It’s time to celebrate Passover. Last week, after his Hebrew school lesson, my eldest son, Christopher asked me this question about the Passover story.
If God loved the Israelites so much, why did He make them endure slavery for so long?
First off, I am quite proud that, at the age of eleven, he has begun to ask questions about the logic of his faith. It took me much longer to begin to push against the boundaries of what I had been taught about my religion. Part of that questioning, and quasi-cynicism, can be seen in this ceditra entry of mine from over a decade ago.
September 7, 1999
“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 and see the house” –Leviticus 14:36
Reading the rest of this chapter of Leviticus reveals little as to who “they” are. However, it is laid out in no unclear terms that the plague mentioned is that of leprosy.
We’ll forgive the fact that leprosy is not technically a plague, but those were biblical times and it should come as no surprise that the folks of that era would call such a disfiguring disease a plague.
This chapter of Leviticus is devoted to laying out the process of how to clean a house that has been infected with leprosy. The process of how to deal with a person with leprosy was already discussed. I find the notion that a house can contract leprosy quite interesting. But I have to remember that the modern concept of disease was not known to the followers of Moses.
In the verse right before this one in question, the Lord makes plain that it is He who is the one that would place the plague of leprosy on a house (and on a person too, I wager). So to put the sequence of events in order – God makes the plague, the people clean out the house (“…they empty the house…”), the priest cleans the house.
If the Lord creates the plague, why doesn’t He get rid of it Himself? The answer is because the priests have to do it to show their value. If the lay people could clean a house with leprosy, they wouldn’t need the priest as the middleman to God. And if they didn’t need the priest as middleman in that transaction, why would the people need the priest as middleman at all?
On the other side, if God removed the plague Himself there would again be no need for the priest’s special services.
Part of the analysis of this verse shows that the Torah (or this part of it) is attempting to solidify the power of the priests. It is only the priest who can cure the house of the plague. While it may be true that only the Lord actually removes the unclean elements from home and person, God only does this using the priest as His channel.
The priesthood gains power by showing how indispensable they are. “Without us,” they say, “your homes will never be cured.” And this verse highlights only one “can’t-do-without” aspect of the priests.
My other thought about this verse (despite the odd fact that it is lay people who do the grunt work by cleaning out the house and possibly exposing themselves to the plague while the priest stays outside and safe) is the concept of a just, loving, and merciful Lord bestowing leprosy on the people.
No reason is given, that I could see, as to why the Everlasting Holy of Holies would inflict leprosy on anyone, especially one of His followers. I do find that odd but this is the same God that denied Moses entry to the Promised Land for hitting a rock against the Lord’s wishes.
Back to 2010 and it would be cheating of me to tell you what answer I gave my son as to his query about the Lord’s logic.
As for me, like the Israelites following Moses through the desert, I have completed my own personal journey only to discover the footsteps of all those who have wandered before me.
Now, please pass the gefilte fish and horseradish, if you don’t mind because my youngest has Four Questions to ask.
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