Often, people like to characterize events or experiences as either positive or negative. Our brains prefer the ease and simplicity of clear distinctions. Life, however, is more complicated than that. Often, the positive and negative overlap inThe positive and negative overlap in surprising ways surprising ways; often, the greater potential for risk holds the greater potential for profit. The more potent the experience the more likely it can be either deeply traumatizing or profoundly enriching.

An interesting illustration of this principle is the Tzara'at, the mysterious discoloration, which would appear, in biblical times, on the Jewish home in the land of Israel. As the Torah describes in this week’s portion:

And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as a possession, and I place a lesion of Tzara'at upon a house in the land of your possession.1

The Torah then proceeds to elaborate on the details of the discoloring and how, in some cases, it was necessary to remove the discolored stones (and, in some cases, the entire home would have to be destroyed).

Rashi, the classic biblical commentator, offers opposing explanations as to the purpose of Tzara'at. Rashi2 explains that Tzara'at would appear as a punishment for “Lashon Hara” for evil speech. Yet he also offers another interpretation:

because the Amorites had hidden away treasures of gold inside the walls of their houses during the entire forty years that the Israelites were in the desert, and through the lesion, he (the Israelite) will demolish the house and find them.

What are we to make of these opposing explanations? Is the Tzara'at an indication of negativity, a sign of impurity which must be removed, or is it a sign which appears in order for the Jew to take possession of the treasure behind the wall? Rashi teaches us thatThe Jewish home must be free of destructive speech the positive and negative explanations are both true simultaneously. The same force which the pagans used for impurity, when used correctly could, in fact, be a great treasure.

Indeed, the Amori was the name of the nation that hid the treasures in the walls. The word Amori comes from the word Amor, which means to speak. The Torah is alerting us to the power of the word. Few things can be as destructive or as constructive as the spoken word.

The Tzara'at was designed in order to lead us to a treasure. Indeed, the Jewish home must be free of the impurity of destructive speech. The stones that captured the energy of pagan speech must be removed. Yet removing the negativity is always just a first step, never the ultimate goal. The Torah teaches us that the power of speech must be used to build, to comfort, to empower. Words have a way of reaching deep within ourselves, releasing the inner treasures of our soul, and allowing us to understand, empathize and connect to the people around us.3