Why is so much of Diaspora Jewry ambivalent toward Israel? A peculiar phenomenon mentioned in this week’s Parsha sheds light.
A unique spiritual illness having physical manifestations similar to leprosy existed in Biblical times; it resulted from speaking senseless gossip or derogatory speech. Part of the purification process was to bring two birds.
Although there are plenty of situations that call for two birds, what’s unique here is what we do with the birds. In all other cases, the birds are brought as offerings but in this case, one bird is set free; it simply flies away! This is unprecedented and not duplicated in any Temple offering.
What’s even more surprising is the need to bring birds. Rashi (14:4) explains that this disease came as a result of derogatory speech, which is done by chattering. Chirping birds are a symbol to the person that negative speech is the root of his demise. If the chirping birds are a metaphor for unnecessary speech, why don’t we slaughter them just as we do with all other sacrifices? If birds represent unnecessary and even malicious chatter, wouldn’t it make sense to slaughter them both?
Our job in life is not to kill the power of speech, it is to properly channel it. The chirping of lashon hara (gossip or inflammatory speech) must stop but the chirping of encouragement, teaching and learning Torah, expressing love, validation, and appreciation must continue to be heard. G-d never completely forbids a basic human need, drive, or energy, rather we are meant to use them as channels to express our personal strengths in a positive and effective way.
The power of speech in particular can be overwhelming because we know how harmful it can be but, also, how it has the potential to be helpful and comforting. One of the valuable lessons one (hopefully) learns in life is that when a problem exists in a community, family or organization – much of the problem can be solved by simply speaking about it – by bringing it to our daily conversation.
This Shabbos, rabbis all over will be talking about how NOT to speak and the various damage done with speech. But it is equally important to focus on how to properly use our power of speech. We need to keep chirping – our Shabbos tables aren’t meant to be quiet – they should be full of life and energy – discussions with family and friends about Torah and/or what being Jewish means to you. Chirp away to the people in your life whom you love but never tell them so.
Coming back to the topic of our ambivalence toward Israel, maybe the solution is to talk about it. Chirp positively about Israel, even if you don’t agree with a particular Prime Minister or government. Speak about our unprecedented return to the Land and how a small nation persecuted for 2000 years miraculously got back their land. One might ask, why did the sages of the Talmud mandate that we talk about Israel? They did! We mention Zion and Jerusalem many times each day in our individual and communal prayers–the challenge is that we need to pay attention to what we say. In addition, other than the first two weekly Torah readings (about Creation and the Flood), we can’t get through a single Parsha without some explicit mention of Israel or a reference to it.
Every true hero of our people had a sense of the centrality of the Land of Israel in Judaism and that’s why it’s difficult to understand how somebody can NOT appreciate the significance of having control of our land and the energetic Jewish life flourishing there every day. Let’s be careful to not allow shame or insecurity get in the way of talking about Judaism, Israel, and the foundational principles of our religion to our children. If you haven’t chirped until now, it’s time to give yourself permission to do so.