By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
This week’s parshah, Tazria-Metzorah, tells us about tzoraas, a blemish that appears upon the skin of one who is speaking lashon hara. A physical reaction to a spiritual misaction, an immediate warning from HaShem – be careful, you are entering a danger zone. It could also be understood as a Divine gift, a personalized sign from Above, causing man to stop, think and reconsider his words.
While the physical affliction of tzoraas no longer exists, its message remains strong and relevant. HaShem gifted us with the power of speech, and we must choose our words wisely.
Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers teaches: “The world was created with ten sayings” (Ethics 5:1), as in “Let there be light”. Did HaShem really need to verbalize words to create? The world could have easily been created instantaneously with one word, or through a Divine spark. Why the need for “ten sayings”?
HaShem wanted to impart to us the importance of language, of communication, the power of words. Man was HaShem’s final creation. “Vayipach b’apov nishmas chaim, v’yehi odom l’nefesh chayah, and HaShem breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living being”, which Targum Onkelos defines as “a speaking being”. (Bereishis/Genesis 2:8)
Language is life. Our mission is to emulate HaShem, and use our power of words to bring blessing into the world. Words can be both creative and destructive. They can be used to spread goodness or bring pain and sorrow. As Shlomo HaMelech, said in Mishlei, “Maves v’chaim b’yad loshon, Death and life are in the hand of the tongue”. (Mishlei/Proverbs 18:21). Our words can be used to build, encourage, console and provide confidence. Or, they can be used to tear down, diminish and destroy. The decision is ours to make.
Author and podcaster, Brad Kearns, said that the word “WAIT” is an acronym for Why Am I Talking. Before speaking – WAIT! Think it out. Ask yourself, “Why am I talking”? What is the purpose of my words?
Is there a chance that my words may be hurtful or damaging? Am I embarrassing someone with my words? Am I revealing another’s confidences, sharing private info? How many times have we heard the line… “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but…”, or “Did you hear what happened to…”? Unfortunately, these expressions have become all too familiar, too commonplace. We find excuses for speaking about others. We tell ourselves that it’s all true, or that everyone knows it anyway – it’s public knowledge. Lashon hara hurts not just the one being spoken about, but also has a negative spiritual effect on both speaker and listener.
Our words may stem from insecurity, jealousy, the need to get attention from a listening audience, or from just not thinking. In today’s fast-moving hi-tech world, emails, texts, and social media have made gossip even more accessible. With one click, news proliferates easily and travels exponentially. The lesson of tzoraas is STOP, THINK, and RECONSIDER. Once you push that button, it is impossible to control how far and wide the words travel.
In parshas Metzora, the phrase “Toras haMetzora, the laws of the Metzora, appears five times. Five times, corresponding to the Five Books of the Torah. The message is clear: Speaking lashon hara is equivalent to transgressing all Five Books.
Tzoraas is called a nega, an affliction. The Hebrew word nega, is spelled nun, gimmel, ayin. If we rearrange the order of the letters to ayin, nun, gimmel, we have the word oneg, an occasion of pleasure and delight. With our words, we can change nega to oneg, affliction to pleasure. In fact, the Sefer Yetzira teaches that there is no good higher than oneg, and no evil lower than nega.
It’s not always easy. In fact, it takes much effort, inner strength and willpower to break away from the habit of speaking lashon hara. But HaShem never asks the impossible from us. Yes, we can do it, bringing blessing not only to our lives, but to the lives of those around us.
The first incident of lashon hara was in Gan Eden. The snake convinced Chava to take from the Eitz HaDaas, the Tree of Knowledge, saying that through it, HaShem concealed His secrets of life from man. Since then, the snake has become a symbol of lashon hara, with its venomous sting, taking on a life of its own.
My mother, The Rebbetzin a”h had a unique and wonderful way of teaching Torah. She always found a connection between a current news story and the weekly parshah.
I remember my mother discussing a news headline, “Cobra’s severed head bites, kills chef”, a story about a chef who was a victim of a fatal cobra bite while preparing snake soup, an Asian delicacy. He severed the serpent’s head, only to be bitten by it twenty minutes later. The venomous bite was fatal even long after the head was severed.
Like the fatal snake bite, the harmful words of lashon hara continue to cause pain even long after they are spoken. As with the snake, their destructive impact lingers much beyond when they are first uttered.
It is said that Rav Rabbi Yisroel Salanter explained why this week’s parshah dealing with lashon hora and tzoraas immediately follows Parshas Shemini, which discusses the laws of kashrus. This juxtaposition serves to teach us that we must be as careful about the words that come out of our mouths as about the food that goes into our mouths.
The Chofetz Chaim, a great teacher of shemiras haloshon, guarding one’s speech, taught the importance of v’ahavtah l’rei’achah kamochah, to love your fellow as yourself. Before we speak, he wrote, we must ask ourselves, “Would I want someone to say this about me?”
In the merit of thinking before we speak, may we be a people whose words bring blessing and friendship, uniting one with another, and may we see the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!
Chaya Sora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l