Knowing Your Don’t Know

One could imagine that if leprosy were to appear on one’s house, they wouldn’t dismiss it as just a simple stain. Although it does not equate to leprosy exactly, the Torah’s description of tzara’at appearing on one’s house is somewhat strange. 

If someone would contract a big discolored blotch on their house, you’d think there would be little to no mystery as to what it was, especially given the known nature of the affliction. And yet, as we read the verses describing this process, we find a peculiar phraseology: “the one to whom the house belongs comes and tells the priest, saying, “Something like tzara’at seems to have appeared on my house” (14:35). Why the hedging? Is it, or is not tzara’at?

One explanation, in terms of law, explains that the priest himself is the only one that can create the status of tzara’at. A person might see what they know is tzara’at, but their opinion is not the detrminant- so they cannot speak in absolutes. However, there is another, more relevant lesson for our times. Other commentaries explain that the reason one cannot say it is absolutely tzara’at is because a person should never be too confident in their own understanding. Even the most obvious of cases should involve a certain sense of humility- that one is always open to being wrong.

Access to information is easier than ever before, and yet people seem less willing to hear others’ points of view. The abundance of information at our fingertips is a double-edged sword- the very fact that people can know so much leads them to think that they need not know anything else. Of course, this leads to unfortunate disagreement and strife. As the house-affliction teaches us, even that which seems so clear must be brought with a certain level of humility- to remain open to other points of view. This will not only secure our relationships, but it will ultimately also lead us to the real truth.