Translated and Adapted by Braha Bender
In 1948, the citizens of Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa, and Ramle learned exactly what the concept of “abandoned property” really means. Almost immediately after Israel had been declared a sovereign nation by the UN, armies of five Arab countries banded together to destroy the fledgling nation. Successful Jewish defence against the onslaught so shocked Arab citizens that hundreds fled their homes to relocate in Arab countries. The unclaimed property and belongings left behind came to be repossessed by the Jews.
But 1948 wasn’t the first time that the fear of G-d fell upon those who would murder Jews in Israel. History had seen enemies turn and flee, leaving property behind for the Jews to recover, long before.
As the Jewish People neared the Promised Land, a Jericho native named Rachav told Jewish intelligence agents about the atmosphere in Canaan: “She said to the men, ‘I know Hashem has given you the land, and that fear of you has fallen upon us, and all the inhabitants of the land have dissolved because of you, for we have heard how Hashem dried up the waters of the Sea of Reeds for you when you went forth from Egypt and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were across the Jordan – to Sichon and to Og – whom you utterly destroyed. We have heard and our hearts melted – no spirit remained in any man because of you...’” (Joshua 2:9-11).
And, indeed, when the Jews had conquered the land, they inherited large amounts of property, as the Torah had promised: “It shall be when Hashem, your God, brings you to the land that Hashem swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to you – great and good cities that you did not build, houses filled with every good thing that you did not fill, chiselled cisterns that you did not chisel, orchards and olive trees that you did not plant – and you shall eat and be satisfied...” (Deuteronomy 6:10-11).
Imagine being a Jew who has travelled for forty years in the desert. Wouldn’t you dream of a house and a little plot of land to call your own? And now that day has come, and there it stands before you – the home of your dreams! You look around and see a quaint stone cottage surrounded by a stone porch. Cisterns scattered about the property offer plenty of fresh water for home and garden, field and orchard. Behind you rise terraces of bursting, juicy grape vines and the milky sweet fragrance of lush fig trees. A song of thanks rings through your chest and you whisper a prayer of gratitude to the Almighty before stepping across the threshold and moving in to your new home.
But a short while later, a terrible surprise: reddish stains on the wall... Tzara’as!*
You have no choice but to call the Kohen (priest) to diagnose the situation.
The Kohen tells you to get everything out of the house so that the stain doesn’t spread to your belongings. You knock on the neighbors’ doors to ask for help, get all the kids together, and start pulling out pots and pans, plates, cups, chairs, tables, beds, and everything else you can. You feel like your world is crumbling around you. The peaceful little home you had dreamed of is being taken apart. You’ve become a wanderer again.
The Kohen arrives and waits while you finish emptying the house out. Finally, the moment comes for him to step inside and diagnose the problem. The verdict? The house must be quarantined for seven days.
You accept the neighbor’s offer to put you up, and spend the week waiting for the Kohen to come back. Seven days later, he arrives, steps inside and comes out with bad news: the stain has spread.
Your heart is in your throat, but you haven’t given up hope. The stones bearing the stain are pried out of the walls and replaced with clean ones. The walls are stripped and plastered with new mortar. The infected stones and mortar is dumped outside the city. You hope for a new beginning.
The very next day the tzara’as stain comes back.
Goodbye, home. Goodbye, dream. There is no way around it: the house must be razed to the ground. Your wife starts crying. Your four-year-old asks where the family is going to live now. Your fifteen-year-old is curled up in a fetal position in a far corner of the garden. You sigh, wondering where you’ll find storage for the furniture.
As the final blows are taken to the cottage, the sound of metal suddenly rings out. You go over to investigate. A golden object seems to be glimmering between the shards of broken stone. The prior owners of the house, Ammorites who fled the country with the arrival of Joshua and his army, had hidden their most precious belongings in the walls. Gold and diamonds, pearls and precious stones... You find a pile of riches collecting at your feet. This is priceless! The tears and sighs are long gone. A shocked smile spreads across your face.
As we contemplate our own period in history, the events taking place around us often hurt, and sometimes they hurt very much. Only a blind man would fail to see that these events must be part of a greater process guided by the One Above. We don’t know where it will lead, but hope still remains. Even as dreams are being razed to the ground, we can still whisper, “Please, Master of the World, may this, too, be for the good! Lead us to the hidden treasure...”
* Tzara’as was a biblical disease that affected the skin or home of a Jew who had engaged in destructive speech.