THE HEALING OF THE HOUSE
A dialogue with Leviticus 14, Verses 33 to 53
By Ruby Namdar
Leviticus: And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When ye be come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession; And he that owneth the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, It seemeth to me there is as it were a plague in the house.
Ruby: It amazes me how this text can be at once so alien and so resonant with our contemporary sensibilities. Leprosy, a fearsome affliction that causes people to become outcasts, is discovered in the walls of a house. Suddenly the dead walls become living human limbs – tender and vulnerable.
Leviticus: Then the priest shall command that they empty the house, before the priest go into it to see the plague, that all that is in the house be not made unclean: and afterward the priest shall go in to see the house. And he shall look on the plague, and, behold, if the plague be in the walls of the house with hollow strakes, greenish or reddish, which in sight are lower than the wall; Then the priest shall go out of the house to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days. And the priest shall come again the seventh day, and shall look: and, behold, if the plague be spread in the walls of the house; Then the priest shall command that they take away the stones in which the plague is, and they shall cast them into an unclean place without the city:
Ruby: The mystical intervention by the priest is also very alien and at the same time incredibly familiar – it bears all the signs and resemblances of a modern surgical procedure. There is something soothing and reassuring in the monotonous, dispassionate chronicle of the diagnostic actions taken by the healer, and of the intervention that follows this diagnosis:
Leviticus: And he shall cause the house to be scraped within round about, and they shall pour out the dust that they scrape off without the city into an unclean place. And they shall take other stones, and put them in the place of those stones; and he shall take other morter, and shall plaister the house. And if the plague come again, and break out in the house, after that he hath taken away the stones, and after he hath scraped the house, and after it is plaistered..
Ruby: The “diseased” home is put in quarantine, thoroughly examined for symptoms. The “unhealthy stones” are surgically removed , and their surrounding meticulously scraped. “Healthy” stones are put in their place and a fresh coat of plaster is applied to the wounded wall, forming a new “skin.”
Leviticus: Then the priest shall come and look, and, behold, if the plague be spread in the house, it is a fretting leprosy in the house: it is unclean. And he shall break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the morter of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place. Moreover he that goeth into the house all the while that it is shut up shall be unclean until the even. And he that lieth in the house shall wash his clothes; and he that eateth in the house shall wash his clothes. And if the priest shall come in, and look upon it, and, behold, the plague hath not spread in the house, after the house was plaistered: then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed.
Ruby: The symbolic actions taken in the healing ritual are fascinating. The priest brings together every conceivable dichotomy: hardness vs. tenderness, stillness vs. movement, life vs. death.
Leviticus: And he shall take to cleanse the house two birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: And he shall kill the one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water: And he shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times: And he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water, and with the living bird, and with the cedar wood, and with the hyssop, and with the scarlet: But he shall let go the living bird out of the city into the open fields, and make an atonement for the house: and it shall be clean.
Ruby: The killing of one bird and setting free of the other reflects the arbitrariness of life and death, health and sickness, blessing and curse. Nothing, in my view, reflects the fragility of the human condition more than the image of the stunned, blood-stained surviving bird fluttering its bewildered wings across the drab setting of the desert, not quite grasping the gravity of the moment but intuitively celebrating the gift of life with all its joys and fears.