Thursday, April 11, 2013

Parshat Tazria-Metzora: Lashon Hara and Tzara’at

A quick thought on this week’s parsha.  Much of the parsha deals with tzara’at, the physical manifestation of a spiritual disease.  The sages say (at least some of them, perhaps not all) that this was a disease that only affected righteous individuals; it was not a common disease inflicted by God unto the common man.  It was reserved for people that, due to their job, position in society, background, etc., should have known better than to commit the sin they committed.  One of the most common sins to cause tzara’at was lashon hara, speaking maliciously (even if truthfully) about others or God (literal translation is “evil tongue”).  The main biblical example of this is when Miriam spoke ill of her brother, Moshe.  Although well-intentioned she said something regrettable and was punished with tzara’at. 

One who is afflicted with tzara’at is quarantined outside of the city they live in for a minimum period of seven days.  One reason for this is to take someone out of the environment in which they committed their sin, such as lashon hara.  By taking a righteous person away from people it gives them time to focus on what they did wrong, while at the same time taking away the possibility that they commit the same sin before they have had adequate time to do teshuva, to transform themselves into a better person that would not commit the same sin again.  For most of us, we just get our mouth washed out with soap by our parents when we say bad words growing up.  But the fact that lashon hara is cause for quarantining someone emphasizes how important our speech really is.  When we speak lashon hara, the consequences last much longer than the taste of soap in our mouths.   

We humans, unlike every other animal, have the ability to speak.  Through our speech we can collaborate and impact the world in ways that no other animals can, we can make people smile or make them cry, we can comfort someone or we can embarrass them, we can praise someone’s good deed or we can disparage someone’s misstep.  Our speech is a powerful tool and can be used in so many ways for tremendous good or tremendous evil.  Growing up, our mom’s told us to ignore other kids that slandered us, but the real world rarely allows for people to do so.  We are all affected by what people around us say and we all affect others with our own words.  So with the power of speech we’ve been given, let’s use it for good. 

Shabbat Shalom.

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