Most of this week’s Torah Portion in Vayikra/Leviticus 12-13 entitled Tazria outlines the principles and conditions regarding tzoraas — when white blotches appear on a person’s skin. He or she must then undergo a set time of isolation from others followed by a process of purification.
This affliction on the skin is actually the third stage of afflictions which this parsha teaches. We also learn that one’s home might be ‘afflicted’ and one’s clothing as well, before the affliction actually touches the person themselves. This three fold progression is actually a manifestation of Hashem’s mercy in judgment. He gives two opportunities to get our attention, so to speak, before touching our bodies themselves for the purpose of bringing us to repentance.
The Talmud delineates seven sins whose severity could bring this type of judgment: slander, murder, perjury, jealousy, theft, immorality and pride. One is quick to notice that lashon hora (negative or evil speech) is associated overtly or covertly with all seven of these sins. Therefore we are taught that such afflictions often stem from the sin of lashon hora. The ‘judgment’ or affliction that ensues is designed by Hashem to demonstrate the destructiveness of one’s sin and persuade the person to repent and resolve to avoid sinning in such a way again.
It seems that there are two lessons in particular that one who speaks lashon hara is taught during the period of his ‘suffering’: Firstly, the Talmud tells us, “he caused separation between man and his friend [through his lashon hara] and therefore the Torah said that he must sit alone.” Speaking negatively about others inevitably causes rifts between people and disrupts friendships, and sometimes even marriages. Therefore, measure for measure, one who speaks lashon hara is forced to live alone for a period of time, separated from others, to learn by experience the pain that is caused by damaging relationships.
Secondly, the physical manifestations (whether severe mold growing on one’s walls, or rashes and blotches on one’s skin, for example) are meant to show visibly the kind of damage done to one’s soul by speaking lashon hora. Tzoraas, as described in the Torah, is not actually a regular physical illness, but an outward display of an inner spiritual problem.
Nowadays there is no tzoraas in the classic sense described in this week’s parsha. However, should we not consider that perhaps we are missing important messages from Hashem when we do not look beyond the surface of things that happen in our lives and treat them simply as a physical nuisance. Tzoraas was a form of loving kindness from God in that He communicated very clearly to the sinner regarding his transgression and the need to repent.
The Talmud acknowledges that some people stumble in immorality, others in jealousy and others in theft, but everyone commits lashon hora. Without tzoraas today, how can a person recognize the spiritual damage one causes himself when he speaks lashon hara and the extent of the damage that negative words can have on other people?
Judaism teaches that there is a reason for everything that happens. Often, the reason may not be immediately apparent but if we will ask God for insight, He will give it to us. Therefore, the humble heart will always be ready to inquire of God: “What are you saying to me?” when confronted with any form of ‘affliction’ – whether in one’s home, one’s possessions or one’s person.
With regard to lashon hora, there is another source of help. Because of the unique importance of avoiding this particular sin, we highly recommend a wonderful book, A Lesson A Day, a daily devotional on the topic of proper and godly speech. It is a compilation of the teachings of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, also known as the Chofetz Chaim. It is a magnificent addition to anyone’s spiritual library and provides immeasurable help, insight and inspiration for improving one’s speech in daily life.
In Tune with Torah this week = May we all be blessed with the ability to avoid all forms of negative speech.