This week’s parasha is Tazria-Metzora, and it deals with the illness of tzaraas, which in biblical times afflicted those who spoke lashon hara. This type of speech is often misunderstood as containing fabrications regarding others, but any evil, derogatory talk falls under the category of lashon hara, even if it is the truth. Our Torah regards this sin as so heinous that those who were guilty of it succumbed to a skin disease known as “tzaraas.” Since this was a spiritual ailment (albeit with physical manifestations), the afflicted had to be brought before Aaron the High Priest or his descendants, rather than to a physician, for examination and healing.
The Torah warns us of the power of speech, and that death and life are in the tongue. It is crucial to be mindful of what we say as it has the power to heal or hurt. Lashon hara creates divisiveness, generates animosity and contempt, forces that are antithetic to harmony and well-being. Aaron the High Priest loved people with such intensity that he was able to neutralize those negative forces. Ethics of the Fathers 1:12 states, “Aaron loved peace and pursued peace.” When he saw two people in conflict, he would approach each of them individually and say, “You know, your friend truly regrets this altercation. As a matter of fact, he beseeched me to approach you on his behalf. He loves you and wants to make peace with you.” He would then repeat the very same message to the other party involved and thus would appease them and make peace.
Perhaps now we can better appreciate why Aaron’s descendants were designated to bless the Jewish people through Bircas HaKohanim (the Priestly Blessings). Prior to pronouncing these benedictions, the priests are commanded to say, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aaron and commanded us to bless His people, Israel, with love.” It is Aaron’s love that is the unique hallmark of all his descendants, and it is that love that is the most vital qualification for imparting blessing.
The Chofetz Chaim, a great sage, warned that lashon hara is the most destructive of all sins, for it literally destroys people. Indeed, “death and life are in the tongue.” God created us in such a way that our own organs serve to remind us to be aware of the potential danger inherent in our tongues. The tongue is the only organ that is both internal and external. To protect it from misuse, God gave us two gates to guard it: our teeth and our lips, reminding us that, before we use our tongues, we should shut the gates and carefully consider whether we should allow our tongues to speak or whether it would be wiser to remain silent and keep the gates closed.
The parashiyos Tazria and Metzora are usually read together, and the word metzora is a combination of two words, motzei and ra, meaning to speak evil of others. The juxtaposition of these parshiyos to Parashas Shemini is very instructive, for in the previous parashah we studied not only the dangers of speaking lashon hara but about forbidden, non-kosher foods as well. By placing these two parshiyos – forbidden food and lashon hara – next to each other, the Torah reminds us that not only must we be careful about that which enters our mouths (that which we eat), but we must be equally careful about that which comes forth from our lips (that which we say). We must be ever on guard.
Some people may justify speaking lashon hara by against the temptation to speak ill of others, even if we feel that we are just sharing the truth or expressing our frustration. Instead, we should strive to follow Aaron the High Priest’s example of seeking peace and pursuing love.
One way to guard against lashon hara is to cultivate positive speech habits, such as speaking words of encouragement, praise, and gratitude. This not only helps us avoid speaking negatively about others, but it also uplifts our own spirits and the spirits of those around us.
Another important practice is to take responsibility for our words and their impact on others. This means being mindful of the power of our words and the potential harm they can cause, as well as taking steps to repair any damage we may have caused through our speech.
Ultimately, the Torah’s teachings on lashon hara remind us that our speech has the power to create either unity or division, to build up or tear down, to bring life or cause harm. By cultivating positive speech habits and being mindful of the impact of our words, we can help build a more harmonious and loving world.
In conclusion, the message of Parashat Tazria-Metzora is clear: gossiping and speaking negatively about others can result in a serious spiritual disease. However, the parashah also teaches us that we have the power to use our speech for good, to build up and uplift those around us. By following the example of Aaron the High Priest and cultivating positive speech habits, we can help create a more peaceful and loving world, one word at a time.