This week's Torah portion is M'Tzora. It starts with how someone with a skin infliction is to be purified. Then it goes into 'Something like a plague has appeared upon my house'. The priest is instructed to go into the house and if there are greenish or reddish streaks appear to go deep into the wall, the house is to be closed up for seven days.
What is to be done with a house or a building that is infected with mold? This is a question that still plagues many along the Mississippi Gulf Coast 2 1/2 years after Hurricane Katrina. Even after this amount of time, volunteers, such as the Jewish students from State University of New York who were here two weeks ago, are still helping homeowners tear down mold-infested sheetrock. Sometimes, the house or building needs to be torn down because the mold is so bad.
The Torah portion recommends the same thing. It also states that a person who enters a house or building is impure until evening. The person must wash his clothing.
Now, when I read this portion, certain images come to mind. My sister was hired as part of a crew to clean mold at a military base. She and the others had to dress in decontamination suits. They used chemicals such as bleach to spray the infested buildings. At the end of the day, the suits were taken off and they took showers. After a few days, the rooms that were sprayed were inspected. If any mold was still present, the section would be cut out. If the mold persisted, the building would eventually be torn down.
This scenario has been enacted thousands of times since Hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi. It is 'something like a plague'. There were days, weeks, and months after Hurricane Katrina when the smell of the mold and mildew permeated everything. The miles and miles of debris exacerbated the problem.
It was very hard to live in these conditions. Even after showers were taken, everything still felt unclean. Walking outside to get fresh air was a misnomer. The very air was leaden with the stench of rotting food, trash, dead animals, smoke from burning debris, and the ever present odor of mold and mildew. It was months before the air smelled clean once again. It took almost a year before I could walk into certain buildings and not detect the hint of mold and mildew. I never could picture what was meant by 'something like a plague'. Now I know.