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[Dvar Torah] Tazria Metzora

In this week's Parsha Tazria Metzora, we learn about the laws of ritual impurity and the purification methods. One of the most puzzling aspects of this parashah is the condition of tzara’at, also known as “leprosy.” Tzara’at is a physical affliction that manifests on the skin or clothing and requires isolation and a purification process in order to heal/rectify.

Tzara’at is said to be more of a punishment and less of a medical illness, The Sages said: “There are three transgressions for which a person is punished in this world and has no share in the world to come – and evil speech is as bad as all three combined. They also said: whoever speaks with an evil tongue it is as if he denied G-d ... Evil speech kills three people – the one who says it, the one who accepts it, and the one about whom it is said.”  When someone misuses their words to speak badly about another person - ‘Lashon Harah’ -  the person has to take responsibility for their words.

Tzara’at was spread on people, as well as on garments and houses. If white or pink patches appeared on a person’s skin and dark red or green on garments the individual had to go and tell a Cohen. The individual who was afflicted had to go through a process of purifying themselves in the Mikveh, a ritual bath of spring water, then wait, isolated for a seven day period. The Cohen would then judge and pronounce whether the individual was tamei (impure) or tahor (pure) based on things such as the size of the area that was infected.

If a house was afflicted, the Cohen would also decide if the house was pure or impure. If impure, everything inside the house would be burned including the furniture in the house. If the tzara’at recurred, the entire home or garment would be destroyed.

In the Tanach we know about a few people who had tzara’at because of their unkind words. Moses's hand was leprous because he conveyed that he was doubtful of the people believing in his mission and Myriam was also inflicted when she spoke against her own brother Moses.

Rabbi Kerrith Rosenbaum said that “our words can be used to hurt others, and in doing so we also harm ourselves. When people gossip, people get hurt. Certainly, the person gossiped about is hurt, but the person listening and the person doing the gossiping are also damaged. But our words can also be used for good, to help build people up instead of to break them down.”

Rabbi David Pinto tells a story about protecting ourselves from Lashon Hara: “During a shiva, Maran Harav Aharon Leib Steinman zt”l turned to the visitors and asked them, "Do you know the meaning of the words that we say every day at the end of the Amidah prayer?” "My G-d, guard my tongue from evil?” Why do we pray that Hashem should guard our mouths; the person himself must be able to guard his mouth, just as he guards himself and is careful not to cause harm?" Rabbi Steinman answered that "there are people who have sharp tongues and cannot keep their mouths closed. They are always ready to say something about everything…These people require a special prayer that Hashem should guard their mouths so that they shouldn’t say something inappropriate."

Ideally, a person should wait five minutes before expressing what he wishes to say, but Hashem fashioned it so that our words flow immediately, for the sake of Torah learning!”

In our days of expanding technology and social media when it is so easy to opine about anything to anyone, leaving an irreparable damaging impact or where socially it is so easy to tell on people, I would like to leave everyone with one message which is an old French expression: “Tourner sa langue 7 fois dans sa bouche avant de parler” - “Turn your tongue over 7 times in your mouth before speaking”. 

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.

Liora, Grade 9