzi Ra publicizing negative (information). Other causes were murder perjury debauchery pride theft and Jealousy. Bab. Talmud Arachin 16a, Zohar Leviticus 53a

[3] Rambam end of Hilchos Tumas tzaraas. Ramban, however, reversed the order.

[4] See Leviticus 13 – 14.

[5] This is mentioned numerous times in the Babylonian Talmud. For example see Kidushin 20a.

[6] Tzaraat was a supernatural effect; walls and threads don’t naturally sprout blotches. Ramban, Leviticus 13: 47.

[7] Furthermore, this child didn’t require a message to improve his ways, merely his words – G-d wants our words to reflect our status as His children and for that He is prepared to change the order of nature.

[8] See Chinuch Mitzvah 172 as explained in Likutei Sichos v. 37 p. 39 on which this essay is based.

[9] In addition, dispensation is available to all Jews for the duration of Jewish festivals. Mishnah Negaim, 3:2 and Babylonian Talmud, Moed Katan: 7b. See also Toras Kohanim on Leviticus 13: 14.

[10] See Mishnah Nagaim, 12: 6 and Tiferet Yisrael ibid. See also Toras Kohanim on Leviticus 14: 36.


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