When we arrive in our journey through the yearly Torah cycle at Parashat Metzora, we know that Spring has arrived. Pesach is just a couple weeks away, the sun has begun to shine brightly, and the weather hovers precariously above freezing (for the time being, at least). Just as we are beginning to let ourselves believe that Winter is finally coming to an end, though, the words of Metzora transport us backward in time to a moment at the very beginning of the Winter season: October 31, Halloween.

Indeed, the enduring image in this parasha is of a genuine haunted house, a house consumed by tzara’at, the mysterious skin disease first described last week in Tazria. In a plot fit for Edgar Allan Poe, a Kohen (priest) comes to inspect a house in Canaan, only to discover that its walls are consumed by red and green afflictions. Precautions are taken – the foundations of the house replaced, the walls replastered – but like a villain from a zombie flick the tzara’at refuses to die. Only by destroying the house entirely can the affliction be done away with for good.

What are we to make of this story? The tradition contains two different explanations. According to Vayikra Rabbah, being forced to destroy the house is a gift: as soon as the walls are knocked down, the Israelites living there discover buried treasure hidden within by the previous owners, the Canaanites. In this telling, what seems like a frightening ordeal is in reality a manifestation of God’s generosity. Trust in God, even in trying moments, and you will be rewarded in the end. Rambam (Maimonides), conversely, sees the tzara’at as a divine punishment for selfishness and lashon ha-ra (evil speech; gossip): to punish those who refuse to share their property with others or treat their neighbors kindly, God sends a warning shot, ruining a building before resorting to hurting the people inside of it. For Rambam, the horror of a house overcome by disease is the disgusting consequence of a vile transgression.

Though these explanations are far from similar, they share an important truth: the physical appearance of a home is usually a reflection of something deeper, something hidden. I remembered this lesson every week this past summer when, as a Rosh Aidah, I checked the cleanliness of cabins before Shabbat. Before I continue, I am happy to note that 2013 was, like every summer in Ramah history, tzara’at-free! However, most cabins I checked on Friday mornings were a far cry from the spotless, well-organized residences which are a requirement for the beginning of Shabbat. And so each week, I issued the same challenge to the campers in each cabin: Get this place clean. Campers responded in various ways. For some, the challenge of cleaning was a path toward a reward: the chance to play outside, to get the first shower, to gain a sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment. For others, the challenge of cleaning was a moment which required self-reflection: Why did I ignore my Nikayon (cleaning) job this week? Why is it so hard for our cabin to work together as a team? Where are all my socks? For many, the last few moments of Nikayon on Friday could be quite stressful.

Though campers approached cleaning on Friday with a range of attitudes, the result was always the same: by the time we gathered to welcome in Shabbat, every cabin was sparkling. Week after week, cabin-mates worked together to build a space perfect enough to honor the holiness of Shabbat. This perfection went beyond simply physical cleanliness. All the “stuff” – arguments and jokes, successes and failures, hopes and concerns – which had piled up during the week was neatly tucked away, leaving a space for reflection and rest, for togetherness and peace. By purifying themselves, the campers were able to purify the spaces in which they lived. As we move past Metzora and begin the process of Pesach preparation in our homes, I pray that our cleaning be not merely about changing dishes and finding crumbs. Instead, I hope we are able purify our souls in preparation for redemption and freedom, this year and every year.