For the week of April 12, 2003 / 10 Nisan 5763
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 14:1 - 15:33
Haftarah: Melachim B / 2 Kings 7:3-20
Replaced by: Malachi 3:4-24

Drastic Measures

If the mildew reappears in the house after the stones have been torn out and the house scraped and plastered, the priest is to go and examine it and, if the mildew has spread in the house, it is a destructive mildew; the house is unclean. It must be torn down-its stones, timbers and all the plaster-and taken out of the town to an unclean place (Vayikra / Leviticus 14:43-45).

Some people are better at problem solving than others. Some people love the challenges problems provide, while others avoid them at all costs. However we deal with problems, they are a fact of life and must be dealt with.

The key to effective problem solving is understanding the true nature of the problem. Last week I wrote about the current crisis regarding SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Clearly this is a problem. Once we have a proper understanding of this disease, we will be better prepared to know what to do about it.

Still there will remain those who believe that everything eventually works out by itself. They think that sprinkling patience on every situation is the most appropriate response.

Others are more like Chicken Little, who thought the sky was falling due to his brief and sudden encounter with an acorn. These people face every problem ready to take drastic actions.

The Torah stipulations regarding the problem of mildew in dwellings helps us to see that different actions were required depending on the seriousness of the situation. If the mildew problem could be solved by simply removing and replacing the infected area, then that was good enough. But if the mildew reappeared even after the repair, then the whole house had to be torn down, and all building materials were to be taken out of town.

We must therefore avoid overreacting to problems. Some people act out of fear, thinking that all mildew situations are alike, thus calling for the same plan of action. But if it was evident that the problem was isolated to just one part of the house, and removal of that one area was sufficient, there was no need to tear it all down. The house should be preserved.

Clearly one of the goals of these directions was preservation, but not preservation in every case and at all costs. There were times when an infected house was to be torn down. If it was clear that the mildew would spread, then drastic measures were to be taken the house was to be completely destroyed and all its materials were to be removed from the area.

The destructive nature of the mildew demanded that the whole house be destroyed. If the mildew could be easily dealt with, that would be fine. It would be wrong as well as a waste of time and energy to overreact and destroy the house. On the other hand, any attempt to preserve the house once the presence of destructive mildew was confirmed, would only threaten the health of its occupants and endanger nearby dwellings and their occupants. Preservation of the dwelling would most likely be a lost cause anyway, since the mildew would eventually destroy it.

Notice that the decision to preserve or destroy the house had nothing to do with the house, its location, or its owners. The use or intended use of the house made no difference. People's feelings toward a particular dwelling were not to sway the decision. It was only the seriousness of the mildew that determined what to do.

Too often we try to resolve problems by leaning too heavily on what are really side issues. Our desire to preserve should never override the true dangers of a situation.

Real danger requires drastic actions. While we must take care not to overreact when facing problems, resisting effective solutions when called for is actually the more destructive plan.

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