Rabbi O’s Weekly: Tazria (Leviticus 12-13)Critical Conversations: Part 1

The main topic addressed in this week’s Parsha is a condition called tzarat. Although it is generally translated as “leprosy,” other than the fact that it is a painful skin ailment, its exact nature is unknown to us and has not existed for thousands of years. It was not an airborne virus and it is the only affliction the Torah attributes to a specific sin: lashon hara (unwarranted derogatory speech).
        If a person will have (a blemish)on his skin…and it will become a tzarat affliction, he shall be brought to…the Kohanim. The Kohen shall look at the affliction on the skin of his flesh; if hair in the affliction has changed to white, and its appearance deeper than the skin of the flesh- it is a tzarat affliction. (13:1-2)
The literal translation of the Hebrew words lashon hara is “evil language.” We need to remind ourselves that evil is not just mass murder, child trafficking, or abusing helpless people; opportunities to do evil exist every day in our lives. Interestingly, the Torah calls “evil language” anything negative, even if it’s true. We grew up hearing that sticks and stones can break bones, but names cannot harm. In Jewish consciousness, speech is a gift unique to humans. When we misuse it, we can destroy lives even though no one intended to.
The Talmud says that three lives are potentially destroyed when lashon hara is spoken; 1) the person speaking, 2) the person spoken about and 3) the person spoken to. Although one briefly becomes the center of attention when sharing an exciting piece of gossip, ultimately people will stop trusting you because they will think, “I wonder what he says about me when I’m not around.” People won’t trust you and therefore you are ultimately destroying your ability to have meaningful friendships.
The second person you destroy is the one about whom you are speaking. The person under discussion is, of course, being “killed” in the minds of your listeners. One of the biggest crimes one can do in life is to destroy someone’s potential. By speaking negatively, you are destroying his or her potential to have relationships with others. This kills a person in professional and personal life. Even if you ultimately have remorse, it is hard to take back defamatory words already spoken and undo the character assassination already committed. That person’s reputation is forever blemished.
The third person destroyed by speaking lashon hara is the listener, who seems to be an innocent bystander, a victim of circumstance who happened to be present when someone began speaking lashon hara. “All I did was listen,” he says but the Talmud says that listening to lashon hara is even worse than speaking it because the person had the power to stop it or at least walk away but didn’t.
Today we do not contract the illness of tzaras when speaking lashon hara nor do we have a Kohen to help us discover which character trait we need to rectify. What should we do to avoid this destroyer of possibilities? The only tools we have are to read, think, and speak about how awful lashon hara is and surround ourselves with likeminded people. When someone begins to speak negatively about someone else, think about the three people lashon hara potentially kills.
Years ago, I read the following story. One day in Jerusalem, two old friends ran into each other on a bus. In the course of their conversation, one of them casually mentioned the name of an old friend. The other replied, “Didn’t you hear? She just got engaged last week to so-and-so!”
This news left her friend elated and shocked. “It’s wonderful that she finally got engaged … but to him!? Who would have ever thought that she would settle for a person with so many problems?” The other person listened and proceeded to list several issues not only with the fiancé but also with his family.
After a few minutes, a woman who was sitting behind them turned to them and said, “Thank you so much. I am the aunt of the woman who just got engaged; our family was not aware about these serious allegations against her fiancé and his family. When I get home, I’m going to call my niece and convince her to break the engagement.”
The friends begged her not to do so and explained that they were just innocently chatting and didn’t really mean many of the things they said and even exaggerated on some points.  “Please don’t break-up this couple because of our poor judgment.” Just then, the bus reached the woman’s stop. This wise woman paused before exiting and turned to them and said, “You have nothing to worry about; I’m not really her aunt … but I could have been!”
May we all merit having the ability to control what comes out of our mouths and what comes through our ears.Good ShabbosRead More